I went into this expecting an Expressionistic horror film, along the lines of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or maybe Haxan, to get that Scandinavian flavor, and there’s certainly a ghostly creep factor to much of the beginning, but the film as a whole is more of a morality tale – not that that’s a bad thing.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and when two carousing men threaten a fight, their previously-merry companion David stops them seriously to tell them the story of the phantom carriage – each year, the last person to die on New Year’s Eve must drive Death’s carriage and collect the souls of the dead for the next year. The special effects on the carriage and the driver are pretty spooky, especially for 1921, and really effective. Of course, David ends up visited by the phantom driver, who turns out to be his old friend Georges. Georges reminds David of his happy life with his wife and family, then how he turned astray and left them as he fell further and further into degeneracy. Ultimately, the story is about whether David can redeem himself and return to his family, or if it’s too late for him.
Though the film is not as a whole particularly horrific, it does have one particular horror descendent – a scene where David is trying to get at his wife and children in a rage after the lock themselves in the bathroom is almost shot for shot copied in The Shining. But while Jack Torrance is already pretty much gone at that point, this is a low point for David from which he could possibly come back. Though really, as potentially hopeful as the ending is, I’d personally think twice about reconciling with a man who’d ever broken down a door with an ax to get to me, even if he has seen death. Anyway.
The film dragged for me a bit in the middle, establishing David’s non-repentance in the past a few too many times, but I do as a whole like silent-era morality tales, which have a lot of heart and earnestness to them which tends to annul my cynicism. And that carriage. *shudder*
Stats and stuff…
written and directed by Victor Sjöström
starring Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström, Tore Svennberg, Astrid Holm
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how The Phantom Carriage entered my chart:
The Phantom Carriage > The Italian Job (2003)
The Phantom Carriage < Naked
The Phantom Carriage > Saving Private Ryan
The Phantom Carriage > Heat
The Phantom Carriage > The Public Enemy
The Phantom Carriage > Little Children
The Phantom Carriage > Fanny and Alexander
The Phantom Carriage > Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Phantom Carriage > The Adjustment Bureau
The Phantom Carriage > They Died With Their Boots On
The Phantom Carriage > Orpheus
Final #929 out of 3710 films on my chart (75%)
It is now my #1 Victor Sjöström film, my #3 Heaven-Can-Wait Fantasy, my #42 Silent Film, and my #4 film of 1921.
The Phantom Carriage was recommended by Travis Easton, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook. Averaging together this #929 ranking with my #309 ranking of his other film, Millennium Actress, gives Travis an average ranking of 619.
A few more screenshots…