The Mysterious X (1914) Poster

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9/10
See it!
Saturnome8 November 2008
When you look well into the past of cinema, what you usually get are historically significant films, and that isn't absolutely a synonym for good films. Well here's one you may want to watch simply for the fact that it is good.

Sealed orders is Christiansen's first film (a man I only know for the film "Haxan")and it is war drama at it's best. Tragic twist of fate, clear storyline, good pacing and great lighting work. It's a few years in advance on it's time, but it isn't technical wonders of the cinema of the 20s or of now. It's still theatrical, though it isn't anything like the early films of it's time and before. The film survived to our days in a great condition, nothing like the jerky pictures moving at a wrong speed we like to think of.

To put it simply, you'll watch it and have a great time, as long you like dramas of this kind. But if you actually cared enough to read a IMDb review of a 1914 film, It's surely your kind.
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10/10
Amazing film
poulbro1 August 2006
A wonderful silent film! This is one of the most innovative silent films ever. The danish director Benjamin Christensen made his director debut with this film that he financed himself. With his own company Dansk Biografkompagni, he started filming this film, that he wrote over one night. The plot in the film is good but not great. What makes this film so interesting is how Benjamin Christensen used darkness vs. light to create an atmosphere. Before this film a lack of light was considered as a lack of talent, but Benjamin proved that shadows can be very effective.

A great film
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7/10
Excellent Debut
"Det Hemmelighedsfulde X" ( The Mysterious X or Sealed Orders ) was the first film from the Danish director Herr Benjamin Christensen, a film director with a very strange inclination toward occult sciences, witchcraft, macabre rituals and other black celebrations, his film "Häxan" (1922) ( wherein Herr Christensen appeared as Herr Satan himself ) being the paradigm of these strange Danish tastes. In every film of his film career ( in Denmark, Germany or the USA ), besides the liking for Herr Devil and Mr. Evil, there is always, more or less, depicted a strange sense of the futility of life, the darkness of men's souls, and no much place for happy endings.

Det Hemmelighedsfulde X" is the story of Lieutenant Van Hauen ( Herr Christensen himself ), a man very concerned to perform his duty, that is to say, make war while his wife makes love with Count Spinelli, a sinister Count with many obscure intentions ( this reminds this Herr Graf of something.… ); intrigues about secret sealed war orders given to Herr Van Hauen that are revealed to the enemy will put the lieutenant's honor in question and his physical integrity at stake in a film very well paced and directed, a mixture of spy film ( those wicked people use modern communication systems this German Count is very fond of, such as carrier pigeons and Morse code ), war film ( mysterious landscapes, sinister mills, and battles on land and sea are seen in connection with the plot ), and suspense film ( the efforts of the lieutenant's family to prove his innocence at the end of the film are very well resolved, giving a sense of modernity for a film made in 1914 ).

"Det Hemmelighedsfulde X" is an excellent debut; Christensen's characteristics I've mentioned before are not found in this film; in their stead are conventional human weaknesses such as adultery, treachery and honor, although there are some shots depicting the dark intentions the Danish director was so fond of, as when Count Spinelli is trapped in the mill's cellar threatened by rats .

And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must do the honors of the Schlöss in this Count's honor.
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6/10
Noticeably, Yet Promisingly a Début
Cineanalyst14 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This looks like a first film, and, of course, it's the directorial début of Benjamin Christensen, whose place in film history rests mostly upon "Häxan" ("Witchcraft Through the Ages"), his third motion picture. This film does not have a distinctive style, not as "Häxan" or "Blind Justice" (Hævnens nat), his second film, would. Yet, this is common; most filmmakers begin not with their own designs and ideas, but rather copy (to greater extent than usual and to less effect) from those who came before them. What Christensen copies, then, is where this film shows promise.

At this time, in the early 1910s before "The Birth of a Nation", Danish cinema was perhaps the best in the world, so Christensen had much to work with. From what I've seen, mise-en-scène was especially developed. From a historical perspective, the lighting effects in Danish films were remarkable, influencing Weimar cinema and, thus, American film noir. There are such examples in this film. None of it seems especially original, but represents the best that others had previously used: low-key lighting for dramatic effect, stunning silhouettes and diegetic, or seemingly diegetic, lighting. Some scenes are only lit by the sunlight coming through a widow or door, or from a flashlight. Others scenes seem as though they're lit by diegetic sources, such as a lamp or from turning on a light switch. Generally, this was done by stopping filming after a character flipped a switch, then the lighting scheme for the scene was setup and filming resumed. Objects often partially hide the characters and the original darkness also helps to cover this effect, but if you look closely, you can sometimes notice the cut.

Furthermore, mirrors figure prominently in some scenes, as they do elsewhere in Danish cinema. Early on, Danish filmmakers weren't too concerned with narratives, but by the time of this film, they were becoming more complex. "Häxan" is something of a pinnacle. "Sealed Orders", or "Orders Under Seal", "The Mysterious X" (Det Hemmelighedsfulde X)--whatever you want to call this film--has a more traditionally engaging story. It takes from the sensational genre, a uniquely Scandinavian type of picture, with the cheating wife, scandals, being trapped in a cellar and the convoluted suspense. It was sold as such (see the tagline), but it's also simply a melodrama. The last-minute rescue might even owe something to the American director D.W. Griffith.

This isn't entirely promising stuff to work with, but it's a fine beginning, and Christensen would go on to demonstrate his skill. "Sealed Orders" contains plenty of errors: jump cuts, theatrical long shots and the obvious daytime photography near the end for what's supposed to be nighttime in the story. Perhaps the tinting or something was lost for the print I saw, but Griffith and Bitzer rectified this problem in "The Birth of a Nation" by filming at night, and Christensen would do the same for "Häxan". Still, this is a promising début.
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9/10
An Astonishing Early Film!
the_mysteriousx16 July 2001
This film, directed by Benjamin Christensen is regarded by many who have seen it as one of the greatest directorial debuts in cinema history. The Museum of Modern Art in New York houses a print of the film, without subtitles which makes it hard to follow at times, and not even a title or credits sequence, if the film ever had one. Two years ago, MOMA had a wonderful tribute to Christensen in which they screened all of his surviving films. This one is one of his two or three most important and one has to keep reminding his or herself that this is his FIRST film at a time when motion pictures were not even twenty years old!

Christensen is credited with being the first filmmaker to consciously shoot into direct light, creating silhouettes and magnificent compositions. He doesn't waste any time in this film, dazzling the audience with (at the time) very complicated lighting set-ups involving sunsets and characters lighting up a lamp in a rooms of darkness. Indeed this film was made two years before "Birth of a Nation" and artistically is just as good as that film and in some ways better.

It would be hard to assess if Christensen was the first to achieve the great things he accomplished since so much early cinema is lost, but there is no doubt that he had a mastery of lighting and composition, and for such an early filmmaker it is truly astounding. Very few of his films are available to the public, but the few that are findable (Mockery, Seven Footprints to Satan, and Witchcraft Through the Ages) are all cinematically interesting and at times downright fascinating.
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