Thomas Graals Basta Film (1917) directed by Mauritz Stiller is a Swedish comedy about a film screenwriter/actor, Thomas Graal (Victor Sjostrom) who suffers from writer’s block until his secretary disappears. Thomas gets over this occurrence by writing a script about her & how he saved her from a life of poverty. All of this is a lie, as his secretary, Bessie (Karin Molander), is a run away rich girl & not the beaten waif she told him she was. Thomas’ plan to get her back is to refuse to make the film until the girl is found to star in it. Thomas is meant to be a big box office draw, he’d have to be as his plot isn’t up to much!
I was quite taken with Bessie as she is a sort of a sub-Ossi Oswalda character as seen in ‘I don’t Want to be a Man’ & ‘The Oyster Princess’. Bessie’s actions would be difficult to apply to in real life but it’s fun going along for the ride. I’ve been looking for female lovable rogues in books with little success & Bessie’s antics cheered me up after my failed literary efforts. Bessie is a spirited, spoilt rich girl. Bessie refreshingly doesn’t come across as pitiable, hateful, evil or forced to compromise by the end. Bessie at the start of the film is always running away from home & cheeking her parents particulary her Dad. She rolls bowling balls at him & gets him to promise not to make her marry anyone she doesn’t want to & then makes him give her a cigarette! Woman smoking was a sign of a “new” woman, always a worrying creature. Bessie’s brave (perhaps foolhardy) riding to the rescue of a woman being attacked, although not is all as it seems. More a comedy of errors rather than a girl power statement but fun nonetheless. Bessie does show some interest in domestic duties but it’s a ruse to stay in town & take cookery classes, which she then bunks off (if indeed they ever existed at all) to act in Thomas‘ film. Bessie does find love at the end but she doesn’t go in to a ’all I want is babies & to be a homemaker’ inter-title & her feistyness is intact. She does say she won’t run away again, but that was because she was bored with her life at the time which seems fair enough.
It is hard to take Bessie as a serious role model. She has a child-like nature. Bessie makes her household think she’s gone mad as she acts out tragic scenes that she imagines she’ll play on film. And her idea of being an Adventuress is being a ….. secretary. Albeit for a lazy screenwriter so there’s more setting curtains on fire than actual admin tasks(!).
Bessie could be seen as an older Tilly the schoolgirl or scruffy St. Trininan. And both of those are comedy characters too. So rebellious girls are alright if they’re confined to comedy rather than more realistic serious drama? Or maybe we should be more child-like and not try to take things seriously when they’re not?
To sum up: Bessie’s Best Film/Thomas who? (nice boater Sir).