- The Phantom Carriage is both a tour de force technical achievement and a groundbreaking film for narrative form.
- It is the story of David Holm- again played by Victor Sjöström himself- a powerful story of reform. It borrows from Charles Dickens, but also certainly influences 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
- We need a Bordwell study on the flashback within a flashback nesting doll strands. There’s the slow unveiling of Holm’s character– often the different time flashback threads unfurl at the same time to quite an effect.
- The shot of death at the 18-minute mark- scythe and cloak. Fritz Lang’s Destiny (the other best film of 1921) also has an embodiment of death. Sjöström uses tinting again here- the blue day for night. The representation of death on screen also is connected to the other great Swedish auteur of the 20th century: Ingmar Bergman. I would say that too much of the writing on Sjöström in general has to do with Bergman- so I will try not to do it here- but Bergman was heavily influenced by this film, claims to have seen it 100 films.
- The Phantom Carriage does not just feature the storytelling gymnastics – but it also is renowned for its technical prowess. The double-exposure effect—essentially like a sustained variation on the dissolve, is utterly genius. It certainly is a technical achievement tied to both form and content.
- Less reliant on the location shooting and elements than the other films in the Sjöström study
- The shot in the bottom of the sea is borrowed for one of the best frames of the 1955 film The Night of the Hunter from Charles Laughton.
- Part of Sjöström’s parallel editing sequences use a cutaway to a clock as a character.
- The narrative plays well even without the time manipulation and technical expertise.
- There are a pair of sublime doorway frame within a frame shots- one of the Salvation Army women at the 47-minute mark- and one of death.
- The story, and the David Holm character, go to some dark places. He’s wicked- he’s no George Bailey. There is a scene of him ripping a coat that was just carefully mended. And- in another feat of parallel editing- there’s the axe-hacking the door scene from The Shining. It is all there for Kubrick to riff on gloriously.
- This is some 70-years after Dickens. A Christmas Carol is 1843. This book (Novel Prize winning Selma Lagerlöf) is 1912.
- Sjöström’s own work has to be among the best of this time era as an actor as well. He’s nasty one minute- groveling the next
- Parallel editing once again as he races to stop the poison.
- A masterpiece
Great review here. Will this overtake Fritz Lang’s Destiny as the best film of 1921?
@Malith- Thank you for the kind words on the review. I try not to decide right away but I think so.