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The Revenant Review

Horror Film History, Analysis, and Reviews

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1916

Movie Review – Blind Justice (1916)

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.

Blind Justice 1916 still

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.

SLUT.

Grade: B

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Movie Review – The Queen of Spades (1916)

This review is part of the A Play of Light and Shadow: Horror in Silent Cinema Series

Movie Review – The Queen of Spades (1916)

The Queen of Spades (1916) is a Russian horror film made upon the eve of the revolution, which would erupt the following year. It is often referred to as one of director Yakov Protazanov’s masterpieces, and he would go on to make films well into the Soviet era. The film’s star, Ivan Mazzhukin, would flee to Crimea and then to France. His career would thrive until the advent of talkies which exposed his thick accent, effectively making his marketability obsolete.

The plot is based upon Alexander Pushkin’s 1834 short story of the same name and is filled with beautiful sets and lavish costume designs. The story follows a young nobleman who learns that an old wealthy countess was once told of a progression of cards that, when played, were unbeatable. He is determined to get the secret and accidentally scares the old woman to death, only to be visited by her ghost and given the secret. He goes to gamble and at first wins before things begin to unravel for him.

Queen of Spades 1916 still

There is artistry here, certainly, but pacing is an issue. The camera lingers too long too often and left me staring at the screen wondering if I was missing something when, in fact, the character was just slowly finishing a meal and putting on his coat. This has a lot to do with feature length film still being in its infancy, especially in Russia, but the plot is fairly thin and moves quite slowly through its 84-minute running time. I have considerable patience for silent films, and I sometimes even enjoy those long candid shots. Nevertheless, I found my attention being tried here, especially as the plot doesn’t really kick in until the last twenty minutes, and from there it ironically feels too rushed.

That being said, The Queen of Spades employs novel techniques for the time, such as split screen and retrospection. Additionally, it’s easy to see how this film would have resonated deeply with Russians at the time with its depiction of a slothful upper class having little to do but drink and gamble away their fortunes. One scene even shows the countess returning home while beggars are pushed away from the door, ignored by her as she passes. Her privileged class would be overthrown within a year’s time, and one can’t help but see what the poor and underclass must have been thinking and feeling as that day quickly approached.

Grade: D+

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