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Kino on Video presents
Sir Arne's Treasure (Herr Arnes pengar) (1919)

"You see, one of the ships stuck in the harbor was carrying a man who had stolen from the church. And he would have escaped had it not been for the raging storm."
- Skipper (Gustav Aronson)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 07, 2006

Stars: Richard Lund, Mary Johnson, Axel Nilson
Other Stars: Erik Stocklassa, Bror Berger, Hjalmar Selander, Concodia Selander, Wanda Rothgardt, Gustav Aronson, Gosta Gustafson
Director: Mauritz Stiller

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:47m:17s
Release Date: June 06, 2006
UPC: 738329047122
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+B+A B

DVD Review

Mauritz Stiller, along with Victor Sjöström, was one of the leading lights of the Swedish silent cinema. Remembered today primarily as the one who discovered of Greta Garbo (with whom he went to Hollywood in 1925, with results disastrous for him but just peachy for her), Stiller played an important part in making Sweden a force to be reckoned with in world cinema. After making dozens of comedies and other lightweight material, Stiller turned to the historical tale in 1919 with Sir Arne's Treasure, which demonstrates his sense of narrative and visual style and a uniquely Swedish attitude.

In the late 16th century, King Johan III had hired Scottish mercenaries to fight for him, but learned of a conspiracy amongst them, and threw them in jail awaiting deportation. Three of them, Sir Philip (Erik Stocklassa), Sir Donald (Bror Berger) and Sir Archie (Richard Lund) escape from prison and maraud their way to the coast, seeking freedom. On the way, they pillage the castle of Sir Arne (Hjalmar Selander), the local vicar, and make off with his treasure chest full of silver. Unbeknownst to them, the chest bears a curse, having been taken originally by Sir Arne from the monasteries. The three Scots butcher the entire family, with only foster daughter Elsalill (Mary Johnson) escaping alive, and she goes to live with the family of Torarin (Axel Nilson), the local fish hawker. The three Scots arrive in town, and Archie develops a liking for Elsalill, which is reciprocated, as both are unaware of the other's identity. This romance brings with it tragic consequences when the Scots find themselves trapped in the village, their escape ship frozen solid in the ice.

The film has a rather medieval sensibility to it. It's chock full of ghosts, presentiments, omens, and curses, and most importantly, the Hand of God, taking an active role in human affairs. Stiller takes them all quite seriously. When Sir Arne's wife (Concordia Selander) speaks of evil presentiments, they're taken with solemn seriousness. When Elsalill sees her foster sister's ghost, she's not considered mad or odd; the presence is just accepted. It's as if his approach is that the characters believe in such things firmly, and thus the film must do so as well, without a hint of irony or superiority. Part of the credit for this probably goes to Selma Lagerlof, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist of historical epics, who took an active role in writing several of Stiller's pictures, including this one. On the other hand, in some ways Sir Arne's Treasure is also very modern. The camera moves an amazing amount for a film shot in 1919 (especially considering the size and weight of those pre-Steadicam cameras), and Mary Johnson in particular has a natural and unaffected style of acting (though Lund is in a more typical silent mode, which makes for some odd contrasts in their scenes together).

The visual style is undeniable, however. It's full of striking moments, such as the sequence of the thieves breaking through the ice with the weight of the treasure in the stolen sleigh. Another remarkable shot is that of the seemingly endless stream of mourners, carrying a bier across the expanse of ice. And of course, the sequences showing the ship, on which the Scots mean to make their getaway, frozen solid in the ice are highly evocative. The movie is plastered with ice and snow throughout, making it a good film for the heat of summer. A chill is guaranteed.

Sir Arne's Treasure takes some close attention, however. Some matters are referenced only in flashback (notable the attack on the vicarage), rather than in their proper timeframe. The geography is less than clear as well (though perhaps it would have been clearer to the Swedes). Either the Scots seem not to be in any particular hurry to escape, or Elsalill knows a substantial shortcut that they're not aware of. But these are minor quibbles; the effect is what Stiller is after and in that he succeeds admirably.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture looks very good indeed. The film has been reconstructed from a number of sources. There are a few tears and some speckling early on, but the bulk of the picture looks pristine. On occasion some minor ghosting, possibly an interlacing artifact, is visible, but it's by no means as bad as some of the PAL/NTSC conversion artifacts I've see. The color tinting is rather heavy in spots, but the notes indicate that reference for the tinting was made to original prints, so we'll have to accept it as is.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(music only)no

Audio Transfer Review: A Dolby Surround music track features a score by Matti Bye and Fredrik Emilson. Although it's quite modern in character, I found myself liking it more and more, with its unusual orchestrations. It supports the visuals well, often percussive and martial in character, with a wistful clarinet echoing the heartbreak and mourning of Elsalill nicely. The audio quality is superb, with nice timbre and solid directionality to the various instruments.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:22m:53s

Extras Review: Fans of The Criterion Collection will recognize the voice, if not the face, of frequent commentator Peter Cowie, as he leads the viewer through two featurettes (which can be played together). The first is a discussion of Stiller's art and career, Rediscovering Sweden (12m:03s), and the second and shorter one is devoted specifically to Sir Arne's Treasure (6m:52s). Both are packed with valuable and interesting information, with clips used sparingly to illustrate a point. Kino also adds a short onscreen bio and selected filmography for Stiller. Chaptering is a bit on the thin side.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

An important picture in the history of Swedish cinema and movies in general, with a highly attractive transfer and reconstruction and some valuable extras. One hopes that this and other releases from Kino may lead to a reconsideration of Stiller as a director.


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