Saturday, October 31, 2015

Movie Review: The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen)

The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen) a.k.a The Phantom Chariot a.k.a The Stroke of Midnight
Svensk Filmindustri (SF), Sweden, 1921.
The Phantom Carriage Körkarlen title
Based on Selma Lagerlöf's novel "Körkarlen" a.k.a "Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness!"

Let's continue with "Svenska Stumfilmklassiker" DVD collection!

Salvation Army sister Edit (Astrid Holm) is dying of galloping consumption (i.e. tuberculosis). She wants to see David Holm (Victor Sjöström) but her mother (Concordia Selander) opposes. Sister Maria (Lisa Lundholm) goes to search for him but finds only his wife (Hilda Borgström). 
Sister Edit is dying
David is in the graveyard drinking with his friends
It is New Year's Eve and David is in the graveyard drinking with his friends. David tells a story about His friend Georges (Tore Svennberg).  He who meets with a fatal accident on New Year's Eve must drive Death's chariot and collect the souls of everybody who dies during the next year. Georges died on New Year's Eve so he became the chariot driver. 
Tore Svennberg
Death's chariot
Salvation Army officer Gustafsson (Tor Weijden) finds David but he does not want to go. David is knocked out by his drinking buddies just as the clock strikes twelve. Georges and the chariot come to collect David's soul. Georges says that David picked up bad habits because of him. Otherwise he would have lived a quiet and happy life with his wife and children. 
Georges comes to reap David's soul
Victor Sjöström
David Holm
David causes troubles for his family
Instead David has been drinking and causing troubles for his family. He caused his brother (Einar Axelsson) to drink and brother was jailed for manslaughter. David promises to mend his ways but falls again when his wife leaves him. He swears to find her and get revenge. David is an evil man and he has tuberculosis. He does not care infecting other people. Later he goes to the Salvation Army station where Edit works. Edit wants to save him, but is disappointed several times. Edit gets tuberculosis from David. 
David in the Salvation Army station
Lisa Lundholm
Astrid Holm
"Körkarlen" is powerfully dramatic and tragic film. It is like "It's a Wonderful Life" but the other way round. Or a "Christmas Carol" style morality play with horror elements. Instead of showing David what the life would have been without him, Georges shows all the evil David has caused with his unsavoury ways. Several flashbacks tell the David's story and why Edit wants to meet the evil drunkard.
Here's David!
This version is the 1998 Swedish Film Institute restored version with Matti Bye's soundtrack. Music is melancholic with hints of Waltz, gypsy music and horror tango with violin sounds imitating screeching chariot.

Selma Lagerlöf wrote the novel to inform people about tuberculosis but also to deal with social ills of alcoholism and domestic violence. The realistic style is combined with supernatural ghost story. Ingmar Bergman was influenced by the film and certainly reaper of souls Georges has similarity to The Death in "The Seventh Seal." One scene reminds of "The Shining." Film was photographed by Julius Jaenzon. The filming method was difficult, hand-cranked camera and double exposure was used to film the ghostly transparent scenes. Masterpiece.

Rating: Excellent

Starring: Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström, Tore Svennberg, Astrid Holm, Concordia Selander, Lisa Lundholm, Tor Weijden, Einar Axelsson, Olof Ås, Nils Aréhn, Simon Lindstrand, Nils Elffors, Algot Gunnarsson, Hildur Lithman, John Ekman, Edvin Adolphson, Elof Ahrle, Emmy Albiin, Anna-Lisa Baude, Josua Bengtson, Helga Brofeldt, Julia Cæsar, Mona Geijer-Falkner, Carl Harald, Arthur Natorp, Fridolf Rhudin, Signe Wirff 
Director: Victor Sjöström


  1. Classic stuff. I like how they mixed social realism with early folk horror.

    1. These films sure have great atmosphere of chills and drama.


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