Culture News in
Bloody good, Egon!
Last of the Olsen Banden stars dead at 83
2018 3:33 pm
by The Copenhagen Post & cphpost.dk
On October 11, Denmark’s most acclaimed film series ‘Olsen
Banden’ – 17 movies following the exploits of hapless trio Egon, Benny and Kjeld
and their forever-doomed heist attempts – turned 50.
Poignantly only one of the main actors was alive to enjoy
the milestone, but he was too ill to take part in celebrations, taking the
opportunity to confirm he had lung cancer.
Grunwald played the affable goof
Benny who is best remembered for uttering the iconic line
‘Skide godt Egon’ (‘Bloody good Egon’) – usually in response to
the gang leader’s latest heist plan.
legends: Morten Grunwald (left) together with Ove Sprogøe and Poul Bundgaard
Aside from the Olsen
Banden films, Grunwald appeared in scores of
other films and theatre productions, winning a number of awards. And he was also
a well-respected stage director.
The Olsen Banden series spanned
17 films and still remains amongst the Danes’ favourite films.
‘The Olsen Gang in Deep Water’
premiered in 2013 as a 3D animation (photo: Youtube)
first film was released on 11 October 1968 and the Danes immediately took to the
shenanigans of leader Egon Olsen (played by Sprogøe) and his two clumsy henchmen
Benny and Kjeld (Bundgaard), who somehow always managed to bungle
Egon’s best-laid robbery plans. Sprogøe passed away in 2004, and Bundgaard died in 1998.
Two is company and three means trouble. One troublesome
trio, the Olsen Gang, have been leaving a trail of laughter and disaster behind them
since the late 1960s.
Considered Denmark’s answer to The
Marx Brothers and Britain’s successful Carry On films,
the Olsen Gang starred in a series
of 14 heist films, made primarily between 1968 and 1981, with the last in
The trio famously make bizarre mechanical contraptions to carry out their
devious plans, making use on occasion of balloons, forklifttrucks, folded
newspapers, cases of beer, and several Chevrolets – mostly 1959-1960 Bel Air
Language is no barrier to the simple pleasure of
seeing a plan hatched out, especially when the list of items required starts out
as three balloons, a stopper and an empty bottle.
Each film begins with mastermind Egon Olsen being let out of
prison. Egon is a tiny man with great energy dressed in a blue suit and a grey
He is permanently smoking the same stubby cigar and walks with purpose
through each scene.
The shots of him being released from the same state prison every time –
Vridsløselille in Albertslund – have made the building famous.
In fact, the road leading to it was renamed Egon Olsens Vej
Grunwald during a visit to the Danish Embassy in Berlin in April Photo:
Jens Kalaene / dpa
With a new
Egon always leaves prison with a
plan, giving orders to his two lackeys.
Benny is the giggler, with a goofy
shuffle step and brightly-coloured socks. He can also
open locks and operate all kinds of machinery with the skill of a
Kjeld is the fat sidekick, always rushing to catch up the
other two, often breaking things and getting offended.
He does much of the heavy lifting, tool hauling and grunt work – none of
which leads to any loss of girth.
Danish scriptwriter Henning Bahs initially created a story
about a group of small-time crooks who have the same daily concerns as any other
group of people.
Erik Balling, the man behind the popular Danish TV show
‘Matador’, and Bahs
wrote the scripts together, combining their affection for creative machinery
with social satire.
Egon never wins because he
underestimates the diabolical schemes of the white-collar criminals he is up
against. He does not use real violence or steal from classes apart from
the filthy and illegally rich.
As the police comment about themselves in a Norwegian version of one of the
films: “The only thing the police can do when the real big
criminals come by is offer them protection.”
The role of the little-guy against corporate and government entities,
especially the taxman, is celebrated by the three anti heroes, although
Egon nearly always winds up in prison at the
"Benny" 2006 in front of the new
silhouette in Thy
The films are considered family classics in Denmark, but were also so popular
that Norway and Sweden each made their own versions called ‘Olsenbanden’ and
In Eastern Europe,
particularly East Germany, the Olsen Gang also achieved
notoriety well beyond that in the West. Their
popularity is explained by the films’ ability to slip past Soviet censors while
still mocking authority figures.
Other reports blame the poorly-dubbed versions released in West
Germany, while the East Germany’s releases of ‘Die Olsenbande’ were dubbed by the company
Deutsche Film AG.
With car chases involving a hot-headed driving instructor, a Morris Minor
laden with furniture, a Renault station wagon chopped in half and innumerable
stacks of barrels tumbling down, the films are simply great visual fun.
The characters use a vaudevillian-style physical humour in their schemes to
They release balloons with lit strings to simulate gun shots, spill a whole
cart full of apples into the street and send a loose train car of singing
policemen into the Carlsberg Brewery.
Regular explosions and narrow misses are part of the experience, but no one
is ever truly injured.
At the request of Balling, the theme
music for the films was composed by Bent
Fabricius-Bjerre, a Danish composer and
pianist. The basic Dixieland-style melody was written in a form that
could easily be adapted to all kinds of moods and instruments – even accordions
Once Egon’s plan has been outlined and the necessary
equipment has been listed, the music sets the tone of the
Hoping to get rich
The police generally play the role of disinterested or misguided,
social-climbing bureaucrats. They simply cannot be bothered with many cases,
according to Inspector Jensen, the main police figure in the
fifth Olsen Gang film.
Other main characters include Kjeld’s
wife Yvonne, who plans on becoming a productive part of society
once they become rich. She makes endless plans for their future lives as good
citizens, as well as the honest career of their son, Børge.
He enters the films as a ten-year-old and gradually begins helping the
Olsen Gang, though Yvonne
disapproves in her piercing, high-pitched tone of voice.
The Olsen Gang are back in
More recently, the Olsen
Gang have returned as entertainment for a younger audience –
firstly as a television show about the childhood of the Olsen Gang and in a 2001 film called Olsenbande Junior.
Nordisk Film produced a 3D-animation film of the Olsen Gang, entitled, ‘The Olsen Gang on the Polished Floor'. After its
positive reception in theatres, it was released on DVD in Danish and
Russian, and a German version.
In 2013, a new 3D-animation funded by the Danish
Film Institute – ‘The Olsen Gang in Deep Water’ – is
expected to have its premiere.