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Sir Arne’s Treasure

Posted by martinteller on July 20, 2012

In 16th century Sweden, three Scottish mercenaries are imprisoned for suspected conspiracy.  They escape and find their way to a vicar’s house, where they murder the habitants, burn down the house, and abscond with a chest full of silver coins.  As they hole up in a coastal town waiting for the ice to thaw so they can make their way home, they come across the sole survivor of their massacre: the vicar’s young foster daughter, who does not recognize them.  The leader of the gang falls for her….

Although not as narratively dense as Stiller’s later epic The Saga of Gosta Berling, this is quite a satisfying film, again showing surprising sophistication for the silent era.  Stiller makes an unusual choice to keep key events offscreen… we never see their villainous act, instead making a shocking jump to the aftermath, a wonderfully edited montage of a fruitless rescue attempt intercut with the men escaping (images of massive fires and chases across frozen seas that would recur in Gosta).  Likewise, we don’t witness the opening of the chest, and it takes a moment to realize that the three men in lavish finery are the same haggard, unshaven scoundrels from before.

The film (like Gosta and Phantom Carriage, based on a novel by Selma Lagerlöf) has heavy Christian moral underpinnings, where mystical forces guide the characters along their fated paths.  The vicar’s wife experiences a vision, there are ghostly visitations, and God himself keeps the murderers from fleeing so that justice can be served.  But justice has grim consequences and it’s far from a happy everything-is-right-again ending.

The technical qualities are quite exceptional for the era, with unexpected camera movement, sublime use of natural locations, effective techniques to evoke the supernatural, and arresting imagery.  One of the most striking visions is a long funeral procession across the frozen water.  Although no one present is as captivating or memorable as Garbo, the performances are generally very good.  The stark drama of the film and cinematic sophistication make this one of the better works of the silent age.  Rating: Very Good (84)


2 Responses to “Sir Arne’s Treasure”

  1. Jessica said

    The chilling winter images is what stands out strongest to me in my memory of this film. It really captured the Scandinavian winter at it’s most merciless side. And yes, the procession over the water is beautifully captured It’s sophisticated as you say. II don’t know if you ever read my take on this film as I watched it last year in a theatre. But in case not – here’s a link to it.

    • Oh yes, I did read your review. I think it was that — in combination with my experience watching SAGA OF GOSTA BERLING — that prompted me to put the movie in my queue. And yes, it certainly looks cold!

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