Let’s Get Criterion Presents: The Phantom Carriage (1920)

The hues of the ancient silent screen prints for The Phantom Carriage are mostly blue and yellow, and it works for this movie. I liked how it is a drama rooted in the fantastic, working as a bleak tragedy that shows a man in desperate need of a course correction. He neglects his family and laughs at the notion of goodness, until he ends up faced with a most dire situation. I am reminded a bit of A Christmas Carol with the ghosts coming to tell Scourge to change his ways, however this take is more horror movie related to a point.

I loved the practical special effects showing death’s ride, a ghastly thing powered by skeleton horses and driven by a person cursed to serve. There is also a scene that clearly inspired The Shining’s infamous axe moment, and the film is centered in a clear sense of morality. A poor woman cares only to save a man’s soul, even as she fades away. Another woman lingers for her husband to be a better person, knowing that he may never achieve it. Oh and the jailhouse scene is a harsh wake up call that unfortunately only takes on its intended target for so long.

This film took me a while to get through, since it is a silent film and I am used to sound. However The Phantom Carriage is marvelous, a well constructed movie that clearly has been the basis for other, equally great, works. Also I was surprised that the movie got away with a suicide scene, although I guess 1920s Europe was much different than America.

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