Background (The Fight Against Cancer)

The Fight against Cancer. Framegrab.
On 1 August 1944, Ernst Carlsen and Ejvind Møller of the Danish Cancer Society wrote the Ministerial Film Committee, saying that they would like to see a film about fighting cancer. The initial response was negative. The Committee at the time was doing a film on sexually transmitted diseases and did not think it was a good idea to bring out too many health-related films at one time.

In April 1946, the Cancer Society wrote again, inquiring about the possibility of getting a project going. As bait, they mentioned that Professor Carl Krebs had "pledged his medical support."

Two film projects resulted. In addition to an ordinary short film project, the Cancer Society wanted a silent 16 mm film for lecture use. Dreyer wrote the scripts for both, while working on The Danish Village Church. In mid-August 1946, Dreyer wrote Dansk Kulturfilm, saying that he had received a letter from Professor Krebs, who had read Dreyer’s corrections for the script and was satisfied, apart from one correction. Shooting was done quickly and the film was completed already in mid-October.

The film opens with a shot of a tombstone and a voiceover intoning, "She waited too long." A professor, played by Krebs himself, next tries to explain to various patients and a nonplussed nurse the urgent importance of getting help in time when you get cancer.

The film strip is uncredited and Dreyer never wanted to have his name mentioned in connection with the film. An index card in the archives of Dansk Kulturfilm credits Dreyer with writing and directing, while in both places is added, "Do not make public" in parentheses. The Cancer Society evidently did not entirely comply, according to letter Dreyer wrote Koch-Olsen at Dansk Kulturfilm of 6 October 1946,
As you know, we have finished the cancer film. I hope you will like it. With regard to this film there is another point I would like to touch upon with you. The Cancer Society has issued a press release, stating that I did the directing. I would be very grateful if you would write a letter to the Cancer Society, asking them not to mention my name in their press releases – in accordance with the agreement between you and me that my name not be mentioned in connection with the films I work on for you.

The aforementioned press release notwithstanding, Dreyer’s involvement in the film was successfully kept out of the public eye, and the film was first (re)discovered as a Dreyer film by Bjørn Rasmussen in 1968.