Carl Theodor Dreyer: Once Upon a Time

Carl Theodor Dreyer: Once Upon a Time

Danish Film Classics

This DVD edition is a new restoration of Carl Theodor Dreyer's adaptation of Holger Drachmann's popular nationalistic play from 1883 is based on Hans Christian Andersen's Svinedrengen and William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Despite the loss of approximately half of the moving picture content, the surviving scenes can now be seen in a complete narrative. The remaining footage is now supported by still photos and new intertitles based primarily on original sources, which make up the complete narrative.

The Swedish censorship title list is divided into seven numbered sections, which probably corresponded to reels or acts; the sections certainly work well as large-scale dramaturgical units. The film is structured as follows:

Section 1: The royal palace of Illyria: the Princess and her suitors; she rejects all of them, including the Prince of Denmark.

Section 2: The Prince obtains a magic kettle; disguised as a tinker, he sits outside the gate of the Princess's garden; she agrees to let him sleep in her chamber in return for the kettle; that evening, the Prince's musicians serenade the Princess.

Section 3: The disguised Prince in the Princess's bedchamber; discovered by the king, the Princess is thrown out and must become the companion of the tinker-prince.

Section 4: The Prince and Princess live together in a hut in the forest, bickering constantly.

Section 5: The Princess takes clay pots to market, but they get smashed; as they are penniless, the Prince turns to poaching, but when he is pursued by the royal foresters, she fears for his life and declares her love for him.

Section 6: She goes to the castle to beg for food in the kitchen, when it is proclaimed that the Prince is going to marry a foreign princess, but since she has been taken ill, someone who can fit the wedding dress must take her place. The dress fits the princess.

Section 7: The wedding takes place, and the Prince offers the Princess to become his queen, instead of his promised bride, but she rejects him for the beggar she lives with in the forest - and then it is revealed that the two are one and the same.

This structure also mirrors that of Drachmann's play rather closely, each section of the film thus corresponds to an act or scene in Drachmann's play, except that the two scenes of the play's fourth act have been compressed to one section. Sections 1, 2, 4 and 5 survive relatively intact; in additon, two brief fragments of section 3 and one of section 6 still exist. Section 7 is completely missing.

The fragment from section 6 is definitely not finished material; the shots are completely out of order, there are no title indications, and the fragment contains several takes of the same shot, including one where Svend Methling stops in the middle of a movement and shrugs his shoulders - obviously a failed take. Indeed, the whole fragment may consist of outtakes, but since no other material survives from the reel in question, as much as possible of the fragment was used for the restoration.A number of stills survive, especially the stills from the final wedding sequence were instrumental in the restoration, since they are the only image elements surviving from this section of the film.

The main purpose of the restoration has been to reestablish the film's intertitles, supplemented with explanatory titles that would give the spectator at least some idea of the structure and storyline of Dreyer's film. The main source for the intertitles was a title list from the archives of Statens biografbyrå, the Swedish film censorship office. The Swedish censors would keep complete title lists for all films they passed. The titles have all been translated into Danish. In a number of cases, however, the precise wording has been adjusted in accordance with other sources.

The Film

Der var engang / Once Upon A Time - Denmark 1922 - Directed and written by: Carl Theodor Dreyer, based on a play by Holger Drachmann which is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen and William Shakespeare - Cinematographed by: George Schnéevoight - Cast: Clara Wieth (Pontoppidan), Svend Methling, Peter Jerndorff, Hakon Ahnfeldt-Rønne, Torben Meyer - Produced by: Sophus Madsen Film - Premiere: October 3, 1922

DVD Features

  • Der Var Engang 1922, 75'
  • Piano score by Neil Brand
  • Chapter selection
  • Unedited kitchen sequence 4'
  • Stills Archive
  • Dreyer Biography

Edited by: Danish Film Institute & Cinematheque
DVD Authoring: Angel DVD
DVD Supervision: Thomas Christensen, Casper Tyberg

TV Format Original format Audio format Language Subtitles Region code
4:3 (PAL)
Dolby Digital 2.0
Danish Intertitles
All Regions


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Price: 19,95 EUR (incl. 19% VAT, excl. shipping)