OUTLAW AND HIS WIFE, THE (Victor Sjöström, 1917, Sweden, 102m, BW)
Cast: Artur Rolen, Nils Arehn, Victor Sjöström, Edith Erastoff, John Ekman, Jenny Tschernichin-Larsson
Director: Victor Sjostrom
Running Time: 73 min.
In order to feed his starving family Berg-Ejvind (Victor Sjostrom) steals the parson's sheep, after the man of the cloth refuses any help. The parson tells the authorities his sheep was stolen and accuses Ejvind, and he's given a ten year sentence. Ejvind escapes from jail and southern Sweden, and lives in the northern mountains for a year. Faced with hunger, a thief and itinerant worker (John Ekman) steers him to the farm of the wealthy recent widow Halla (Edith Erastoff, later becoming the director's wife). Ejvind goes by the name of Kari and is hired by the kind-hearted widow.
But her jealous mean-spirited bailiff brother-in-law (Nils Arehn) wants revenge after she rejects his marriage proposal, reminding him that he advised his brother not to marry her because she was a servant. When the bailiff learns of Kari's true identity, he tries to arrest him. Halla, madly in love with Kari, marries him without a parson, and the two flee together to the mountains of Iceland as she abandons her vast estate. In Iceland they have a child and struggle against their fears, their loneliness and from the extreme weather conditions.
The Outlaw and His Wife (Swedish: Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru) is a 1918 Swedish silent film directed by Victor Sjöström, based on a play from 1911 by Jóhann Sigurjónsson. It tells the story of Eyvind of the Hills, an 18th-century Icelandic outlaw. The film was groundbreaking for its portrayal of wild nature. It was shot in two sessions in the spring and late summer 1917, with Åre and Abisko in northern Sweden acting as the highlands of Iceland.
The Outlaw and His Wife is told mostly from the viewpoint of Berg-Ejvind, when the character of Halla would surely seem to be the person around whom the story should revolve. She, after all, is the one who gives up her entire life to be with this fugitive who has concealed his past from her, and the reason she makes that monumental leap of faith deserves a good deal more investigation than it receives.
Later in the movie, when it looks as if she, Berg-Ejvind and their little daughter are about to be captured, Halla is driven to commit an act that is about as shocking as anything you will find in a movie from any era, and yet Sjöström — or perhaps the source material from which he works — seems unconcerned about exploring what would drive her to such an act which, without such explanation, comes across as jarringly unbelievable. Presumably, the fact that she and Berg-Ejvind are still enduring unspeakable hardship together nearly ten years later is supposed to point to the depth of their love for one another, but without an appropriate examination of his response to the act she committed, the film feels only half-complete.
This fatal omission overshadows many of The Outlaw and His Wife’s finer qualities, chief of which is Sjöström and cinematographer Julius Jaenzon’s superb use of the rugged, sprawling Swedish landscape (doubling for Iceland). The terrain really does become a character within the movie, while the seasons reflect the stages of the tragic couple’s relationship. Sjöström makes a robust and vigorous leading man, and while Edith Erastoff might not possess the kind of looks you’d expect would be necessary to entice not one but three men, she does have the ruddy, weather-worn look of a woman who has lived in a harsh environment all her life. After a slow start, The Outlaw and His Wife becomes increasingly absorbing.
The fatalist film is noted for its grand shots of nature and the majestic landscape, linking it to the human emotions. It's effectively tuned into nature's cycle, with summer being the time of hope and winter the time of despair. The characters are bound by the laws of nature and told they can't escape their fate, in this passionate melodrama that's based on the play by Jóhann Sigurjónsson. Enjoyable today as a curiosity.
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