“The one to whom something fatal happens on New Year’s Eve is forced to drive the Phantom Carriage!”
On New Year’s Eve, an alcoholic (Victor Sjostrom) is visited by the driver (Tore Svennberg) of the “phantom carriage” of death, and forced to reflect on his boorish life, during which he abused his innocent wife (Hilda Borgstrom) and rebuffed the assistance of a do-gooding missionary (Astrid Holm).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Flashback Films
- Horror Films
- Scandinavian Films
- Silent Films
- Spousal Abuse
Based on a novel by Nobel Prize-winning Swedish author Selma Lagerlof, The Phantom Carriage is primarily known for the influence it had on Ingmar Bergman, who cast the film’s director (Victor Sjostrom) in the lead role of Wild Strawberries (1957), and paid explicit homage to its imagery and themes. Yet it remains an important historical milestone in its own right, due simply to its impressive technical innovations: cinematographer Julius Jaenzon, working with lab executive Eugen Hellman, created stunning “double-exposure” effects which resulted in truly memorable and haunting imagery (see stills below). Unfortunately, the narrative itself — a Christian variation of sorts on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and a clear precursor to Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — is less impressive. The film’s multiple-flashback structure is unduly confusing, and Sjostrom’s troubled protagonist is such a boorish lout — he drinks, terrorizes his wife and kids, and knowingly tries to infect as many people as possible with his tuberculosis — that it’s truly difficult to feel any sympathy for him as he cowers at death’s door. Regardless of its narrative shortcomings, however, film fanatics will surely want to check out this film — which Bergman reportedly re-watched every year after he first stumbled upon it at the age of 15 — at least once, for its stunning visuals and historical relevance.
Note: See Wikipedia’s entry on the film to read more about its production history and subsequent influence on cinema.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Julius Jaenzon’s innovative double-exposure cinematography
- Many haunting images
Yes. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)