The Phantom Chariot (1921)

Article #1030 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2004
Posting Date: 6-7-2004
Directed by Victor Sjostrom
Featuring Victor Sjostrom, Hilda Borgstrom, Tore Svennberg

A man dies at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and consequently must take over the job of driving the chariot of the dead for the next year. In doing so he comes face to face with the consequences of his actions while he still lived.

I could sum up this story very simply by pointing out that this movie is essentially a variation on a very well-known story; however, to do so would give away the ending and I have no intention of doing that. Part of the reason is that the movie is singularly powerful; the main character handles his inner pain by drinking and becoming cruel and mean, and there’s something heartbreaking at seeing the petty nature of some of his cruel deeds; in particular, a sequence where he spends the night at a mission and discovers in the morning that one of the volunteers has sewn up the holes in his coat results in some truly stupid and mean behavior on his part. Another reason is that the movie stands so well on its own that it should be viewed on its own merits, and not as a variation on another story. The fantastic aspects are truly wonderful; the visions of the rickety transparent carriage driving through the streets, and Death sadly carrying the souls of the departed into the carriage are wonderful It’s one of those movies that does such a wonderful job of balancing the fantastic and the dramatic, and it remains another unknown silent classic of Fantastic cinema. This one is highly recommended.


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