This review is part of the A Play of Light and Shadow: Horror in Silent Cinema Series
Movie Review – Blind Justice (1916)
Blind Justice (1916) is a Danish thriller directed by Benjamin Christensen, who also plays the lead character – the tragic and simple-minded Strong John, a circus strong man who is falsely accused of murder. On the run with his infant son, John mistakenly believes a young woman, Ann, has betrayed him, causing him to be caught and imprisoned. Fourteen years later he’s acquitted as new evidence comes to light. He leaves prison a broken man, in search of his son who he believes is forever beyond his reach. Eventually, Strong John comes under the influence of local thieves and soon decides to carry out the revenge he promised upon Ann – to strangle her with a rope – not knowing how connected she now is with the circumstances of his boy.
Blind Justice is a tightly crafted tale of interweaving subplots and terrific characterizations, especially in the sympathetic John. It is well-paced, the lighting is excellent and the camera placement creates many shots of depth and intriguing, almost voyeuristic perspective. One memorable shot is of Ann in her bedroom looking frightened into the camera, only to have the camera pull back into the night to reveal the window frame and John’s silhouette creeping before the panes. The scene where a monkey puppet in baby’s clothes is revealed, due to the camera’s perspective, might qualify as a very early fake jump scare (and is still better than a screeching cat). Even the inter-title cards are stunning and evocative.
The last twenty minutes had me anxiously watching the screen, my legs restless. That’s no small feat for a silent film, especially since I watched it on mute so as not to be distracted by the generic music that was being played over it. Blind Justice is thoroughly impressive.
Of course, this was still 1916, of which I was reminded when the circus manager yells, “Get the crocodile act on at once and warn the Chinks to be ready twenty minutes earlier!” But that’s all just part of the experience of watching an old film like this, as is the final frame which comes after the tense finale, and which is a title card that simply reads “SLUT.” Come to find out, this means “END” in Danish.
Christensen would have many false starts in his film career. When Blind Justice was not met with great success he returned to the theater. But in 1922 he would return to horror to direct the seminal Häxan which contained what was considered at the time graphic depictions of torture, nudity, and perversion. Christensen would continually return to film, fail, and then go back to the theater in a cycle thereafter. The actress who played Ann, Karen Caspersen (as Karen Sandberg), would go on to appear in films until she died in a house fire in 1941.
Blind Justice is a major achievement of the early silent era that deserves more recognition.