Monday, October 27, 2014

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

A young Salvation Army worker is dying on New Year's eve and requests to see the first man to visit the shelter. That man lies drunk in a graveyard. He tells his drinking buddies that whomever dies at the stroke of midnight is fated to drive Death's carriage to collect the souls of the departed. When he is killed in a fight, the carriage arrives and David Holm is then shown the wickedness of his ways.

Slightly Christmas Carol in theme, and very temperance in tone, The Phantom Carriage is a landmark of early Swedish cinema, and of the horror genre. The special effects (mostly double exposure to show the translucent carriage) was groundbreaking for the day.

The story is not easily summed up and the storytelling is quite nonlinear. But the meaning of the glances and the sequence of events is never in doubt. Director Victor Sjostrom was wonderful in the lead role. Ingmar Bergman was strongly influenced by the film, and I'm sure it's no coincidence that Victor appeared in Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1957).

There is much to say about this film, but I hate to stray too far from the irreverent. Apparently a homeless shelter in Sweden is called a "Slumstation", and "The End" is written as "Slut". Insert Bevis style giggling here. The Phantom Carriage transcends such nonsense, but sometimes I can't help myself.

An excellent film that isn't diminished by silent cinema, but I do recommend finding a copy with a good score. Great atmosphere, excellent acting, and a rewarding viewing experience. AMRU 4.
"Captive, come forth from thy prison!"

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