In March 1979 a small scale but offbeat and ingenious little crime drama entitled The Silent Partner slipped into U.S. theaters without any advance word. A Canadian tax shelter write-off, the movie might have passed unnoticed if it hadn’t been for a handful of U.S. film critics who championed the release such as Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times, who called it “a thriller that was not only intelligently and well acted and very scary, but also had the most audaciously clockwork plot I’ve seen in a long time…it’s worthy of Hitchcock.” And Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it “a dense, quirky, uncommonly interesting movie, this time with a high quotient of suspense.”
Over the years The Silent Partner has built up a considerable fan base and has become a welcome Yuletide viewing alternative (it is set during the Christmas season) to the umpteenth airings of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. What most American viewers don’t realize is that The Silent Partner is a remake of the 1969 Danish thriller Think of a Number (Taenk pa et tal), directed by Palle Kjaerulff-Schmidt.
Prior to the 1960s, it was unusual to encounter more than a few women film directors working in Europe, much less the U.S. One of the rare exceptions was Astrid Henning-Jensen, who is considered one of first female directors in the Danish film industry to achieve international recognition. Two other female contemporaries of Henning-Jensen, Bodil Ipsen and Alice O’Frederick, were equally famous in their native Denmark but Henning-Jensen is the only one to enjoy wider recognition in America due to her 1959 film, Paw aka Boy of Two Worlds, which was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film that year (It lost to Black Orpheus).
Space travel was truly a visionary concept when Jules Verne first introduced it in his 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon and it continued to attract readers when H.G. Wells explored the idea further a few years later in 1901’s First Men in the Moon. Although both authors were fascinated with science and technology, these novels were essentially outlandish adventures with elements of humor and satire. Even the first acknowledged film about an expedition into outer space—Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon (1902)—was a whimsical fantasy rather than a realistic approach to the subject. Fifteen years later, the release of the Danish film A Trip to Mars (Himmelskibet), directed by Holger-Madsen, announced a new kind of approach.
Lisbeth Movin stars as Anne Pedersdotter, a young widow accused of witchcraft in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943).
When social order breaks down, rational thought or common sense do not always follow. The result could be the kind of mass paranoia and hysteria that created the persecution of people as witches in Europe during the 13th to 15th century as well as in America (the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692). That shameful chapter in history has been the subject of numerous books and literary works such as Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible. As for the cinema, most movie critics seem to agree that the finest film to ever address this kind of aberrant phenomenon is Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Vredens dag (1943, English title: Day of Wrath). Continue reading →