Flashbacks within Flashbacks: Körkarlen

(Last Updated On June 4, 2022)

Körkarlen (1921) is a Swedish silent film which has gone by the names The Phantom Carriage, The Phantom Chariot, Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! and The Stroke of Midnight. Pip came across this when reviewing a series of silent films and brought it to my attention. The film is based on a novel of the same name written by Nobel Prize-winning author Selma Lagerlöf in 1912. The reason I am mentioning this film here is that it has a scene of an older man bathing a little girl and it got us to wondering if this is the oldest extant appearance of a nude little girl in cinema. It would be fascinating to learn if any of our readers can come up with any older examples.

Victor Sjöström and Selma Lagerlöf - Körkarlen (1921)

Victor Sjöström and Selma Lagerlöf – Körkarlen (1921)

The story itself makes use of an intriguing Swedish folk tale that states that the last sinner to die before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve is doomed to drive the Phantom Carriage the following year, collecting all of the souls of the dead. One of the protagonists turns out to be that man and reviews the selfish life he led and its impact on others. Besides being an award-winning film, the movie distinguishes itself as a key work in the history of Swedish cinema. It was notable for its special effects, which were advanced for the time, and a narrative structure that made use of flashbacks within flashbacks. It was also a major influence on filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. You can view it online here [account closed].

2 thoughts on “Flashbacks within Flashbacks: Körkarlen

  1. The movie “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” (1917), that was reviewed on Pigtails in Paint on April 1, 2015 has a girl bath scene. That is the only other nude little girl from the silent film era that I know. I have read that there is a little girl bath scene in La Kermesse Héroïque (1935), at about 5 to 6 minutes into the movie.

    • I feel like such a dope. I reviewed that film myself but forgot the date. Thanks for clearing that up. However, since this business about little girls in bath scenes didn’t have much of a stigma, it was probably much more common then and the first example may have been among the very first silent films (movies) ever produced. -Ron

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