Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Hilda Borgstrom

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

This spooky film from Sweden adds another piece to my “history of horror” that I wasn’t able to get to in the month of October this year. Never mind, November is still a good creepy month, and this movie transcends the horror genre by dealing with issues of morality and personal responsibility, even as it depicts a skeletal horse pulling a transparent buggy.

Phantom Carriage1

As the film opens, a young woman (Astrid Holm) is sick in bed, those around her call her “Sister Edit,” and expect her soon to die. We learn that she is with the Salvation Army, that it is New Year’s Eve, and that she has only one wish: to speak with someone named David Holm. His name seems to scandalize her caretakers, but they cannot ignore a dying request, and a search for David is mounted. When we find him (played by director Victor Sjöstrom), he is in a graveyard, enjoying a final toast with other down-and-outs. He tells a story that appears in flashbacks.

Phantom Carriage4

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Ingeborg Holm (1913)

Hilda Borgstrom

Actress Hilda Borgström

I suppose that, like most American film buffs, I have a myopic view of Swedish cinema. Or, more accurately, I have a view of Swedish cinema that is dominated by a single name: BERGMAN. Thus, it never occurred to me that a silent movie from Sweden would be anything but an obvious influence on Bergman’s style. This movie, however, seems to have a lot more in common with the work of D.W. Griffith than Ingmar Bergman. Visually, it could take place in any “western” city; only one brief scene in which the protagonist runs through a field to see her child takes advantage of the Swedish landscape, and everyone except the farmer’s wife who fosters the child is in “modern” urban clothing. Having hinted, I suppose I should comment a bit on the plot: It’s a fairly typical (for 1913) morality play about a woman whose husband dies and is forced to enter the workhouse, losing her children along the way. The message was meant to be that services for the needy should be improved, and apparently it contributed to debate about the need for a better social safety net, helping to lead to the current Swedish welfare state. It’s worth noting, however, that the many similar movies in the US didn’t have as much effect, suggesting that cultural differences cause different responses to media.

Director: Victor Sjöström

Camera: Henrik Jaenzon

Starring: Hilda Borgström

Run Time: 1 hr, 12 Min

You can watch it for free: here.