SIR ARNE'S TREASURE (Mauritz Stiller, 1919, Sweden, 106m, BW)
Herr Arnes pengar (1919)
aka Treasure of Arne, The (1919)
aka Herrn Arnes Schatz (1921)
aka Three Who Were Doomed, The (1919)
aka Sir Arne's Treasure (1919)
aka Snows of Destiny (1919)
aka Herr Arnes pengar (1919)
Cast: Richard Lund, Mary Johnson, Wanda Rothgardt, Axel Nilsson, Goesta Gustafsson
Director: Mauritz Stiller
Running Time: 99 min.
Based on the novel by Selma Lagerlof, The Treasure of Arne (Herr Arnes Pingar) was taken over in mid-production from another director by the great Mauritz Stiller. Set in the 18th century, the story concerns three soldiers of fortune, imprisoned during a political uprising. Escaping from prison in the dead of winter, the soldiers exhibit their true bestial nature when, coming upon Arne's mansion, they loot and burn the place, killing its occupants. Only orphan girl Elsalill survives the slaughter. In a delirium, she attaches herself to one of the soldiers. What she doesn't know is that Arne's treasure, now in possession of the soldiers, carries a horrible curse. The story wends its serpentine way to a bizarre climax, in which Elsalill betrays her "lover" and suffers mightily as a result. The final, panoramic shot in Treasure of Arne is a real anthology piece, and as such has popped up time and again in documentaries on the Swedish film industry.
Two other film adaptations of the story exist. In 1954 Gustaf Molander directed another Swedish version. A Czechoslovak animated short film was made by Václav Bedrich in 1968.
This film by Mauritz Stiller is in the first place remarkable for its cinematography. The camera is very often mobile, following closely the characters in medium shots by way of panning or tracking. This, combined with frequent changes of camera angles, gives a very modern look to the film which is reinforced by the natural way of acting, in particular of Mary Johnson. Double exposure combined with flashbacks is used to express visions or reminiscences.
Indoor sets recreate convincingly the atmosphere of a small village in XIVth century Denmark and outdoor takes give a freezing impression of the overwhelming Scandinavian winter, with its snow-covered forest and desolated icy plains. In the tainted version of the film, most of the outdoor scenes are blue tainted night scenes. The few daily scenes are pink-brown tainted, giving the impression of a dim light under a heavily overcast sky. Indoor scenes are a warm yellow and the fire scenes are a dark red. Some of the particularly impressive scenes include the ice breaking under a horse-drawn sleigh which disappears in the water, the fire destroying a vicarage, a ship stuck in the middle of the frozen sea, a procession of villagers on the frozen sea coming to fetch Elsalill's body.
The story is also very compelling. It starts with a comedy-like scene when the three Scottish leaders imprisoned in Sweden start to play leapfrog in their cell. This is the only scene which might make the viewer smile as the film rapidly veers to drama and builds up suspense. Until ten minutes before the end, it is difficult to guess what the conclusion will be. Cross-cutting is constantly used to keep the tension high, e.g. during the initial chase to catch the murderers, or when the guards try to arrest them before they can escape on a boat. The beginning of a love story between one of the murderers and the surviving also increases the tension because it is clearly doomed.
This is a very effective Swedish silent film about guilt, sacrifice and redemption. It's been recently restored, though it appears that it's still about sixteen minutes short of its original running time; I suspect the missing footage has to do with the actually robbery of the vicarage. It's quite entertaining, if a bit of a downer, but that's in the realm of what you'd expect from a Swedish movie.
The fantastic content is there, if not readily apparent. There's the curse concerning the treasure, to begin with. There's also some precognition in the scene where the vicar's wife see's visions of their murderers-to-be sharpening the knives. There's also the ghost of a girl who appears on occasion; it is she who leads the sole survivor to the discovery that the murderers are still present in the village. And then there's the implication that the reason the ice is frozen in the outlet (which prevents the ship from sailing to Scotland) is a divine message that the killers must be caught and punished.
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