Cast & Crew
Free-thinking couple create their own life in the Swedish mountains.
The Outlaw and His Wife
In 1912, Sjostrom and Stiller joined Svenska Bio, the production company managed by Charles Magnusson that became the leading force in Swedish national film production. Magnusson also worked as a director, but his true gift was in discovering new talent and signing them to Svenska Bio. In addition to Sjostrom and Stiller, he signed brilliant cinematographer Julius Jaenzon, who was responsible for the stunning landscapes that were characteristic of Swedish cinema.
Sjostrom was also an actor who made his screen debut in Stiller's The Black Masks the year the two were signed by Magnusson. The following year, he directed Ingeborg Holm (1913), the first of his 34 films for Svenska Bio. The film has been hailed as Sweden's first important feature. By 1917, the Swedish film industry had hit its stride, signaling the beginning of its Golden Age. During that time, Stiller and Sjostrom ruled the lot at Svenska, which became Svensk Filmindustri in 1919. They controlled every facet of production on their films, even claiming final cut.
The Outlaw and His Wife (Berg-Ejvind Och Hans Hust Ru), which was based on a play by Johann Sigurjonsson, was cowritten and directed by Sjostrom during this heady time. The story is set in 18th-century Iceland, though it was shot in the wilds of northern Sweden. The outlaw of the title is Berg-Ejvind, who has escaped from prison at the beginning of the story. Calling himself Kari, he is hired by the kind-hearted widow Halla to help her on her large farm. Kari and Halla fall in love at first sight, which angers her brother-in-law, who is also the local alderman. Halla had rejected the alderman's marriage proposal, making him bitter and revengeful. When he learns of Kari's true identity, he schemes to have him arrested. Kari and Halla escape to the mountains, and she abandons her farm. The couple live happily in the mountains, where Halla gives birth to a daughter. Their happiness turns to fear when a posse catches up to them, forcing them further into the wilderness, where loneliness, hunger, and the bone-chilling cold drive them to despair.
Sjostrom, who often played the lead in his films, starred as Kari, while his future wife, Edith Erastoff, costarred as Halla. Their off-screen relationship gave the characters a warm familiarity that made their instantaneous relationship believable. The characters' sudden attraction was also suggested by Sjostrom's sure-handed direction, in which he depicted the initial meeting of Kari and Halla in a crisp shot/reverse-shot set-up in which the camera cuts back and forth between their love-struck faces.
The real star of the film, however, is nature, or the great outdoors. Like his other films, The Outlaw and His Wife conveys a true spiritual feeling for nature. Though Sjostrom was adept at editing, he preferred compositions in long shot rather than to divide his scenes into a variety of shots. This style choice served the director's emphasis on landscape and nature in his films. The director worked closely with Svenska's star cinematographer Julius Jaenzon to give the landscape its poetic dimension.
The landscape and exteriors are often integrated into the story. The narrative of The Outlaw and His Wife is structured into three parts, each with a different landscape and mood. The first part focuses on the idyllic life on Halla's farm during the summer months. Rolling hills, grassy meadows, and babbling brooks create the perfect complement to Kari and Halla's love. After the star-crossed lovers escape to the mountains, the landscape is far more rugged, and Kari, Halla, their daughter, and their friend Arnes must work hard to survive off the land. In the last section, the mountains are cold and the landscape inhospitable, turning the mood to despair as the couple fend off their growing loneliness and isolation. In addition to the importance of the landscape in general, certain natural elements become repeated motifs. The cliff in the second part of the film is the site of several mishaps and misfortunes, turning it into a symbol of life's unforeseen hurdles.
Adding to the naturalism of the film's style are the interior sets, which are not designed in the stagy, three-wall style of American silents. Instead, the small rooms and dark hallways of the farm house seem to match the exterior design of the flat-roofed structure.
Sweden's neutrality in WWI gave its cinema industry an advantage. Other European film industries were disrupted by the war and hurt by blockades. Sweden exported its movies to countries without active industries, while less competition created a better market for Swedish films. These conditions drew attention to directors like Sjostrom, garnering world-wide acclaim for his films, including The Outlaw and His Wife. Not surprisingly, Hollywood extended the welcome mat to the Swedish actors and directors.
In 1923, Svensk Filmindustri sent Sjostrom to Hollywood to direct films for Samuel Goldwyn that Svensk could then distribute in Scandinavia. He changed his name to Seastrom and directed a well-received, box-office hit called He Who Gets Slapped (1924), starring John Gilbert, Norma Shearer, and Lon Chaney. In the mid-1920s, Sjostrom was considered a leading Hollywood director. He directed Lillian Gish in The Scarlet Letter (1926) and Greta Garbo in The Divine Woman (1928). Gish was so impressed with Sjostrom that she requested him to direct her in The Wind (1928), which became his masterpiece.
Sjostrom returned to Europe in 1930 to a considerably less prominent film industry. During the 1940s, he became director of Svensk Filmindustri, following in Charles Magnussen's footsteps by discovering and developing many talented actors and directors. In 1957, Ingmar Bergman surprised Sjostrom by asking him to play the old man whose dreams and thoughts provide the structure for Wild Strawberries. Through his films, his years in charge of Svensk, and his role in Bergman's classic, Sjostrom influenced or touched the lives of generations of Swedish film actors and directors.
By: Susan Doll
Producer: Charles Magnusson for Svenska Bio
Director: Victor Sjostrom
Screenplay: Sam Ask and Victor Sjostrom, based on a play by Johann Sigurjonsson
Cinematography: Julius Jaenzon (as J. Julius)
Production Design: Axel Esbensen
Cast: Berg-Ejvind, aka Kari (Victor Sjostrom), Halla (Edith Erastoff), Arnes (John Ekman), Bjorn (Nils Arehn), Gudfinna (Jenny Tschernichin-Larsson), Farm Hand (Artur Rolen), Bjarni (William Larsson)
1918 B&W 73 mins.
The Outlaw and His Wife
The Outlaw and His Wife - THE OUTLAW AND HIS WIFE - Victor Sjostrom's 1917 Silent Drama on DVD
Sjöström was a popular stage actor with a long and successful career when he joined Svensk Bio in 1912 as an actor. He made his directorial debut later that same year and had his first major success as a filmmaker in 1913 with Ingeborg Holm, a social drama that challenged the terrible laws that allowed the children of the destitute to be sold into forced labor. Terje Vigen (A Man There Was), a 1917 drama adapted from the epic poem by Ibsen and shot on the rocky coast near Stockholm, established his international reputation.
The Outlaw and His Wife, based on a stage play Jóhann Sigurjónsson, was Sjöström's follow-up to Terje Vigen. He had previously starred in a successful stage production of the play and cast himself in the lead for the film adaptation, playing a stranger named Kari who arrives in a small Icelandic mountain town looking for a job. Sjöström is quite dashing in his entrance, tall and handsome and striking in his trim beard and bushy hair. Kari is rugged yet civilized, a proud man of great integrity and a secret that forces him to keep an emotional distance from Halla (Edith Erastoff), the generous widow who hires him to work her farm. Erastoff had starred in some of Sjöström's earlier films and they fell in love and married during the production of Terje Vigen, remaining together until her death 40 years later. Onscreen they make a passionate couple, even during the restraint of their (non)courtship. When Halla gives Kari a quilt for his bed in the bunkhouse, he waits until she leaves the room and then cradles it tenderly, treasuring this gift privately while remaining cool to her in person.
Bjorn the Bailiff (Nils Ahren), an arrogant hypocrite, wants to wed Halla for her wealth despite his disdain for her lowly class origins and her independent will. As Halla falls for the tender and courageous Kari, Bjorn reveals Kari's true identity: an escaped thief named Terje Vigen, imprisoned for stealing a sheep to feed his starving family. His secret revealed, Halla confesses her love and they proclaim themselves "married in the eyes of God." "Love is the one and only law," she insists, and the lovers flee to the mountains and an idyllic existence as children of nature.
Set in 19th century Iceland and shot against the dramatic landscape of Mount Nuolja in Northern Sweden by Julius Jaenzen (with some exteriors shot in Iceland itself), Sjöström creates images both beautiful and elemental. Kari's flashback shows his life on a plateau surrounded by steaming hot springs and geysers, and their mountain home is built near a cliff with a breathtaking view. But for all its beauty, the elemental power and spiritual purity of the natural world is also unforgiving. As Kari grimly observes, "No man can escape is fate," and their idyll is invaded by the jealousy and lust of a fellow outlaw, by the vengeful bailiff's posse, by the elements themselves as they retreat farther into the inhospitable peaks of the icy mountains. The snows that ultimately claim the lovers have an elemental force that Sjöström recalls years later in the sands of The Wind. "No filmmaker before Sjöström integrated landscape so fundamentally into his work or conceived of nature as a mystical as well as a physical force in terms of film language," wrote Swedish cinema authority Peter Cowie in 1970.
In the film's most startling and devastating scene, a shocking act of desperation from Halla becomes is both a terrible act of mercy and a pagan sacrifice to the Gods of the mountain. It's as if these free spirits must be punished for their defiance of social convention, or at least pay for their fleeting happiness. Yet even at their most miserable they are bonded in love and they die as they lived.
The Outlaw and His Wife was a popular hit and a critically smash. Louis Delluc, in 1919, wrote: "Here without a doubt is the most beautiful film in the world. Victor Sjöström has directed it with a dignity that is beyond words... it is the first love duet heard in the cinema." His talent did not go unnoticed and he left Sweden for Hollywood in 1923, where he directed nine films between 1923 and 1929, including the beautiful The Scarlet Letter and the magnificent The Wind, both with Lillian Gish. The actress/producer specifically sought out Sjöström for those projects (the director adopted the spelling Seastrom for his American productions).
Kino's disc, in black and white with light tinting, is mastered from a 1986 restoration by Svensk Filmindustri. There is substantial damage in some scenes but it is always watchable and in some scenes quite sharp. The score by Torbjorn Iwan Lundquist is a mix of folk tunes and orchestral movements, overly insistent at times but quite dynamic and effective. The DVD also features Gösta Werner's 1981 documentary Victor Sjöström, a 65-minute portrait Sjöström and his career that features generous clips of his films as both a director and as an actor and a lengthy interview with Ingmar Bergman, who talks about Sjöström's influence as a silent film master and as a mentor when Bergman directed his first films in the 1940s. Bergman regular Erland Josephson narrates the documentary.
For more information about The Outlaw and His Wife, visit Kino International.To order The Outlaw and His Wife, go to TCM Shopping.
by Sean Axmaker