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The Phantom Carriage (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

4.7 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

The last person to die on New Year’s Eve before the clock strikes twelve is doomed to take the reins of Death’s chariot and work tirelessly collecting fresh souls for the next year. So says the legend that drives The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen), directed by the father of Swedish cinema, Victor Sjöström (The Wind), about an alcoholic, abusive ne’er-do-well (Sjöström himself) who is shown the error of his ways and the pure-of-heart Salvation Army sister who believes in his redemption. Based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf, this extraordinarily rich and innovative silent classic (which inspired Ingmar Bergman to make movies) is a Dickensian ghost story and a deeply moving morality tale, as well as a showcase for groundbreaking special effects.

Special Features

New digital transfer, restored in collaboration with the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute

Two scores, one by acclaimed Swedish composer Matti Bye and the other by the experimental duo KTL

Audio commentary featuring film historian Casper Tybjerg

Interview with Ingmar Bergman excerpted from the 1981 documentary Victor Sjöström: A Portrait, by Gösta Werner

The Bergman Connection, an original visual essay by film historian and Bergman scholar Peter Cowie on The Phantom Carriage’s influence on Bergman

New and improved English subtitle translation

PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by screenwriter and filmmaker Paul Mayersberg


Product Details

  • Actors: Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström, Tore Svennberg, Astrid Holm, Concordia Selander
  • Directors: Arne Mattsson
  • Format: Blu-ray, Color, Full Screen, NTSC, Silent, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Swedish
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: September 27, 2011
  • Run Time: 107 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0056ANHSQ
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,491 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. Yarbrough on July 19, 2011
Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
**EDIT 9-27-11** The overall quality of the Blu-ray is fair, not quite as good as I had originally hoped, but it's still decent. As with most silents, the tell-tale signs of aging are still present even after the restoration, mainly age spots and vertically running scratches. But don't let this discourage you from purchasing this silent masterpiece. Although it's not perfect, Criterion still did a good job on the restoration (as they normally do) and the overall quality is better than previous versions that I've viewed.

The Phantom Carriage is a silent Swedish film made by legendary actor/director Victor Sjöström. While Sjöström is known more for his acting performances later in life, namely as the protagonist in Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, he originally made his mark as a prolific and very innovative director, beginning in the silent era and spanning into early talkies. This film is considered by many to be one of his very best and is a perfect example of how Sjöström both pioneered and refined techniques that were used for decades to come.

The film uses double exposures quite extensively. While this technique was not new, for this film it was far more advanced, consisting of multiple layers and dimensions. While the techniques may seem obvious and even primitive by today's standards, they left audiences awed and mesmerized 90 years ago. Another innovation of this film is the unique structure in which it's told. This is one of the first movies to make extensive use of flashbacks, going as far as having flashbacks within flashbacks.

I will briefly cover the plot, as to not ruin the film for someone who has never seen it before.
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Format: DVD
I saw The Phantom Carriage on TCM not too long ago and was enthralled. This movie is one of the gems of silent cinema, and for American audiences it's still mainly an unseen gem. I hope this Criterion release will change that. The print quality is superb; even with higher-contrast orthochromatic film there is good tonal range in this restoration. This is a boon because the lighting is often subtle. I'm not familiar with the source material, but the way Sjostrom directs his actors makes me wish he'd done a silent adaptation of Crime and Punishment; The Silent Carriage is a Dostoevskyan drama that turns the protagonist's soul inside out. It's a masterpiece of direction and restrained acting, and makes me appreciate again the sophistication Scandinavian film-makers brought to the early development of the motion picture.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
It delights me no end that Victor Sjostrom's THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE is finally getting a Region 1 release and from Criterion no less. I have had the Region 2 version of this for a few years (complete with mislabeled discs) but now I will be able to enjoy the additional extra supplements that Criterion offers. Since it is also being offered in Blu-Ray I can assume that it has a digital upgrade from my release which is from the Swedish Film Institute and was already a decent restoration although I confess that I didn't care much for the modern KTL score. In my opinion, the Matti Bye score suits the material better. An improved English subtitle translation is always a plus as well. KORKARLEN, the film's original title and the name of the book it is taken from, translates as "The Coach Driver" and is an accurate description as the carriage and driver appear throughout and are the key symbol on which the plot hinges.

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE is one of those silent movies to show people who think they don't like silent movies. I have yet to meet someone that I have shown it to who was not captivated by it. Part of that is due to the similarity of the plot to a well known English property which I won't name here but a lot of it is due to the simple but creative special effects that seem perfectly natural in keeping with the story being told. Credit should also be given to the lead performances of Victor Sjostrom and Hilda Borgstrom which seem as contemporary as anything seen today. It's easy to see why Ingmar Bergman would have been attracted to and inspired by this story of a vicious alcoholic who receives his comeuppance and an unexpected shot at redemption. The dysfunctional family theme, long a staple of Scandinavian drama, also plays well today. A surprising movie that still has the power to engage and enthrall audiences 90 years later.
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Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
Swedish director Victor Sjostrom's THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921), while not as popularly known today as other masterworks from the era, is nonetheless as important to the development of cinema as are any of those more famous films.

The last person to die on New Year's Eve before the stroke of midnight must drive Death's chariot, collecting the souls of those who die throughout the next year. Sjostrom himself plays David, an abusive alcoholic who becomes the chariot rider's successor and is shown the harm and misery he brought to others.

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE is an atmospheric masterpiece. Told in what was then an innovative flashback format, the film utilizes double and even multiple exposures in ways previously unseen to simulate the spectral, horse driven carriage and its doomed rider. The film is also noteworthy for some of the earliest night for night photography ever attempted in a motion picture. This remarkably moving parable of a film was a huge influence on the work of Ingmar Bergman, especially THE SEVENTH SEAL and WILD STRAWBERRIES, both from 1957.

Criterion's exceptional Blu-ray was transferred from a restored duplicate negative derived from two prints; a black and white nitrate and a color tinted nitrate. Two optional scores are included; a chamber orchestral work and an experimental, computer composition. The special features give us an absorbing commentary by historian Casper Tybjerg, a 1981 interview with Ingmar Bergman, an essay by Peter Cowie on the film's influence on Bergman, some footage of the construction of Rasunda studio where THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE was shot, and a booklet by Paul Mayersberg discussing the film's importance.

As usual, Criterion has done a beautiful job in putting this edition together, and it does ample justice to an extraordinary film that deserves wider recognition. Its haunting quality is unforgettable.
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