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Carl Theodor Dreyer
Three Scottish officers, including Sir Archi, murder Sir Arne and his household for a coffin filled with gold. The only survivor is Elsalill, who moves to relatives in Marstrand. There she meets a charming young officer - Sir Archi, and she soon understands that he was one of the murderers. She is in a classic dilemma between her love for Sir Archi and justice. Written by
SIR ARNE'S TREASURE (Mauritz Stiller, 1919) ***1/2
As far as I can tell, this is the first Swedish Silent that I've watched (I'd previously been intrigued by a solitary still actually used for the DVD sleeve itself found in "The Movie", a British periodical from the early 1980s); I've seen a handful of early efforts from neighboring Denmark and the aesthetic starkness in the predominant style of both countries is pretty similar. It's also the first from Swedish master Stiller (I also own his two other well-known titles, EROTIKON  and THE SAGA OF GOSTA BERLING , that were released on DVD from Kino and I may very well include the latter in my current Epic/Historical films schedule); incidentally, I've only checked out and was duly impressed by two American-made pictures from Victor Sjostrom, the other great director to emanate from this country during the Silent era.
SIR ARNE'S TREASURE is best described as a historical melodrama since the elements typically expected of an epic only really come into play in the scenes involving a fire early on and a sword-fight towards the end. However, one shouldn't overlook the vast and forbidding icy landscape which not only serves as an extremely realistic backdrop to the narrative incidentally, the quality of the cinematography throughout likens the film to an uninterrupted series of medieval tableaux but is very much another character in it, since the villains' flight (the perpetrators of a massacre in a household, from which they also abscond with the titular fortune) is prohibited because the sea has frozen over! Notable scenes here include: a cart-wheeling horse falling head-first through cracked ice; the youngest of the thieves having ghostly visions of one of his murdered victims (as it happens, he later falls for the girl's sister and she with him, which leads to the latter being torn whether to give her lover away or run off with him to Scotland!); the leading man ultimately using the heroine as a human shield against the oncoming soldiers; the closing procession over the ice by the townsfolk to reclaim the girl's dead body (justly considered one of the visual highlights in all of Silent cinema).
The plot also effectively incorporates the element of premonition such as when the fish-hawker's usually docile canine companion senses impending doom and starts to howl, Sir Arne's wife literally hearing from miles away the preparations for the subsequent assault on her abode, the ship captain's tale of a previous case of poetic justice similarly brought on by severe weather conditions, and the heroine being led by her dead sister to the villains' whereabouts in a dream. The print I watched featured nice use of blue (for outdoor night-time scenes) and red (the afore-mentioned blaze) tinting; the newly-composed accompanying score is appropriately sweeping, albeit making use of mostly modern instruments. The main extras on the Kino DVD involve noted film historian Peter Cowie, who supplies an informative background to early Swedish cinema (where he also discusses the seminal contribution of authoress Selma Lagerlof who was behind the source novel of both this and THE SAGA OF GOSTA BERLING) and, in a separate featurette, focuses exclusively on the film at hand.
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