The Phantom Carriage

New Year’s Eve in Sweden. Three drunkards sit in a cemetery and tell an old folktale about the last one to die on New Year’s Eve will take the reigns of the Phantom Carriage for the following year. He will have no rest until his debt is recovered. Meanwhile a young idealistic woman lays dying. She calls for one of the men who happen to be one of the drunkards. This drunkard gets into a fight with his chums and the other two kill him. What follows is a Christmas Carol like story full of heartbreak, evil, and then ultimately second chances.

Even though I gave you a quick synopsis of the film, I didn’t even scratch the surface of this magnificent silent film. Employing a complicated flashback structure, the film quips along revealing little details of this drunkard’s life and debauchery with such a sympathetic eye. The cinematography and the set design betray a sense of sadness that permeates every character in the film. Little narration is needed and everything is conveyed through the faces of the drunkard, the nun and the drunkard’s wife. The score that was attached to it (I do not think it is the original one) is so haunting it gives a sense of suspense in even the more emotionally quiet times.

The reason this film has brought a restoration and treatment from Criterion Collection is because of its relationship to one of the most lauded art directors of all time, Ingmar Bergman. Supposedly he watched this film at least once a year every year of his life and it influence every work he ever made. He even cast the director/star of the film, Victor Sjostrom, in Wild Strawberries as the old man looking back on his life. But this film should be enjoyed not just because of this aspect but because it is a great film. In fact it is one of the best silent films I have ever seen. This film should be required in silent film classes as such a good example of the medium. I loved it so much that it is hard putting any praise into words. I think that you should just see it. It is available for free on YouTube. Check it out. You won’t be sorry. I think I am going to buy the DVD.

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