The Phantom Carriage (1921)


The movie The Phantom Carriage (1921), also known as Körkarlen, is a silent Swedish film directed by and starring Victor Sjöström [1][2]. The film is based on the 1912 novel Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! (Körkarlen) by Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf [1][2]. It mixes the genres of fantasy, drama, moral tale, and horror. [5]

On New Year’s Eve, David Holm is in a graveyard, recounting to his drinking companions the legend that the last person to die each year must drive Death’s carriage and collect the souls of everyone who dies the following year. This legend was told to him by his old friend Georges, who died on New Year’s Eve the previous year. When Gustafsson, a colleague of a dying Salvation Army Sister Edit, finds David and tries to persuade him to see her, a fight ensues. David is struck on the head with a bottle just before the clock strikes twelve [1][2].

David’s soul emerges from his body as the carriage appears, driven by Georges. Georges reminds David of his past, when he lived a happy life with his wife Anna and their two children, until Georges led him astray. In a flashback, it is revealed that David was jailed for drunkenness. Before being released from prison, he was shown his brother, who had been sentenced to a long term for killing a man while drunk.

On New Year’s Eve, three drunkards evoke a legend that tells that the last person to die in a year, if he is a great sinner, will need to drive during the whole following year the Phantom Chariot, the one that picks up the souls of the dead. One of the three drunkards, David Holm, dies at the last stroke of midnight [2][3].


  • Victor Sjöström as David Holm
  • Hilda Borgström as Mrs. Holm
  • Tore Svennberg as Georges
  • Astrid Holm as Edit
  • Concordia Selander as Edit’s Mother
  • Lisa Lundholm as Maria
  • Tor Weijden as Gustafsson
  • Einar Axelsson as David’s Brother
  • Olof Ås as Driver
  • Nils Aréhn as Prison Chaplain
  • Simon Lindstrand as David’s Companion
  • Nils Elffors as David’s Companion
  • Algot Gunnarsson as Worker
  • Hildur Lithman as Worker’s Wife
  • John Ekman as Police Constable


Ingmar Bergman watched this film at least once every summer, either alone or in the company of younger people. He also stated that this film, to him, was once “the film of all films”, and that it was a main influence on his own work [3].


“Released at a time when horror cinema, and cinema in general, was developing The Phantom Carriage, along with movies like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, helped set the template for decades to come.” [4]


[1] Des Moines Film

[2] Wikipedia

[3] IMDb

[4] Luke, Who’s Talking

[5] Pop Matters

Last updated byCody Meirick on December 2, 2023