The Olsen Gang (Danish: Olsen-banden, Norwegian: Olsenbanden, German: Die Olsenbande, Swedish: Jönssonligan) is a fictional Danish criminal gang in the eponymous film series. The gang’s leader is the criminal genius and habitual offender Egon Olsen and his accomplices are Benny and Kjeld (Kjell in Norwegian). The gang members are harmless and never use violence. A Norwegian version of the film series was also made (a total of 14 films from 1969 to 1999), in most cases based directly on the scripts for the Danish films.
Later, starting in 1981, Sweden also produced their own version: Jönssonligan.
Egon (left), Benny and Dynamite Harry (right).
Most of the films start with Egon coming out of jail and being enthusiastically welcomed by Benny and Kjeld. The three men will then have a beer together in the living room of Kjeld’s dilapidated home in a run-down Valby neighbourhood, where Egon will inform his friends of his latest plan, usually (but not always) for making them millionaires. Plans are often two-step plans, where the first heist will get the equipment for the real, second plan. The plans usually feature everyday artefacts such as Lego, party balloons, cigarettes etc., which are then brought together in surprising ways in elaborate and well-timed plans, often including clever social engineering. Bennys main function in the heists, besides get-away-driver, is often as keeper of “The Thing”, a metal bottle opener used for manipulating most any machinery. Egon often serves time with lawyers or executives who provide him with the information he needs, such as duty rosters for the national public record office.
Egon’s plans often bring the gang into perilously close contact with white-collar criminals from the Danish business (and political) elite. For example, in one episode some well-connected people try to make money out of the so-called “butter mountain”, a huge amount of butter bought up and stored by the EEC (now the EU) to keep prices up. Egon Olsen learns about this from a lawyer who is serving prison time, and the gang interferes with the plan to secure the millions for themselves. But as always, Egon – after having succeeded with a genius plan – loses because he underestimates the power and unscrupulousness of these people. For several movies the role of antagonist was filled by CEO Hallandsen of Hallandsen Inc. Egon is usually arrested in the end, for various reasons: scapegoat, bad luck, some completely irrelevant crime, or even turning himself in as a matter of honour.
A recurring part of the films is making fun of danish authorities, especially the police. Superintendent Jensen (Hermansen in Norwegian) to his younger colleague, inspector Holm: “The only thing the police can do when the real big criminals come by is offer them protection!” Jensen incredously uses the recurring exclamation “Bagmændene!” (Behind-men/Big Fishes) to reference the in-joke of powerful players moving outside of the law.
In the early episodes, harsh language and soft-erotica (temptingly dressed women) were more freely used than in later versions, which were somewhat censored to suit youngsters. Later movies focused on the satirical interplay between Jensen and Holm and Egon and Kjeld, with a frequent outburst of anger from either Olsen or superintendent Jensen. Especially Olsen’s long list of swear words are famous, like “social democrats!”, “insane woman!” (to Yvonne), “lousy amateurs!”, “cowards!”, “dog heads!”, “porridge peasants!”, “sop!”, “scumbag!”, to name a few.
Recurring characters in the Danish version:
- Egon Olsen: Gang leader, expert safecracker, brilliant but short-tempered and occasionally overdramatic.
- Benny Jensen: Gang member, get-away driver, handles practical stuff and always seem to float.
- Kjeld: Gang member, tool master, ever nervous and humble, but does on a rare occasion rise to meet any challenge.
- Yvonne: Kjelds very bossy wife, often with firm plans on how to use the millions from the various plans.
- Børge: Kjelds son, occasionally an impeccable part of the scemes.
- Harry (a.k.a. Dynamite Harry): a friend of Benny’s, explosives expert (at least in his own opinion) and deeply alcoholic.
- Jensen: Superintendent at Copenhagen Police, somewhat disillusioned and mostly forgotten by the brass in his basement office.
- Holm: Detective with Copenhagen Police, young and with high ambitions, but somewhat naïve.
- Hallandsen: A role with the same actor playing various villains, always on top of the social hierachy, most often also with international contacts.
- Kongen og Knægten (King and Knight): A confidence trickster and his violent nephew.
- Bøffen (The Beef): Enforcer and muscleman for Hallandsen and others.
- Hansen: Rival gang leader with theme music from Bob le flambeur.
The Olsen Gang have been made in Norwegian and Swedish (Jönssonligan) versions too. The films differ a bit from each other, but they follow a generally similar formula to the Danish films. The original, Danish films were popular in the former GDR (East Germany) and Eastern Europe.
The film series also has another character, ‘Dynamite Harry’, as the little brother of Benny Frandsen, which is also featured on the Norwegian rendition of the episodes – is the demolition expert (although his nerves are very easily shaken due to years of having dealt with explosives and alcohol). Harry made an appearance in six Norwegian films, played by Harald Heide-Steen Jr.. He also appeared in two early Danish Olsen Gang films, then played by Preben Kaas. In the Swedish Jönssonligan series Harry showed up in the second film, and became a regular member of the gang from the next installment on, since the actor who played the original member, a Finn named Rocky, was fired. In the Swedish version, Egon was replaced by Charles-Ingvar “Sickan” Jönsson, with a slightly different costume and mannerisms, and in later films when the actor Gösta Ekman got tired of the character, yet other leaders, who never became as popular as “Sickan”. Benny’s part was taken by “(Ragnar) Vanheden”, a small-timer from Stockholm.
Egon Olsen and Bøffen.
In the Danish original, Egon Olsen is the small and wiry boss of the Olsen Gang. His two sidekicks are the merry Benny and the timid, pudgy Kjeld. Kjeld’s wife, Yvonne, is the only one who Egon has to fight, as she tends to interfere with his plans. Egon Olsen’s hallmark is his bowler hat, pinstripe suit, and an extinguished cigar end in his mouth, even when he is gagged. Egon Olsen is one of the typical antiheroes of film history, an eternal loser who wobbles but does not fall over. Some observers have pointed out that “Egon Olsen projects the image of an anarchist, an outcast from the world of established capitalism as well as from the secure world of the middle and upper classes.”
Egon’s involvement in each film follows a similar pattern. Egon constantly develops new and “genius” plans during his stays in prison. His catchphrase is “I have a plan”, which he says to his accomplices in all fourteen films after being released from prison. The plan succeeds through the most intricate machinations (Egon’s specialty is the cracking of safes with merely a stethoscope and fine feeling) but Egon always loses his object of desire due to some freak accident at the end of the movie, usually caused by the incompetence of his accomplices. Almost every film, except the fifth, the sixth and the fourteenth, ends with Egon’s arrest.
The role had a legendary renown in former East Germany, and while many West Germans are unable to associate the name of the franchise with the Danish films, nearly all Eastern Germans can at least cite Benny’s catchphrase “mächtig gewaltig, Egon” (Danish “Skide godt, Egon!” – in English literally “shit-good”, but “Bloody good, Egon!” will catch the spirit better). Critics hypothesise that Egon’s talent for improvisation impressed East Germans living under a socialist economy of scarcity, more than James Bond did, fighting his enemies with the newest technological gimmicks.
The gaolers of the Vridsløselille prison in Copenhagen, where Egon Olsen went at the end of each film, initiated a renaming of the street right in front of the prison into “Egon Olsens Vej” in 2004. According to goalers and the prison warden, “Egon Olsen has always been a very nice criminal who deserves to be honoured”, and “Egon has done much for the facility. Up until today, many tourists from Eastern Germany go on a pilgrimage to the prison gate to take pictures”.
English title (Original title) Release date Notes The Olsen Gang (Olsen-banden) October 11, 1968 The Olsen Gang in a Fix (Olsen-banden på spanden) October 3, 1969 The Olsen Gang in Jutland (Olsen-banden i Jylland) October 8, 1971 The Olsen Gang’s Big Score (Olsen-bandens store kup) October 6, 1972 The Olsen Gang Goes Crazy (Olsen-banden går amok) October 5, 1973 The Last Exploits of the Olsen Gang (Olsen-bandens sidste bedrifter) October 4, 1974 This was intended to be the last movie at the time it was made. The Olsen Gang on the Track (Olsen-banden på sporet) September 26, 1975 The Olsen Gang Sees Red (Olsen-banden ser rødt) October 1, 1976 This movie contains the famous showdown scene in which the gang bombs, drills, and hammers its way through the basement of the Royal Danish Theatre in synchronicity with the music of Friedrich Kuhlau‘s overture to the opera Elverhøj. The Olsen Gang Outta Sight (Olsen-banden deruda’) September 30, 1977 The Olsen Gang Goes to War (Olsen-banden går i krig) October 6, 1978 The Olsen Gang Never Surrenders (Olsen-banden overgiver sig aldrig) October 26, 1979 The Olsen Gang’s Escape over the Fence (Olsen-bandens flugt over plankeværket) October 16, 1981 Olsen-banden over alle bjerge (The Olsen Gang Long Gone) December 26, 1981 The Olsen Gang’s Last Trick (Olsen-bandens sidste stik) December 18, 1998 The actor in the role as “Kjeld Jensen”, Poul Bundgaard, died while filming the last movie. The actor Tommy Kenter stepped in to fill his role to finish the film. This was hidden through various effects and cover-up techniques.
Animated feature-length Danish films
- The Olsen Gang Gets Polished (2010)
- The Olsen Gang in Deep Trouble (2013)