(director/writer: Victor Sjöström; screenwriter: based on the novel by Selma Lagerlöf; cinematographer: J. Julius; cast: Victor Sjöström (David Holm), Hilda Borgström (Mrs. Holm), Tore Svennberg (Georges), Astrid Holm (Sister Edit), Concordia Selander (Sister Edit’s mother), Lisa Lundholm (Sister Maria), Tor Weijden (Gustafsson), Einar Axelsson (David Holm’s brother), Olof Ås (Driver), Nils Ahrén (Prison chaplain), Simon Lindstrand (David’s companion), Nils Elffors (David’s companion), Algot Gunnarsson (A worker), Hildur Lithman (A worker’s wife), John Ekman (A police constable); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles Magnusson; Janus; 1921-silent-Sweden)

“Still is impressive technically.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Through trick camerawork there are some eerie ghostly effects created for the great Swedish director Victor Sjöström’s (“The Outlaw and His Wife”/”He Who Gets Slapped”/”The Wind”) greatest film, one that still is impressive technically. It was filmed before Sjöström arrived in Hollywood. The preserved silent film is presented in its original color-tinted print by Janus. One of the films that most influenced Ingmar Bergman (in Bergman’s 1957 masterpiece, The Seventh Seal, death carries off the living in a similar way to Sjöström’s). It’s based on the 1912 novel by Selma Lagerlöf, that tells of an ancient Scandanavian legend (the first person to die after midnight on New Year’s Eve must play grim reaper for 12 months) and plays out as a morality play. In fact, it’s similar in theme to Charles Dickens’s 1843 classic A Christmas Carol.

Salvation Army sister Edit (Astrid Holm), on New Year’s Eve, is on her deathbed from tuberculosis and makes her last request to see David Holm (Victor Sjöström), someone she tried to save but couldn’t. He’s a wastrel alcoholic who deserted his wife and children to a life of poverty. The messenger sent finds David drinking with fellow bums by the cemetery. David rejects Edit’s request, and at midnight dies accidentally when struck in the head as his pals brawl. When death’s driver, his old drinking pal Georges (Tore Svennberg) who died last year on New Year’s Eve, comes for his soul, this leads David to relive his life as he rides to collect bodies and soberly reflect on what led him down this degenerate path–whereby drink ruined his life and made him such a miserable person. When David sees how he wasted his life and made others miserable, he reforms and returns to his family.

Sjöström tells his simplistic old-fashioned supernatural horror story by the use of flashbacks and a host of brilliant special effects that use multiple superimpositions and double exposures. This superior horror film got Sjöström an invite to Hollywood, where he directed some of America’s biggest silent stars that include Lillian Gish, Lon Chaney and the Swedish actress Greta Garbo.

It was remade in France in 1939 by Julien Duvivier and in Sweden in 1958 by Arne Mattsson.