This is the second of a five-part Swedish murder-mystery series, all of which were directed by Mattsson, starred Karl-Arne Holmsten as police detective John Hillman and were based on novels written by Folke Mellvig. The others in this series (none of which have been officially released in the U.S.) include THE LADY IN BLACK (1958), THE RIDER IN BLUE (1959), THE LADY IN WHITE (1962) and THE YELLOW CAR (1963). While I haven't seen any of the others to confirm whether or not they're "horror" enough to include on this blog, Mannequin certainly deserves a spot here for being an obvious precursor to both the German krimni (which were largely adapted works of Edgar Wallace) and Italian giallo movements. Speaking of giallo, this movie is surprisingly similar in numerous ways to Mario Bava's acclaimed BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964); so much so that BABL almost seems like a remake! And while Bava's movie (often cited as one of the first of its type) has the upper hand when it comes to visual style and depictions of on-screen violence, Mannequin is actually the better written and acted of the two. It's also visually sumptuous in its own right. Hilding Bladh's Eastmancolor cinematography is gorgeous and the art direction, lighting and imaginative costume designs are all outstanding.
Just as in BABL, the film is set in and around a colorful high fashion house full of designers, models and beauticians who cater to obnoxious and wealthy sophisticates. Both films open with the murder of a mysterious model and feature a killer who seems to be trying to conceal his/ her first crime with each new murder. The list of suspects is long. Very, very long. But don't worry, they're soon trimmed down. The fashion house itself is run by bitter, bitchy, wheelchair-bound Thyra Lennberg (Lillebil Ibsen), whose foster son Bobbie (Bengt Brunskog) is more interested in cars than clothes, so he's promptly written out of the will. Naturally, Bobbie's a bit upset about all this, especially when he learns that mum is planning on leaving everything to her snooty niece Gabriella (Gio Petré), who's more interested in a singing career than running the fashion house, and her playboy nephew Richard (Lennart Lindberg) instead. Each of the four characters are primary suspects in the first murder since each was in possession of a rare 17th Century dagger that was found in the victim's back.
Others thrown into the mix include put-upon designer Birgitta (Anita Björk), who is romantically involved with Richard and Bobbie, cosmetics counter girl Sonja (Lena Granhagen), who is romantically involved with one of the investigators, and a woman who goes by the name of 'Peter' (Lissi Alandh) and seems to be Gabrielle's lesbian lover. There's also a mysterious older woman lurking about carrying a cat that belonged to one of the victims. Detective Hillman is on the case and has some help from his wife Kaisa (Annalisa Ericson), who goes undercover as a model to see if she can uncover the killer. One character who you'll wish was 86'd is Det. Hillman's partner Freddy (Nills Hallberg), a stuttering buffoon who keeps popping up to provide completely unfunny "comic relief." His presence is a minor debit in this otherwise solidly made, sometimes quite suspenseful and very entertaining, if overlong (108 minutes), little thriller. The performances (especially from Björk and Ibsen) and camerawork are both very good, there's an eerie music score and the whole movie looks fantastic.
In addition to this series, director Mattson (a three-time nominee at Cannes) also made KORKARLEN (1958; aka THE PHANTOM CARRAIGE, a refilming of the 1921 silent classic of the same name), MORIANNA (1965), NIGHTMARE (1965), DIRTY FINGERS (1973) and MASK OF MURDER (1985). Most of those were never released in the United States.