Monday, October 10, 2011
The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen) 1921 **
Ever wonder where Ingmar Bergman got some of his ideas for The Seventh Seal? Look no further than this classic 1921 Swedish silent by Victor Sjostrom. Yes, the same Sjostrom who starred in the 1957 Bergman classic, Wild Strawberries, is the star and director of The Phantom Carriage (aka Korkarlen).
The opening of the story takes place on New Year's Eve at the deathbed of a Salvation Army sister who wants to see David Holm (played by Sjostrom) before she dies. The problem is David is out on a drunk--his usual state of being. Through a series of flashbacks we learn how the dying woman became ill--she contracted consumption from mending David's ratty coat after he passed out at her station the previous New Year's Eve. To make a long story short, David is found and told that the sister wants to see him. Being his usual SOB self, he refuses to go and proceeds to get into a fight with some men who crack him over the head with a bottle, seemingly killing him. This is where the phantom carriage comes into play.
Every year at the stroke of midnight a person condemned to hell dies and is given the duty of driving the carriage around collecting others like themselves for the rest of the year. The driver of David's carriage happens to be Georges, an old friend of his. In one of the most spectacular images captured in early film, you have David Holm's spirit rise from his body only to look down at his own corpse lying on the ground. David's first task as carriage driver (after visiting the sister) is to collect his wife and children who have perished by self-inflicted poisoning. In an unusual twist, Georges gives David a second chance to put things right. So after reawakening at midnight in his own human form, David races home to prevent his family's death. Unlike Bergman's Death, this one does grant reprieves.
While I don't like the ending (David deserved his cursed fate), the film is still a classic. The translucent shots are awesome for the time. The flashbacks within flashbacks make the story complex and compelling. And, quite simply, the phantom carriage itself is really creepy. A must see--but difficult to find.