kammerspielfilm

Master of the House (1925) by Carl Theodor Dreyer – LESSONS IN HOW ‘NOT’ TO TREAT YOUR WIFE!

Master of the House. Danish film poster (1925)

Master of the House [aka Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife] (1925) “Du skal ære din hustru” (original title)

Director/ Writer/ Film Editor/ Art Direction/ Set Decoration: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Screenplay: Svend Rindom
Cinematography: George Schnéevoigt

Cast:

  • Johannes Meyer … Viktor Frandsen
  • Astrid Holm … Ida Frandsen
  • Karin Nellemose … Karen Frandsen
  • Mathilde Nielsen … Old Victor’s wetnurse
  • Clara Schønfeld … Alvilda Kryger
  • Johannes Nielsen … Doctor
  • Petrine Sonne … Laundress
  • Aage Hoffman … Dreng, son
  • Byril Harvig … Barnet, son
  • Viggo Lindstrøm
  • Aage Schmidt
  • Vilhelm Petersen

In complete contrast to the last film I reviewed (Nerven by Robert Reinert), instead of feeling the need to run into the street shouting “Now I’m going to die… now I’m going to die”, this one will have you feeling relaxed, rosy and content with the world. Master of the House, by renowned Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer, is a minimalistic, theatre-style, comedy-drama that plays itself out almost entirely withing four walls (a set that was specially designed by Dreyer’s own fair hands), and is by definition one of the finest, and most enchanting, examples of the “kammerspielfilm” I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing.

The film centres around the Frandsen household, run by Ida Frandsen (played by Astrrid Holm, who some of you may remember as the sweet, terminally-ill, Salvation Army girl in The Phantom Carriage) and her equally sweet and obliging daughter (played by Karin Nellemose); while the tyrannical husband, Viktor (played by Johannes Meyer), requires constant attention and complains about everything. Another dominating presence is that of Viktor’s old wet-nurse, from when he was a child (played masterfully by the matriarchal figure of Danish cinema, Mathilde Nielsen), who pops in occasionally to lend a hand to the over-worked, over-tired, yet ever-smiling Ida. If viewers can get through the first half an hour of watching how appallingly Viktor abuses his wife’s kindness, without being tempted to throw something at the TV screen in frustration, then you’re in for a real treat as the plot takes a sweet turn of events.

Noteworthy is the standard of acting from the entire cast (including the two kids), which is of the highest grade -as we’ve come to expect from a Danish cast- particularly that of Mathilde Nielson, the old wet-nurse, who governs every scene she’s in with the eloquence and sovereignty of a true professional.

Although a seemingly simple concept, the film is nevertheless carefully constructed, merging canny humour with subtle psychological observation. Once again we see the familiar theme of the suffering woman coming to the fore, as was very much en vogue at the time, but it then concludes with Dreyer paying homage to marital happines founded on mutual respect. 8.5/10

Working video link as of 02/01/15