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DVD Review

The Phantom Carriage (1921)


Starring: Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström and Tore Svennberg
Tartan Video
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: U
Available 11 February 2008

Sister Edit lies dying in bed. She calls for David Holm, but the violent drunkard sits slumped in the graveyard with his inebriated drinking pals. One of them tells a tale about the last person to die during the year having to become Death's servant and drive the phantom carriage reaping souls during a year in which every day seems itself like a year. When David himself is killed on New Year's Eve the current reaper shows him the error of his ways, culminating in David witnessing his wife contemplating her own suicide and the death of their two young children. David is shocked into redeeming himself and strives to prevent his wife from committing the deed. But his attempts prove difficult when he carries no corporeal existence...

Early additions to the film industry like this one either speed along at a hectic pace of activity, like the Keystone Cops, or are tediously slow. The Phantom Carriage falls into the latter category. The amusing spectacle of extended scenes of dialogue which warrant only two lines of subtitles soon wears thin, as these non-entity moments seem to drag on for all eternity.

The story itself is fine. It's a moral tale of redemption in the vein of It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. There's a lot of superimposing used to good effect for the ghostly images of David and the current Reaper, and we get to see the image of the carriage moving across the rocks and into the sea to collect the soul of a dying man.

This isn't a film which has aged well, and it possesses little to invigorate a modern audience. For foreign film completist collectors only.


Ty Power

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