The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)


  • directed by Victor Sjöström
  • starring Victor Sjöström, Edith Erastoff, John Ekman,
  • Eyvind and Halla flee town and become two of the many outlaws of Iceland’s mountains.

“None can escape his fate, even were he to run more swiftly than the wind.”

As far as I see it, Victor Sjöström accomplished a great deal with The Outlaw and His Wife. Through brilliant directing, writing, and an impressive acting turn as Eyvind, he put everything he had into a film that wasn’t only advanced for 1918 but one with a universal impact that could stand up and deliver even as the film industry and technology advanced. People are quick to point to Sjöström’s The Wind as one of the titans of cinema history, and it sure as hell is, but if anyone was paying attention years earlier he had released in Outlaw a complete blueprint for mature, emotional, and invigorating filmmaking.

It’s no surprise to me that the director had such a disinterest in film after sound made its way into the picture. With this film and The Wind, the only two of his I’ve seen so far, I’ve recognized a director working at something much deeper and soul-entwined than any typical dialogue-driven narrative can afford. As I make my way through this particular era of cinema, I notice that few filmmakers were confident enough to deliver a scene that strayed from showing the major action in anything less than an overt or emphasized manner.  At one time I thought that’s what you had to do without the benefits of sound and thorough dialogue. I’m constantly looking for the stage to be set a little more and Sjöström did just that, cutting to little details in a room or the many pieces of the natural set in lieu of just Eyvind and Halla or outraged townspeople. The couple’s story–meeting in town and then having to take up a life on the run–made up the entire film, but there were elements both natural and Sjöström-manufactured that made me feel more than most silent efforts. It rejuvenated my waning enthusiasm for silent films after the otherwise crude and underdeveloped ones of the pre 1920 years.

As for the story, Eyvind and his wife head for the wild Icelandic mountains, an area we are told is teeming with outlaws and other citizens unfit for town life.  Five years later the couple is still being hunted by the law but now have a child and have taken in a drifter that appears to have mixed intentions. Ejvind hunts, Halla washes clothes, the child does child things, but it almost doesn’t matter what’s going on at this point, because the story is so simple, the mood so prevalent, and the setting so gorgeous.

I’m always put off by hearing people say, “the setting was one of the main characters in the film,” because more often than not a statement like that turns out to be nonsense. Sjöström did one better than that, not only using the mountains and surrounding scenery as backdrops, though those contributed to a unique look for the film, but instead hanging his characters (himself, no less) off of cliffs, bathing in raging waterfalls and hot springs, and somehow making the weather and temperature palpable throughout. I wouldn’t call the setting a character in the film because that would diminish the singular energy that pulsed throughout. The characters, the story, and the setting came together as one in a sensual and emotional way thanks also to longer dialogue cards, which provided depth to Eyvind and Halla, and Sjöström expertly capturing the elements, not to mention a rather devastating finale.


About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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