Jan-Erik Widgren (Alf Kjellin), a student in his final year of secondary school, is an idealist who would rather play the violin that cram for Latin. The sadistic Latin teacher, whom the students all call “Caligula” (Stig Järrel), has got it in for Jan-Erik. He torments Widgren with nitpicky questions and sarcastic taunts until he makes a mistake, and is then punished for it. One evening Jan-Erik is on his way home when he runs into the shop assistant from a tobacco shop, Bertha Olsson (Mai Zetterling), who is so drunk she can hardly stand up. He helps her to her flat and wants to leave, but she begs him to stay, because she is afraid of someone who torments her – without revealing the name. Thus begins the love affair between Jan-Erik and Bertha. When “Caligula” finds out about it, it is grounds for him to exclude Widgren from the final exams.
In his first screenplay to be filmed, Bergman shows the Latin teacher as the prototype of a fascist – his “Himmler glasses” and his radical rightist newspaper characterize him as a Nazi sympathiser. When he is exposed after a brutal act, he shows himself to be a trembling coward. But HETS also has positive characters, such as the Headmaster (Olof Winnerstrand), who wants to help Jan-Erik, the kind classroom teacher “Pippi” (Gösta Cederlund), or Jan-Erik’s friend Sandman (Stig Olin), who is the only one to demonstrate his abhorrence of Caligula in public.
Directed by Alf Sjöberg, HETS won the Grand Prix at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival; Mai Zetterling was named Best Actress a year later in Venice.