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The Girl in Tails Magda Holm Einar AxelssonThe Girl in Tails with Magda Holm and Einar Axelsson.
  • The Girl in Tails (movie 1926) review: As seen in actress-director Karin Swanström and screenwriter/author Hjalmar Bergman’s social satire, women must fight and scandalize in order to remove the weight of societal oppression.

The Girl in Tails (movie 1926) review: Karin Swanström’s social satire tackles gender roles and societal sanctimoniousness

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

Adapted by Hjalmar Bergman[1] from his own 1925 novella, actress-director Karin Swanström’s 1926 social satire The Girl in Tails / Flickan i frack was one of the titles screened at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

The story revolves around poor Katja Kock (Magda Holm), who spends most of her time serving others: Sewing and mending for her brother (Erik Zetterström, a.k.a. Kar de Mumma), humoring her grouchy father (Nils Aréhn), and tutoring Count Ludwig von Battwhyl (Einar Axelsson) in his studies.

Worse yet, Katja’s brother gets all the attention and all the new clothes, while she has to be content to look like a scrubwoman in her ragged old dresses.

When the count passes his exams – thanks to Katja – he plans a summer party. Katja’s father refuses to buy her any new clothes for the occasion, so she breaks all social conventions by showing up wearing her brother’s formal attire.

Then the fun begins.

Outraged matriarch

For starters, the count’s snooty aristocratic family is shocked by the appearance of a woman dressed as a man. In addition, Katja smokes a cigar and even goes so far as to dance with another woman! The family matriarch, the Widow Hyltenius (played by director Swanström), is so horrified that she slaps Katja’s face.

But by now Katja and the count have fallen in love. He takes her to his country estate where she works as a maid until finally apologizing to the Widow Hyltenius, who by then had learned a lesson or two about tolerance and forgiveness.

The matter is then settled.

Old-time social concerns

For me, the impact of The Girl in Tails – Karin Swanström’s final effort behind the camera – lay in the social concerns of its milieu. The concept of how much people used to care about what high society thought of them serves as a striking contrast to today’s culture.

Another plus is the movie’s comedic subtlety. Its humor comes out in the witty dialogue, instead of – as was often the case in silent comedies – physical slapstick.

Fine moments abound. Here’s one example: During the party sequence, as Katja is being labeled “indecent” for her male attire, the camera pans to the plunging neckline of a high-society lady. Elsewhere, the school’s irascible headmaster (Georg Blomstedt) talks to himself out loud so everyone can hear his insults.

And adding to the sexual confusion, the count is seen snuggling with Katja when they arrive at his estate, thus eliciting more raised eyebrows from his family.

Sharp visuals & musical accompaniment

Lastly, this reviewer must praise The Girl in Tails’ sharp and beautifully framed scenic cinematography – courtesy of Ragnar Westfelt – and the film’s musical accompaniment, performed by the always fabulous Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. In fact, in one sequence they were playing the same instruments as those seen on screen, thus perfectly blending the two mediums.

And this is what makes a “silent” film such an incredible sensory experience.

The Girl in Tails / Flickan i frack (movie 1926) cast & crew

Director: Karin Swanström.

Screenplay: Hjalmar Bergman.
From Hjalmar Bergman’s 1925 novella.

Cast: Magda Holm, Einar Axelsson, Nils Aréhn, Georg Blomstedt, Karin Swanström, Erik Zetterström (a.k.a. Kar de Mumma), Carina May, Anna-Lisa Baude.

Cinematography: Ragnar Westfelt.

Film Editing: Ivar Johansson.

Production Company: Biografernas Filmdepot.

Running Time: 114 min.

Country: Sweden.

Note: In a number of English-language online publications, The Girl in Tails loses its initial article, being referred to as just Girl in Tails.

The Girl in Tails (Movie 1926)” notes

Screenplay contributor Ivar Johansson?

[1] According to Per Olov Qvist and Peter von Bagh’s Guide to the Cinema of Sweden and Finland, Ivar Johansson (1889–1963) contributed to the script for The Girl in Tails.

Among Johansson’s credits as both screenwriter and director are (at least) two titles featuring future Hollywood stars: Ocean Breakers / Bränningar (1935), with Ingrid Bergman, and Gula kliniken (“The Yellow Clinic,” 1942), with Viveca Lindfors.

The Girl in Tails reviewed at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (website).

The Girl in Tails was remade in 1956 (its English-language title was the article-less Girl in Tails): Arne Mattsson directed Maj-Britt Nilsson and Folke Sundquist. Herbert Grevenius wrote the adaptation.

The Girl in Tails movie credits via the IMDb.

Einar Axelsson and Magda Holm The Girl in Tails movie image: San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

The Girl in Tails (Movie 1926): Woman Filmmaker Tackles Sexism” last updated in April 2023.

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