Norwegian Favorite ‘Fools in the Mountains’ is a Situational Comedic Treat

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Poppe tries his hand at skiing.

When two guests identical in appearance but opposite in nature arrive at the Hurumhei Hotel, the receptionist – and the other guests – confuse them for the same person. Normally a sharp-minded hard worker, the receptionist believes he is going insane. Meanwhile, the hotel manager’s daughter disguises herself as a bellhop to prove to her parents that she isn’t a spoiled child. One of the most famous Norwegian films, Edith Carlmar’s situational comedy Fools in the Mountains (1957) (in Norwegian, Fjols til fjells) entertains while offering a glimpse into Norwegian culture. (RMM: 4/5)

 Review by FF2 Associate Roza M. Melkumyan

Receptionist “Poppe” (Leif Juster) is proud to maintain top-notch quality service at the always fully-booked Hurumhei Mountain Hotel. Here, nestled in the Norwegian mountains, esteemed guests – mostly celebrities and the upper class – can go skiing, entertain each other, and relax. Poppe, ever the diligent worker, has responded to guests’ complaints that transport around the slopes is sub-par by ordering a snowmobile for their use. However, the hotel’s manager and owner, “Mr. Granberg” (Einar Sissener), believes that Poppe has a big head and acts frivolously. 

Mr. Granberg has a 21-year-old daughter, the cheery “Ruth” (Unni Bernhoft), who wishes to prove to her father that she is not spoiled and understands the meaning of hard work. Without telling him, she comes to Hurumhei, dons a bellhop uniform, and pretends to be a young man named Rudolf. At the same time, Ruth can observe the manner in which Poppe runs the hotel. 

Excitedly, Poppe prepares the hotel for the arrival of famous Norwegian actor “Teddy Winter” (Frank Robert). When a man who looks exactly like Winter enters the hotel lobby later that day, Poppe doesn’t bother asking his name. But, this man (also played by Robert) is actually an ornithologist or a person who studies birds. He has come to Hurumhei to prove to another professor that the buboribetra owl does, indeed, hatch this far up north. Poppe gives the ornithologist the honeymoon suite. 

When Winter finally arrives at Hurumhei, Ruth is running the receptionist’s desk and gives him room number 6 upon his request. Later, Winter catches up with his friend (and fling?) actress “Eva Sommer” (Anne Lise Christiansen). A series of misunderstandings leads Poppe to believe that he has gone insane: he understands there to be one Winter yet encounters two very different personalities that never seem to remember the last conversation he had with them. Meanwhile, Ruth, who is falling in love with Poppe, tries to calm him down. With the arrival of the model “Mona Miller” (Anne Lise Wang), who knows Winter personally, the situation becomes even more complicated.

Mona and the ornithologist are shocked to find themselves sleeping in the same bed.

One of the most popular Norwegian films of all time, actress and director Edith Carlmar’s Fools in the Mountains (1957) is exactly what one might expect from a situational comedy. Characters mistake characters for other characters, making for confusion and frustration among the cast but great fun for the audience. I especially enjoyed seeing the ornithologist lose his temper when Poppe asked, for the third time, if he needed his car muffler fixed. (Winter had requested a muffler repair early on in the film). As I watched, I found myself drawn to the enigmatic Ruth, who emanates such a warm energy that – if the film’s comedic aspect wasn’t enough – compels us to keep watching. Seeing her slowly fall in love with the fussy Poppe made me happy. Poppe himself provides a good foil for the jovial, laid-back Winter, who takes the receptionist’s constant confusion as peculiar but funny.

I was rather surprised by the openness with which Carlmar’s characters talk about sex – and non-marital, no less! Winter and Eva have sex and make no effort to hide it. Mona also cheekily mentions her past fling with Winter and wouldn’t mind giving it another go. As this movie was released in the 1950s, I assumed its content had to be a little cleaner. After watching and reviewing Ida Lupino’s American film Outrage (1950) and Wendy Toye’s British film The Teckman Mystery (1954), I find myself much better versed in the film regulations these countries upheld from the 1930s to the 1960s. 

But Fools, of course, is a Norwegian film, and it would be foolish to assume those same rules applied. After researching a bit to see if Norway had an institution similar to the U.S.’s Motion Picture Production Code or Britain’s British Board of Film Classification, I found the Statens Filmkontroll Office, which exists to this day. According to Gilbert Geis’s article, “Film Censorship in Norway,” “censorship cuts are made on two fundamental grounds: offenses against decency, and brutality” (294). However, the censor was more often invoked for what the office deemed to be “excessive brutality” than it was for “excessive” and “open sexuality.” This trend at once reflects Norway’s sympathy for “the long-standing Scandinavian ideal of pacifism” and Norway’s frank public treatment of sexual matters (299). Even today, Scandinavian countries like Norway have a reputation for openness regarding sex, while the subject is taboo in other countries. 

Fools in the Mountains is a fun watch and reflects the mentality of the Norwegian culture. I was also intrigued to learn that it was a new genre for Carlmar, who was primarily known for social dramas about women’s issues that pushed the boundaries of censorship at the time. I may have to look further into her work!

Geis, Gilbert. “Film Censorship in Norway.” The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, vol. 8, no. 3, 1954, pp. 290–301., doi:10.2307/1209737. 

© Roza M. Melkumyan (12/29/20) FF2 Media

Rudolf and Poppe discuss their ideal woman over whisky.

Featured Photo: Ruth Granberg, disguised as Rudolf-the-page boy, tries to calm an unnerved Poppe.

Photo Credits: Norena Film

Q: Does Fools in the Mountains pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

Yes, but barely. 

Ruth and her mother briefly discuss Ruth’s interest in the hotel business.

Tags: Edith Carlmar, FF2 Media, film, Fjols til fjells, Fools in the Mountains, Foreign Film, Norway, Norwegian film, Roza Melkumyan, TCM, Turner Classic Movies, WomenMakeFilm

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As a member of the FF2 Media team, Roza writes features and reviews and coaches other associates and interns. She joined the team as an intern herself during her third year of study at New York University. There she individualized her major and studied narrative through a cultural lens and in the mediums of literature, theatre, and film. At school, Roza studied abroad in Florence and London, worked as a Resident Assistant, and workshopped a play she wrote and co-directed. Since graduating, she spent six months in Spain teaching English and practicing her Spanish. Most recently, she spent a year in Armenia teaching university English as a Fulbright scholar. Her love of film has only grown over the years, and she is dedicated to providing the space necessary for female filmmakers to prosper.
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