Our subject today is director Sven Methling’s 1972 Danish comedy Takt og Tone i Himmelsengen, which translates loosely as Bedchamber Manners and literally as Etiquette in the Four-Poster Bed. It is about the familiar 20th-century issue of the impoverished aristocracy’s struggle to pay for the upkeep of its ancestral homes. It is also about the nobility’s rather older preoccupation with the continuation of its bloodline. And, most to the point, it’s about how an undercover policewoman winds up across a baron’s knee getting the seat of her polka-dot panties soundly spanked.
The setting is a country house owned by the Dowager Baroness von Hasteen, but occupied by her nephew, Count Axel (Dirch Passer). His problem is that she allows him only the right of residency, and expects him to maintain the place out of his own pocket. His solution has been to turn it into a charm school for young ladies, where they learn elocution, deportment and good table manners.
And other things too, as becomes clear when he interviews a new entrant, Julie, played by Judy Gringer, best known for this scene she did with Dirch Passer twelve years earlier:
As part of Julie’s interview, the Count asks her to undress:
Clearly she is going to learn how to exploit her existing charms as well as acquire new ones. And the Count’s also strangely untroubled by the discovery that she pilfered some ornaments while left in the room unaccompanied: criminal tendencies are, it seems, just another asset. For this is a school that teaches its pupils the art of, in every sense, How to Catch a Man – which also happens to be the movie’s subtitle, Hvordan Man Fanger en Mand.
The Count’s problems get bigger when his aunt pays an unexpected visit and tells him her testamentary intentions. He won’t be getting a penny in her will: the entire estate will go to her grandson, Baron Joachim (Axel Strøbye), on condition that he secures the family line by marrying a decent young woman of spotless reputation. Otherwise the whole lot will go to the Danish equivalent of the Cats’ Protection League.
The Count can see several difficulties with this plan. One is that the required kind of young woman is becoming increasingly difficult to find – though perhaps the way he currently earns his living may have affected his judgement there. The main problem, though, is Joachim: he’s an unworldly young man who has been abroad for years, engaged in scholarly research in medieval numismatics, and moreover the Count suspects that he’s (ahem) not the marrying kind. Even so, he and the Dowager take a trip to Rome to fetch him home to his destiny (and no doubt also to make the most of the production budget). The Count secretly plans to hook him up with one of the girls from his charm school…
Back in Denmark, Detective Marie Hansen (Lone Hertz) enters the story…
… when she receives a complaint from one of the victims of the von Hasteen establishment and is persuaded to attend the wedding of a new graduate who has succeeded in her objective of catching a man. There she witnesses some raunchy goings-on (the girls are getting a very thorough training), but reckons that this is an entirely private matter. But she also sees the bride persuading her new, wealthy husband to part with 100,000 kroner for an alleged large gemstone (otherwise known as a bit of colored glass from a chandelier), and this convinces her that the Count’s business might be her business too.
So now there are two plotlines running concurrently: Count Axel’s plan for Joachim’s marital future, and Detective Marie’s plan to investigate the school. Neither goes well: appointed as the instructor in elocution, Joachim proves remarkably unresponsive as pretty girls throw themselves at him…
… and the police spy, posing as another prospective man to be caught and fleeced by the pupils, has his true identity and mission exposed by the Count’s secret network of closed-circuit surveillance cameras and goes back to police HQ with innocuous photos cunningly substituted for the incriminating ones he actually took.
And with that, Marie Hansen decides to go undercover herself. She is able to pressurize Julie, who is already known to the police, into introducing her to the Count as a friend, and she passes the interview with flying colors, telling him what an asset she will be, a pupil who already knows how to catch a man. (Yes, she does. Just not in the sense the Count expects.) She even manages to talk her way out of the undressing part of the admissions ritual. But there’s one thing the Count doesn’t like about her: her name. He insists she changes it from Marie to Marietta.
It’s as Marietta that she is introduced to her elocution teacher, who is of course Joachim. He encourages her to open out her vowels when saying her surname (still Hansen), and then makes her do tongue-twisters. The Count watches their lesson on the CCTV system and notes with pleasure that Joachim may not be gay after all: he is clearly rather attracted to the presumed-to-be naughty Marietta.
So now the two plotlines are coming together rather effectively. Joachim finds himself in the very same situations he experienced with the earlier series of seductive gold-diggers, but his attempts to get ‘Marietta’ to behave in a similar way meet with only very limited success.
The movie edges towards its climax when Joachim stumbles on the television system in the cellar and discovers the sexy side of the charm school’s curriculum. He’s outraged and goes off to confront the Count. While he’s doing so, Marie does the very same snoop and also discovers the surveillance screens. The Count tells his nephew that he should just get on with the business of sowing his wild oats, and supplies a girl for the purpose. She points out that, except for his droopy mustache, he’s very like his ancestor of the same name – who was a complete stud. He decides to give it a try and undresses the girl, not knowing that all the ensuing fun is being watched by Marie in the cellar.
As he loses his virginity, his mustache grows erect to match his ancestor’s,
but it’s also made clear that all the time he’s thinking of ‘Marietta’. She, of course, knows nothing of this, and she’s disgusted with him.
The following morning, the Dowager arrives in her carriage to attend a hunt on the estate. Joachim turns up, still with a turned-up tache, and greets ‘Marietta’. Her response is to slap him in the face. Rather than join the hunt, she accepts the Dowager’s invitation to ride in the carriage, which means she has to make polite conversation with the old lady about her grandson’s search for a bride. Every so often, they pass Joachim, engaging in a series of liberal al fresco wild-oat-sowing activities, to Marie’s evident irritation. ‘What are we going to do with him?’ asks Grandma affectionately. ‘Give him a kick in the ass!’ says Marie, not at all affectionately, and gets out of the coach to confront him.
‘You stupid pig!’ she tells him. ‘And what about you, eh?’ he retorts. She is about to regret slapping his face, which he found dishonorable. ‘Now it’s your turn!’ And with that he sits down on a log, puts her across his knee, pulls up her skirt and begins to spank her.
It’s worth pausing here to note, although there’s a modicum of nudity in the film, Marie is one character who has so far remained more or less fully dressed throughout. The most we’ve seen is an inch or so of her white, apparently patterned panties during a scene where she’s echoing what one of the seductresses did to Joachim earlier…
But just compare that to what the previous girl showed:
So it’s a big deal that Marie gets spanked like this:
And it’s also a big moment in the story. The spanking of Detective Hansen is the event that makes the two strands plait together to form the resolution of the film. It’s such a shock that she breaks her cover and tells him that she’s not Marietta but Marie, and a policewoman. Once he realizes her true identity, he stops spanking her and lets her go. Covering herself up, and evidently deeply offended, she tells him that now she’s going to do her duty.
‘How boring,’ he retorts, then grabs her wrist and leads her to his uncle. Told that he will have to face charges of fraud and pimping, the Count calls Marie some uncomplimentary names. But Joachim’s attitude to her has flipped over: the revelation of who she really is means that, in his eyes, she is no longer a fanciable tart who deserves to be spanked for slapping his face; on the contrary, she’s that elusive decent young woman of spotless reputation and therefore an eligible candidate to become the next Baroness von Hasteen. ‘That’s no way to talk about my future wife,’ he tells the Count. And with those words, Marie’s attitude flips over too: to be assaulted by a lecherous perp is one thing, but a spanking from her fiancé is quite another! And so the family fortune is safe and the Danish moggies will have to find some other source of funding. The substitution of marriage for criminal proceedings is perhaps the least convincing aspect of the happy ending, but there’s no denying that the spanking is absolutely pivotal in achieving it.
So it’s fitting that it has a lot of weight to it. By cinema standards it’s a long spanking, amounting to 37 smacks in all, and it’s presented in a complex sequence of 13 shots running for nearly 30 seconds of screen time. The best way to begin analyzing what happens is to describe and illustrate it shot by shot.
We’ve already dealt with Shot 1, which establishes the start of the spanking, seen from a distance, hence the blurry quality of the zoomed-in images shown earlier. The full frame looks like this:
Marie gets one smack and the second is already on its way down as we cut to:
Shot 2: a close-up of Marie’s bottom and thighs, with her legs kicking away, mostly out of shot; five smacks are seen to land.
Shot 3: a close-up of Marie’s face, taken from a very low angle looking upwards; her head moves up and down in the frame as her whole upper body bucks; two smacks are heard on the soundtrack.
Shot 4: back to Marie’s bottom in close-up, and another four smacks land; her kicking has intensified and her booted calf briefly enters the frame. Joachim decides to treat the spanking as a mock elocution lesson, and tells her the problem is with how she says the vowel ‘A’. They are going to do some vocal exercises saying words with ‘A’ in them, and he prompts her to say ‘Av!’ – Danish for ‘Ouch!’.
Shot 5: She does as she’s told: ‘Ouch!’ Another low-angle reaction shot of Marie, with one smack on the soundtrack.
Shot 6: the most complex shot of the whole sequence, involving a camera movement. We begin in close-up on Marie’s bottom, with her legs still pumping furiously, and she says, ‘I’m not who you think I am!’ The camera then pans upwards to rest on a head-and-shoulders shot of Joachim as he replies, ‘I hope not.’ In the course of this, another eight smacks are administered.
Shot 7: another low-angle shot of Marie’s face, with three smacks on the soundtrack. ‘I’m Marie Hansen,’ she tells him.
Shot 8: back to Joachim slapping away. The vocal exercise continues: ‘Say Hansen!’ he prompts, repeating the name as he smacks on: ‘Hansen! Hansen!’ Five more smacks are delivered, and although Marie is now below ‘see level’, she’s obviously still there: her rucked-up skirt protrudes into the bottom of the frame.
Shot 9: another reaction shot of Marie. ‘I’m a police officer,’ she squeals as three more smacks are heard. (Or less idiomatically, ‘I’m an employee of the police’ – ‘employee’ being ‘ansat’ in Danish. Yes it’s the letter ‘A’ again!)
Shot 10: back to the other end of Marie in close-up. ‘Say officer!’ demands Joachim, administering three more smacks.
Shot 11: ‘Ansat! Ansat! Ansat!’ Marie’s face again, with one smack on the soundtrack.
Shot 12: Joachim realizes what she’s just told him: ‘The police?’ he says as he gives one last smack. We’re on his head and shoulders again, and this time Marie is completely out of shot. Who knows, the actress might not actually have been there!
Shot 13: But she’s here for the final shot, another close-up of her bottom. This is another complex one, not because the camera moves but because Lone Hertz has to, and with some precision too: the spanking is at an end and she struggles off his knee, then backs into the camera keeping the seat of her panties in the center of the frame, and finally pulls her skirt down.
If there’s one slight disappointment to this sequence, it’s the way it’s presented as, in effect, a montage of two faces and a bottom, with no four-square master shot to show the complete spanking tableau. The reason for this is apparent if we look again at the initial wide shot:
There’s an enormous log exactly where the camera would have to be to take a master shot! So the cinematic complexity with which the spanking is presented is, at least in part, a response to the physical layout of the location: cinematographer Rolf Rønne had to shoot in dynamic detail because he simply couldn’t do anything else. And if we look closely at the thirteen shots, we can start to deduce how the sequence was originally filmed back in the fall of 1971.
The most obvious piece of evidence is the jump in continuity between Shots 1 and 2. Here’s the spanking as it appears in the very last frame of Shot 1:
But now notice the position of her legs in the very first frame of Shot 2:
After they finished the wide shot, they repositioned Lone Hertz so that her feet were off the ground, something helpfully captured by the stills photographer, Gerhard Pedersen, before they went on to shoot the close-ups:
And that’s a position she was going to be in for some time!
(We can tell the stills photography was done then rather than later, because of the undisturbed long grass to the left of Lone’s head: it’s where the camera will need to be soon afterwards, to shoot her reactions.)
The thirteen shots that make up the spanking in the edited film were extracted from footage shot in six distinct camera set-ups, beginning with the wide shot in which Lone is put across Axel Strøbye’s knee; she got at least two smacks, though we don’t see the second land in the film. After the actors adjusted their positions and the still was taken, they moved on to shoot Lone’s face, with the camera positioned on the ground in front of her. She was then spanked (at least six smacks, but in all likelihood they ran the whole of the dialog and spanking for this part of the sequence), and this resulted in the footage used for Shots 3, 5 and 7.
The camera was then repositioned slightly. You can see the change of angle and framing between these two shots:
Lone was then spanked again (at least four smacks, but likewise probably more), and this gave us Shots 9 and 11. Then there was a major change of camera position, to shoot the ‘business end’ of the spanking, and the cameraman found himself backed right up against that big, obtrusive log. And so Lone got her fourth and most substantial spanking of the day (at least seventeen smacks), producing the raw footage for Shots 2, 4, 6 and 8.
Then came the end of the spanking, as represented by Shots 10 and 13. You can see these are a different set-up because the position of Axel’s right hand has changed, as if he had taken it off her waist and then replaced it, in the process capturing a little more of her rucked-up skirt between his thumb and forefinger. This time the spanking was a little briefer (at least three smacks), after which Lone performed her carefully choreographed escape, hitting her mark exactly while walking backwards – what a skilled performance!
That still leaves Shot 12 unaccounted for: it’s framed differently from Shot 8 and so must be a different set-up, but the complete absence of any sign of Lone raises the strong possibility that it was done last with her already out of harm’s way. It didn’t save her much, though, as it only accounts for one smack!
So making this sequence meant that Lone had to be spanked five times, not counting rehearsals and any retakes. And it’s worth remembering that every new camera set-up took time to prepare: maybe just a short time if the camera was moved only a little from its previous position, but significantly longer if the shot also required new lighting, as even outdoor daylight sequences usually do. So Lone Hertz must have spent a good hour or two that day across Axel Strøbye’s lap with her panties on display. Luckily, they were already on intimate terms…
Offscreen, they had been a couple for ten years.