Sunday, March 24, 2013

10. Korkarlen/The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Running Time: 106 minutes
Directed By: Victor Sjostrom
Written By: Victor Sjostrom, from novel by Selma Lagerlof
Main Cast: Victor Sjostrom, Hilda Borgstrom, Tore Svennberg, Astrid Holm, Concordia Selander


Technically, this movie should've been watched about three and a half years ago, but back then I could find it nowhere. Now, thanks to the folks at Criterion, and one of my commenters, I've been able to track down the incredibly hard to find tenth entry in THE BOOK - "The Phantom Carriage".

It is New Year's Eve and Sister Edit (Holm) of the Salvation Army is dying. As she lie on her death bed, a few friends surround her and she requests the presence of David Holm (Sjostrom), for reasons we don't yet know. It turns out that David Holm is the town drunk (one of them anyway) and as he sits on a curb drinking, just minutes before midnight and the new year, he recalls a tale that an old friend of his, Georges (Svennberg) told him. It seems that there is a legend, that the last person to die on New Year's Eve is taxed with the responsibility of driving the death cart for one year. The death cart is a horse drawn carriage that goes around picking up the dead - pretty self explanatory operation. David recalls his friend Georges being petrified of this legend, even going so far as to be extra cautious on New Year's Eve, so as not to be the one deemed responsible for driving the death cart. David tells his friends that the kicker of the whole story is the fact that last year, on New Year's Eve, Georges actually did die. It's at about this time that David is summoned to the bedside of Edit, but he refuses to go and in a tussle, something happens to him and he dies. Well, guess who shows up? None other than Georges, riding in his death cart. It seems that it wasn't just a legend, that Georges myth was the real deal and now he's looking for David to relieve him of his duties. Is time up for David or does he still have time to repent for a life filled with shame and meanness?

I should take a moment to note that THE BOOK lists "The Phantom Carriage" as 93 minutes, yet the version I watched was 106 minutes. I do know that I watched The Criterion Collection version of the film, so I can only assume that the good folks at Criterion restored some missing scenes. One thing I'm positive they did was update the soundtrack, something I wasn't particularly keen on, while watching. I would've liked to hear the original soundtrack and if there wasn't one, then I think I'd have been more content with silence. The soundtrack that I heard (a very modern sounding, overly eerie piece) just didn't quite fit and failed, in my summation, to properly accompany the images. It wasn't a bad soundtrack, it was just like oil and water - didn't quite mix.

Otherwise, I have to say that had I been able to watch this when I should've watched it (back in September 2009, sandwiched in between "Way Down East" and "Orphans of the Storm"), I think I would've appreciated it a LOT better and who knows, I think it may have been a force to be reckoned with come time for that initial TOP 20 list. It was actually quite good and I was really impressed with the advanced caliber of the script. A lot of times, although the silent cinema was fantastic, it was the simplicity of the scripts that really made movies like "Broken Blossoms" and the Buster Keaton films shine. With "The Phantom Carriage", you have a really intricate movie, filled with multiple flashback scenes and sometimes even flashbacks inside of flashbacks. Can I just stop and mention how much I LOVE flashback within a flashback scenes. It's like being inside a Russian nesting doll, especially when you start to come out of everything.

Stanley Kubrick would later go on to reference this scene in one of his own films.
Anyway...the script is pretty intricate and quite good. I don't think I liked it quite as much today, as I would have back then, but that still doesn't stop me from lightly praising it and saying there wasn't too much I didn't like about it. It wasn't blow-away stellar or anything and I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I simply wasn't in the mood for a silent horror movie today and that's my fault. I'm still able to recognize the good stuff that was on display here and big kudos to Victor Sjostrom, who really put on a fine silent performance.

RATING: 6.5/10  This one could probably use another look someday, perhaps around Halloween or sometime when I'm ready for silent horror. As it is, it was a fine movie to spend the day with and a mild thumbs up.


March 24, 2013  5:32pm


  1. there can often be a big flucuation in run times of silent films due to how they are shown(frames per second etc

  2. I had forgotten you had 'missed' this one in the old days when you were trying to do them in chronological order...
    I really liked this.. full of atmosphere and mood.
    Well, it's Swedish and miserable, so was in with a good chance!
    BTW, the above comment, in case you wondered, was not me.. but the point they make is very true.... Timings on silents can vary.. and is partly when every one in silents walks a little fast. But also there would have been many more differing 'cuts' made for different markets.. domestic, abroad, to fit in programmes, local objections etc etc.Also over the years, repaired damage can loose several frmes..
    Often , very often, originals (Master copy) have been long lost, and restored films made from umpteen sources as another lost copy has been found somwhere.

    1. I actually did know that wasn't you, as I know you always sign your name. Like I said, I think I would've enjoyed this A LOT more, had I been in silent mode.


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