The third film adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf's novel. The drinker David Holm gets killed right on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. He will now face the death coachman, which happens to be his old friend.
It's New Year's Eve. Three drunkards evoke a legend. The legend tells that the last person to die in a year, if he is a great sinner, will have to drive during the whole year the Phantom Chariot, the one that picks up the souls of the dead... David Holm, one of the three drunkards, dies at the last stroke of midnight...Written by
One of the best silent dramas I've seen. As dark and shadowy as anything the German Expressionists produced, but featuring performances that were quite understated and naturalistic for the day. No camera mugging and no unintentional laughs due to wild-eyed arm-waving histrionics. Sjostrom gave a convincing performance as the drunken, mean-spirited and frightening David Holm.
Set mostly at night in a dingy Swedish slum, the film had a very claustrophobic set-bound feel to it, aided by the low key lighting and extensive use of irising.
There was a deep, and typically Scandinavian, sense of despair and hopelessness to the narrative: the film begins in a rather grim present, and then we're told David Holm's story in a series of flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks--a pretty complex story structure for 1921), where his character is offered numerous chances at redemption, but he doesn't take them, and we know he won't take them, because we've seen him die drunk and wretched and mean as ever in the present. The penultimate scene is as dark as any I have seen in all of cinema.
The writing and directing is tight and intelligent, even by today's standards. In several instances, Sjostrom skillfully sets the audience up to suspect one thing, and then pulls out a surprise. The ending might not be such a surprise to some viewers, but I didn't see it coming.
This movie deserves a full restoration and DVD release. Or even a crappy budget release. It just needs to be out there so people can see and appreciate it.
9.5/10, which rounds up to 10/10
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