Eva Dahlbeck, a nimble leading lady of early Ingmar Bergman films, who shifted easily and effectively from the wry comedy of "Smiles of a Summer Night" to the stark melodrama of "Brink of Life," died Friday in Sweden. She was 87 and had Alzheimer's disease.
Dahlbeck might be best remembered for "Smiles of a Summer Night" (1955), which has endeared itself to generations of filmgoers for its delicate comic touches and delirious romanticism.
The film helped launch Bergman's international reputation. Dahlbeck played the central role as a stage actress of advancing years who manipulates her two pompous lovers, a lawyer (Gunnar Bjornstrand) and a military officer (Jarl Kulle).
In "Brink of Life" (1958), Dahlbeck played a proud expectant mother whose baby dies in childbirth. Her image of herself is shattered, and the fierce slap she delivers to another young woman in the maternity ward "is among the most unforgettable in Bergman's cinema," according to the International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers.
Dahlbeck was cast opposite Bjornstrand several times in Bergman's films. She was often the woman of strong intelligence and wise understanding, and Bjornstrand, her immature other half, was well-deserving of a comeuppance.
They were paired in the marital dramas "Secrets of Women" (1952) and "A Lesson in Love" (1954), as well as "Dreams" (1955), in which she was an introspective fashion editor and he a married man with whom she has an affair.
Dahlbeck played the widow of a faithless cellist in Bergman's comedy "All These Women" (1964), the director's first color film and an attempt to channel the silent slapstick of Mack Sennett through pie fights and a score that included "Yes, We Have No Bananas."
Reviewers were not amused overall, but A.H. Weiler, writing in the New York Times, noted that of all the performers, Dahlbeck "appears to be the least quixotic in her characterization of a woman bearing her love and humiliation behind an enigmatic mask."
Dahlbeck also won critical praise for supporting roles in international productions, including "A Matter of Morals" (1961), in which she performs a drunken monologue, and the first-rate espionage film "The Counterfeit Traitor" (1962), as the wife of the hero, played by William Holden.
Eva Elisabet Dahlbeck was born March 8, 1920, in Saltsjo-Duvnas, Sweden, and attended the Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm.
She maintained an active stage career for more than two decades, including a singing role as Jenny in a 1950 Swedish production of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's "The Threepenny Opera." She won the prestigious Eugene O'Neill Award in 1961 for her theatrical work.
She made her first credited movie appearance in the historical drama "Ride Tonight!" (1942), based on a play in which she had appeared, and had a supporting role as a flirt in "Eva" (1948), directed by Gustaf Molander, with a screenplay by Bergman. She also was in a Swedish version of "Woman in White" (1949), based on the Wilkie Collins mystery novel.
Dahlbeck was married to Sven Lampell, an officer in the Swedish air force and International Red Cross official, from 1944 until his death last year. Survivors include their two sons, David and Tomas.