[The Ghost Elk]
Walter Fürst (NO 1927)
In a Norwegian village, a tale is told about an elk with seemingly unnatural powers of evasion, perhaps a ghostly revenant in animal form, which hunters have unsuccessfully tried for years to bring down. Two of the keenest hunters are the elderly Gaupa, who once got close to shooting the elk, and the young but poor Hans. Hans is in love with Ingrid, the daughter of the rich farmer Hallstein. Ingrid’s father would rather see the rich horse dealer Gunnar as his son-in-law, and when he realizes that Hans wants to marry his daughter, he mockingly tells him that he’ll have to bag the ghost-elk first. At a feast, Gunnar and Hans come to blows; drawing a knife, Gunnar accidentally injures himself badly. Hans – who cannot prove he did not stab Gunnar – runs away to the big city, where he finds a job as a circus sharpshooter. Ingrid later also comes to the city, chased from the farm because of her feelings for Hans. Neither of them thrive in the urban setting and they both return home, Ingrid to reunite with her father and Hans to try once again to bring down the fabled elk.
The basic plot structure of Troll-Elgen is one found in several central Swedish “Golden Age” films as well as foreign films inspired by the Swedish style: a man from a modest background falls in love with a young woman from a wealthy farm and needs to prove himself worthy of her by performing a spectacular deed of manly skill and strength.
Another interesting connection to Mauritz Stiller’s Song of the Scarlet Flower (Sången om den eldröda blomman, 1919) is the rural-urban conflict theme: in both films, the male lead has to go through an unsuccessful time in the city to fully mature and find his strength to return home to his native village. Three of the actors play roles very similar to the ones they played in Dreyer’s The Bride of Glomdal (Glomdalsbruden, 1926; shown last year): in both films, Tove Tellback is the love interest and Einar Tveito the rival, while Harald Stormoen is a stubborn father (here, of the heroine rather than the hero).
Troll-Elgen was a critical and popular success in Norway, even among critics tired of rural melodrama, although its unusually high budget apparently made it a financial failure. It was the debut feature of the 26-year-old director Walter Fürst, and while the editing is occasionally a bit rough, the film’s energy remains impressive. According to Gunnar Iversen, who had extended conversations with Fürst in the 1980s, at least some of the elk footage was lifted from an American nature film, but it has been quite effectively integrated.
Fürst, who had a background in advertising, would direct another silent feature, the smuggling drama Café X (1928), also starring the Swedish actor Bengt Djurberg. Fürst’s film career of the 1930s and 40s is very much overshadowed by his political activities: he was a committed National Socialist, an early supporter of Vidkun Quisling and his party Nasjonal Samling. While he left the party after internal squabbles, he rejoined after the German occupation of Norway. In 1941, he joined the Norwegian Legion, a volunteer unit under the Waffen-SS, but was invalided home from the Eastern Front and returned to filmmaking, making Sterke vilier (1943), an explicitly propagandistic film about the heroic struggles of Quisling’s party during the 1930s. After the war, he was found guilty of treasonous activity and spent three years in jail. The resistance hero Max Manus gave him a job in his advertising agency, allowing Fyrst (who had de-Germanized his name) to re-establish a career in advertising and later in television.
The magnificent landscape photography is the work of the Swedish cinematographer Ragnar Westfelt, whose masterful touch also can be seen in Ivan Hedqvist’s The Pilgrimage to Kevlaar (Vallfarten till Kevlaar, 1921; hopefully to be screened next year). About Westfelt’s work in Troll-Elgen, a Norwegian critic admiringly wrote that the film’s cinematography had “a pure Californian clarity”.
Magnus Rosborn & Casper Tybjerg
About the restoration: The 4K digital restoration was realized in 2018 at the laboratories of The National Library of Norway, Mo i Rana, from the oldest surviving material, a print containing both original nitrate and duplication positive material on both nitrate and acetate. Two reels severely damaged by nitrate decomposition were sourced from a preservation duplicate made earlier from the same print. In the 1980s the director told film scholar Gunnar Iversen that the intertitles were reconstructed in the 1960s.
regia/dir: Walter Fürst.
scen: Alf Rød; dai romanzi di/based on the novels by Mikkjel Fønhus: Troll-Elgen (1921), Skoggangsmand (1917).
photog: Ragnar Westfelt.
scg/des: Reidar Sveaas.
cast: Bengt Djurberg (Hans Trefothaugen), Tove Tellback (Ingrid Rustebakke), Harald Stormoen (Hallstein Rustebakke), Einar Tveito (Gunnar Sløvika), Tryggve Larsen (Sjur Renna, soprannominato/nicknamed “Gaupa”), Hauk Abel (Piper), Nils Arehn (P. Rustebakke), Egil Hjorth-Jensen (Tølleiv), Mimi Kihle (Bellina), Julie Lampe (Turi Trefothagen, la madre di Hans/Hans’s mother).
copia/copy: DCP, 100′ (da/from 35mm); did./titles: NOR.
fonte/source: Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo/Mo i Rana.