Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage) (1921)

Today's film is The Phantom Carriage.  It is a dark drama, but has some spectacular effects for a film from the 1920's.

One thing that is interesting is that this film has different stories within the main story.  The main story is that Sister Edit is dying of TB and wishes to see David before she passes.  David is too busy drinking with his buddies to bother coming.  The friends talk about a legend where the last person to die on New Year's Eve, if they are a great sinner, will be forced to drive Death's carriage and pick up dead people for a year.  After getting smacked on the head with a beer bottle, Death's carriage driver, who just happens to be his friend who died last year of all coincidences, comes to pick him up.  Through flashbacks, we learn just how awful David is and how drinking has destroyed his life.

He gets to see Edit before she dies and realizes how terrible a person he was.  Then his wife decides to kill herself and their children while he is powerless to stop her.  He is so upset that he prays and begs for someone to spare them.  Death decides that he has learned his lesson and returns David to his body where he races home to stop his wife.  And he does.  The main theme of this movie is that alcohol is a great evil that will cause you to be addicted at the first sip and must be avoided at all costs.

The best part was the special effects.  Death and David can pass through walls, and Death lifts the person's soul right out of their body.  It is easy to tell how they did this, but it is still impressive for the year it was made.  It was made with double exposures made in the camera as optical printing wasn't available yet.  Since the cameras were hand-cranked, they had to be cranked at the exact same speed for each exposure in order to work.  I will give this film a 7/10.


  1. Yes, this is technically a brilliant film, but the real asset in my opinion is the very gothic ambience of the film. There are a number of soundtracks available and both the early ones and the moderne industrial tracks are great. I suppose this would be perfect for Halloween.
    The coldness is also pervading. It is cold in Sweden, but I found that I had to put on some extra cloth to see this. brrrr...

    1. A soundtrack is really what I wanted from this film. The version that I found had no music or no sounds. I thought the silence was rather spooky though.