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July 14, 2007

Sir Arne's Treasure

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Herr Arnes Pengar
Mauritz Stiller - 1919
Kino Video Region 1 DVD

Not being able to go to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival this year, I settled for watching a silent film on DVD. I had seen a couple of films by Swedish pioneer filmmaker Victor Sjostrom, but none by his friend and sometimes filmmaking partner, Mauritz Stiller. Sir Arne's Treasure was probably appropriate for the night of Friday the 13th with its violence and ghosts.

I don't have my copy available to quote, but Andrew Sarris suggests that Sjostrom and Stiller may have been great filmmakers before D.W. Griffith. One aspect of Sir Arne's Treasure is that should be noted is that Stiller was adept enough at conveying much of the story visually that there is less dependence on titles to follow the action. I have to compare this to my experience seeing Ernst Lubitsch's The Oyster Princess made the same year, with German titles. Much of humor of Lubitsch was lost, based as it was on verbal jousting of the characters. It is only towards the end of Sir Arne's Treasure that Stiller resorts heavily towards titles.

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Based on a novel by Selma Lagerlof, the bare bones of the story have become something of a template for other films. Taking place in 16th Century Sweden, three Scottish mercenaries escape prison, and find themselves at Sir Arne's remote castle where they murder all but but Elsalill, a young woman who successfully hid herself during the mayhem. Finding that they can't escape with Sir Arne's heavy box of coins, the three go to nearby town where they live off the loot. The treasure is supposedly cursed, and the three mercenaries find themselves trapped by the frozen ice surrounding the coast.

With cinematography Julius Jaenzon, Stiller does not stay still with his camera, either in the studio or on location. One of the more amazing traveling shots is of a prison guard marching towards the camera, which moves continually along the side of a curved wall. A helpful supplement to the DVD version of the film is an introduction by Peter Cowie who notes that one of Jaenzon's students was Sven Nykvist.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 14, 2007 03:43 PM


Missed you at the festival this year, Peter! I need to see more Stiller; only Gunnar Hede's Saga and Hotel Imperial under my belt. This one sounds like a good one to check out.

Posted by: Brian at July 16, 2007 04:01 PM