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Showing 1-10 of 28 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 38 reviews
on July 19, 2011
**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more for his acting performances later in life, namely as the protagonist in Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, he originally made his mark as a prolific and very innovative director, beginning in the silent era and spanning into early talkies.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. The film opens on a dark and depressing New Year's Eve with a young Salvation Army sister named Edit lying on her deathbed. Her last wish is to see David Holm, an alcoholic she had tried to help the previous New Year's Eve. David promised Edit that he would return on this very day to show her if her prayers for him had been answered. Since he has yet to arrive, someone is sent to find him before it's too late. David (portrayed by Sjöström) is found in a local cemetery with two of his drinking buddies recalling a legend told to them by their friend Georges. The legend states that the last person to die each year has to work the following year for Death collecting souls from the dead. The irony is that after telling the legend, Georges himself died on New Year's Eve. David and his friends are drinking and laughing until an altercation occurs, leading to David's accidental death right before the stroke of midnight. His soul steps out of his body right before Death's carriage arrives revealing Georges as its driver. From here the story has a Dickens-like feel as Georges drives David around in the carriage showing him the mistakes he's made via flashbacks. The rest of the story shall remain unspoiled. . . I hope you enjoy it as much as I have over the years.

The Phantom Carriage, based on the novel "Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness!" (Körkarlen) by Nobel-prize winning author Selma Lagerlöf, is an example of a somewhat modernized version of the old right vs. wrong morality tales. The main message in the film is to show how problems, such as alcoholism, can completely destroy someones life, but with a little faith and guidance, salvation is always attainable. In this, and many of his other films, Sjöström so masterfully shows the problems he saw within society, and the impact they could have on us if not resolved. . .

**Special Features and Technical Aspects - As Listed by Criterion**

-New digital restoration, done in collaboration with the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute
-Two scores, one by 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 film's influence on Bergman
-Footage of the construction of the Räsunda studio where The Phantom Carriage was the inaugural production
-New and improved English subtitle translation
-PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by screenwriter and filmmaker Paul Mayersberg

106 minutes
Black and White
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on August 13, 2011
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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HALL OF FAMEon August 30, 2017
This Scadanavian silent is a remarkable experience - albeit, perhaps a bit different experience than its original viewers might have had. It's nor "colorized" (praise be), but different passages have different color cast to their monochrome scheme. Also, the sound track seems more modern, with jarring discords emphasizing a few crucial moments. Still, this print preserves the chiaroscuro and contrasts of the original, along with its magical optical effects and evocative sets. "Effects" in those days were either staged and filmed, or added in the darkroom - the latter being very effective in capturing the Carriage's ghostly nature.

Acting is as you'd expect in a silent film, with grander gestures and facial expressions than you see today - but that's part of its retro charm. The script seems light and moralistic too, culminating in a deathbed repentance and happy-ish ending. I'm glad I've seen it, but might not have room for it in my permanent video library.

-- wiredweird
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on November 2, 2011
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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on October 26, 2014
Great film, hard to watch. Deeply alcoholic, abusive husband, mean and cruel to his children! Great story line, classic old film and storyline. Dreadful, leading man story line. For its time period, this was a groundbreaking, earth shattering social film. If this story line stopped even (1) person from abusing their children and spouse then it made its mark. Great actors, great film overall. Classic film at its olden day best!

This film is NOT as painful to watch as "Broken Blossom with Lillian Gish!" but pretty close.

Silent film in black and white.
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on January 2, 2013
THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921) This is a dark morality play that can't
help but bring thoughts of A Christmas CAROL to mind yet there is no
happy ending. Directed & lead acted by Victor Sjostrom the man that
inspired Ingmar Bergman to become a director it is a Swedish folktale
as were many Swedish movies of the time. It revolves around the story
of a relationship between a Salvation Army Worker (female) & her
attempt to help an alcoholic bum who only has negative affects on the
lives of those around him. It's a truly dark movie in all aspects with
hard lessons for everyone. Intentions are definitely shown here but the
story is about actual effects.

The FX of the carriage itself are startling & better than you'd believe
for such an early movie. My copy was a Criterion Edition & I can only
recommend that restoration as I've seen no other. This is a 10/10 for
me. It is available in Criterion Blu-Ray also & is 107 mins long, which
is the full original Swedish version. English subtitles are included.
One both my wife & I are happy to own.
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on July 9, 2016
I have had this film on my wish list for a couple of years. I finally purchased it, watched it, and then asked myself why I waited so long to get this. Victor Seastrom was an amazing director/film-maker, I am slowly discovering, and his ability to convey incredible pathos in his films is outstanding.

The plot is briefly outlined in the synopsis, but basically it centers around an alcoholic, gambling, former family man, named David Holm (portrayed by V.S. himself). Legend says that whoever is the last to die on New Year's Eve must take the reins of Death's chariot and spend the next year collecting the souls of all who pass on. This is not seen as a privilege or an honor, more like a condemnation or punishment. David is indeed the "lucky winner", and as the chariot comes to get him, he meets the former driver, named Georges, who was his friend in life. The bulk of the story is told in flashbacks, as David looks back and reflects on his life. There are, of course, a lot more details to the story than this, but I will stop here. This is a great, mesmerizing tale of one man's journey in death to seek redemption for his life.

I mentioned before Seastrom's sense of pathos-- this is most heavily seen in his performance as David, and the performance of the actress who portrayed Syster (Sister) Edyt, and the general interactions between characters. There is also great use of light/shadow to convey mood. The music score by Matti Bye is great. There are places where the music is very strange at times, but it actually fits the scene very well. The music adds much to the overall feel of the film as well.

The film is color tinted mostly in blue (at night), pink, and sepia. Criterion has done a wonderful job on restoring this. There are a few blemishes here and there, but nothing that hinders the experience. Overall, the picture is incredibly clear and easy to watch. The special effects are actually quite good for the time (1921). The intertitles are in Swedish, and English subtitles appear below them.

If you enjoy silent films, try this one. I found it extremely interesting and just all-around very well done. Any movie that I continue to think about long after it is over gets an A in my book.
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on September 9, 2016
The Phantom Carriage is an incredible, moving film that everyone should see; one of the greatest ever made and also one of the most criminally overlooked, and with this release Criterion has done it justice.

The packaging is the standard hefty Criterion blu-ray case with a substantial booklet inside and fitting artwork. Nothing particularly special as far as Criterions go but still nice.

The visuals are stunning, there is a clarity here that seems like it should be impossible for a film as old as this. Scratches are present, and some irreparable damages to the film are visible but there is nothing distracting and these things add to the charm of the film more than they detract.

There are two scores available here, both absolutely wonderful in their own way; I cannot express how important it is to experience both. The first is a chamber orchestra score composed by Matti Bye and it is by far one of the greatest traditional scores I have ever heard. Both incredibly moving and foreboding, always appropriate, every instrument as clear as a bell, and not a sole wasted note; this is beautiful music and it needs to be heard. That being said, the second score is an experimental score by KTL, a project of the great Stephen O'Malley, and despite the beauty of the Matti Bye score this is the one I prefer. It is ominous and oppressive, it feels like the cloak of death hovering over you as you watch the film. It is constant but ever changing and knows when to retreat far enough into the background to let the film speak for itself. The KTL score is truly something special and should not be ignored.

The supplements here feel less substantial than most other Criterion releases, unfortunately, but I attribute this to the age of the film and a lack of resources. What we do get is interesting enough; and interview with Ingmar Bergman on the influence Sjöström had in him, a video essay comparing the work of Bergman and Sjöström, a short video showing the making of the studio where the Phantom Carriage was filmed, and the main attraction: a fantastic commentary that really adds some depth to future viewings of the film.

I cannot recommend this blu-ray enough; this is an incredible film that deserves far more recognition and it is beautifully presented here.
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on May 31, 2015
The last person to die on New Years Day, becomes the next rider for a year of The Phantom Carriage.
The Phantom Carriage carries dead people to wherever they deserve! Also there is a dying Salvation Army Girl
This extraordinarily rich and innovative silent classic is a Dickensian ghost story and a deeply moving morality
tale as well as a showcase for groundbreaking special effects!
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on December 6, 2012
..Wowwww what an Experience this was....? Just Amazing...? Blu-Ray Picture was quiet good for an Movie made in 1920 and Special Effects for its Time really impressive...? Cool Story too...? If you like Silent Movies/Beginning of Movie making this is Highly recommendet ? 5 Stars because I was simply Blown away and I only thought the German Silent Movies are the Best.....? Nice Surprise this one......?
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