Valdemar Psilander (1884-1917) was probably the greatest male star of Danish silent cinema. He died in 1917, only 32 years old. Despite his early death, he nevertheless acted in 83 films during his 6 years with the Nordisk Films Kompagni. The three films on this DVD are not only representative of Valdemar Psilander's qualities as an actor, but also the production of Nordisk Films Kompagni during the most productive and successful years of Danish cinema.
About the films
There can be no doubt that Asta Nielsen is the greatest silent-film actress Denmark has ever produced. However, she appeared in only three Danish films before she moved to Germany in the spring of 1911 where she became 'Die Asta' - Germany's great diva. Asta did, on the other hand, pave the way for another actor who was waiting in the wings and, like her, had not had much success with his theatre career. This was Valdemar Psilander, who is often mentioned in books on Danish silent cinema but who few people actually know much about. He was to become the biggest star of Danish silent cinema.Psilander's debut was in October 1910, just a few weeks after Asta's, in a film produced by a small art film company. However, shortly afterwards he was hired by the Nordisk Films Kompagni in Valby, where, in the space of six years, he appeared in 83 films - of which 27 still exist. Already shortly after his first film, Ved Fængslets Port (Temptations of a Great City), he became the company's highest paid actor. "Psilander-films" became a goldmine for Nordisk Film. In particular, the German, Russian and Hungarian audiences were taken by storm, and even a mediocre script became - at least in the eyes of the public - a film worth seeing simply because of this charismatic actor.
It was lucky for Psilander that his debut at Nordisk Film Ved Fængslets Port was, and still is, one of the best films of the period - innovative in its style, with many fine details and excellent acting performances. The roles are well cast, the acting subdued and moving. Marguerite Engberg goes as far as describing the film as "one of the most outstanding August Blom has made", although at this point he had only directed a handful of films. Psilander is in good company and does particularly well. Right from the start, there is a naturalness and youthful integrity in his acting, which comes across as dazzling on the big screen. The film is one of the first in a long row of "erotic melodramas" - a genre that almost became the trademark of Danish film abroad - and Psilander was born for this type of film with his masculine charm and elegant poise. Of the films that Psilander made at Nordisk during the first two years it is the film Dødsspring til Hest fra Cirkuskuplen (The Great Circus Catastrophe), that is worth noting. Maybe not so much for Psilander's acting, but for the sensational, action-packed storylines that he was in. This film shows the other side of Psilander's fame: his daring. He was an excellent rider and looked fantastic in long riding boots and elegant riding jackets and this skill was exploited in his films. Although he did use a stand-in for the crucial scene in Dødsspring til Hest, up until the "lethal jump" he did all the manoeuvres himself. Additionally, he demonstrates his strength and suppleness in a scene where, together with the female lead, he has to fight his way out of a burning hotel.
Ved Fængslets Port and Dødsspring til Hest fra Cirkuskuplen can be seen as representative for most of Psilander's roles: the charming lover, who overcomes his moral dilemma and/or with shrewdness wins the girl's heart; and the brave hero who courageously saves himself and his girl from death and destruction while averting great catastrophes. The two films are also among the three best-selling Nordisk films of the whole silent-film era.
Most of Psilander's films were formulaic, but here are, however, a few of his films that stand out: Evangeliemandens Liv (The Candle and the Moth) in 1915 and Klovnen (The Clown) in 1917. In both of these films he plays characters that, in terms of type, stand out from the roles he usually played and in both films he has the opportunity of giving his characters greater depth. The plots themselves are not particularly original: a spoilt son of a wealthy man, who regrets his amoral lifestyle and chooses to preach Christianity and save other lost souls; and the laughing clown with the tragic and painful past - but Psilander, working together with Holger-Madsen and especially A.W. Sandberg, succeeded in creating two strong and moving characters. Klovnen had its premiere after Psilander's death and was his greatest artistic success. Psilander died on 6th March 1917, aged 32, at the height of his career.
Lisbeth Richter Larsen
Ved Fængslets Port / Temptations of a Great City - Denmark 1911 - Directed by: August Blom - Written by: Erling and Ljut Stensgaard - Cinematographed by: Axel Graatkjær - Cast: Valdemar Psilander, Augusta Blad, Holger Hofman, Clara Wieth - Produced by: Nordisk Films Kompagni - Premiere: March 6, 1911
Dødsspring til Hest fra Cirkuskuplen / The Great Circus Catastrophe - Denmark 1912 - Directed by: Eduard Schnedler-Sørensen - Written by: Alfred Kjerulf - Cast: Valdemar Psilander, Ellen Ræder, Jenny Roelsgaard, Aage Hertel - Produced by: Nordisk Films Kompagni - Premiere: August 12, 1912
Evangeliemandens Liv / The Candle and the Moth - Denmark 1915 - Directed and written by: Holger-Madsen - Cinematographed by: Marius Clausen - Cast: Valdemar Psilander, Birger von Cotta-Schønberg, Alma Hinding, Else Frölich, Robert Schyberg - Produced by: Nordisk Films Kompagni - Premiere: February 18, 1915
- Ved Fængslet Port 1911, 41'
- Dødsspring til Hest fra Cirkuskuplen 1912, 43' tinted
- Evangeliemandens Liv 1915, 60'
- Piano scores by Neil Brand
- Chapter Selection
Edited by: Danish Film Institute & Cinematheque
DVD Authoring: Angel DVD
DVD Supervision: Thomas Christensen