"The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter" was the last film produced by the Hasselblad Studio in Gothenburg, Sweden and one of the last films made by the studio's main director Georg af Klercker. If this film is any indication, that ending was a blessing. There is very little in this ridiculous melodrama to recommend itself. Its narrative is nearly as stupid as melodrama can get. Klercker's style was primitive even for its timerelying on lengthy long shots with little scene dissection, continuity editing or closer camera views. The scenes outside along the seaside are the best part of the picture, especially the early shots of the two leads' budding romance near the lighthouse, but it doesn't compare to the beautifully ferocious nature in the best films by fellow Swedes Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller (e.g. "Terje Vigen" (1917) and "Sir Arne's Treasure" (1919)).
The story follows the marital troubles of Eva, the lighthouse keeper's daughter (played by Mary Johnson), and Frank, who share a daughter. My take on this marriage is that Eva is a needy, clinging featherbrain whose initially expressed fear of losing Frank becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As revealed in a flashback early on in the picture, Frank called off his first engagement when he discovered that his fiancée was marrying him for his money, so, instead, he ends up "marrying down" (in the classist sense typical of almost all of these kinds of soap operas) for love with Eva. Conflict arises when Frank tries to get a job, which is, apparently, just too much separation for the pathetic Eva. When she discovers that Frank is merely discussing with a retiring professor of becoming his replacement, she races off to the professor's home to hug the back of her sitting husband. To get back in his good graces, Eva steals the professor's treatise, for her husband to use in writing his own, to get the job. To digress for a moment from Eva's inanity to the inanity of the scenario in general, this business of stealing the treatise makes no sense. The paper is claimed to have gotten the professor his job, which one would assume means that it was published. But, no, apparently, it's a secret treatise that Eva steals, and this becomes a scandal.
Anyways, when Eva discovers Lillian, the daughter of the professor, scheming with Frank for him to divorce Eva for the job, she runs away into the wildernessabandoning her childand without any indication that she has any destination. She has an irrelevant episode with a wannabe-rapist hobo before fainting out in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately for her, a fisherman finds her and takes her into his cottage. Back home, Lillian loses Frank and Eva's child, and as bad dramaturgy would have it, this just happens to be when Eva rows through the sea towards homewhereupon she reunites with her daughter. The story doesn't end here, however, as Eva kidnaps her own daughtertaking her back to the fisherman's cottage. Yet, Frank, apparently, cares enough about his daughter's welfare to track her and his wife down, where they reunite for a happy ending. As a title card concludes, "After the storm and rain, the sun shines again ."
"The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter" features many of the worst aspects typical of melodramas. One that is especially infuriating is the constant eavesdropping. This is the means in which Eva uses to overhear her husband's professional considerations. (Yeah, I guess this married couple doesn't realize their problems could be solved by talking face to face.) It's also the preference of the lurking Lillian. The movie's final reunion scene becomes laughably bad when we see Lillian in the background peeking her head through a window as the family hugs each other. There's also the requisite love triangle between Eva and Lillian for Frank's affections. A peculiar aspect of this particular drama, however, is how touchy-feely all of the characters are. Lillian feels up the married man Frank the first time she has him alone (well, besides the eavesdropping Eva someone's always lurking, after all). There's Eva's clinging neediness. I even thought that the love triangle had turned into a love rectangle when we see the fisherman pawing Eva and her sitting on his lap, but, it turns out, he's more of a fatherly figure (may as well be, as we never see Eva's real father, the lighthouse keeper, after the film's first part).
Intricate melodramatics such as this are difficult to engage with (at least in a favorable way) when all logic is abandoned, every cliché is adopted, and the characters are all unlikeably stupid. Klercker's style, which based on my viewing of another film of his, "The Suburban Vicar" (1917), seems consistent of his oeuvre, does it no favors, either. The dated long framings left the performers to their own devices, and they suffered as a result. Even Klercker's favorite star Mary Johnson, who was very good in Stiller's "Sir Arne's Treasure", can't help her insufferable Eva in this stinker. Of course, being a film from 1918, there are some closer viewseven iris opening close-ups to introduce characters and keyhole POV shots for one episode of eavesdroppingbut, overall, the film relies on long shots with minimal editing, as well as plenty of title cards to describe the plot. This makes for a plodding viewing experience that is only saved by the fact that the feature is barely more than an hour long. Fortunately, this was the end, and, in the meanwhile, Sweden had two masterful filmmakers in Sjöström and Stiller.
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