Benjamin Christensen (1879-1959) is probably the most innovative director of Danish silent cinema. Had had full control over the creation of his films, not only as a director, but also in many cases by being producer, author and protagonist. Christensen's first films clearly show his mastery of cinematic expression as well as his charismatic screen appearance. Christensen studied medicine, then took voice tuition, trained in drama and opera, and joined the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in 1901. After a serious illness, he became a champagne and wine wholesaler. From 1911 onwards he worked as a scriptwriter and actor for the Dansk Biografkompagni in Hellerup, which he took over himself in 1913. His films Det hemmelighedsfulde X (Sealed Orders, 1914) and Hævnens Nat (Blind Justice, 1916) brought him immediate fame. He later filmed in Berlin and Hollywood, returning to Denmark in the early 1930s. His last films were poorly received and he ended his film career running a cinema in a suburb of Copenhagen.
About the films
The rarely seen tale of espionage love and treason set in a Europe on the brink of war, Det hemmelighedsfulde X, casts director Benjamin Christensen in a major role as Lt. van Hauen. As he prepares for impending war, the story revolves around his loving wife, who has become the object of the unwanted attentions of a questionable count. In part because human nature changes little, the fully satisfying drama engages on multiple and sophisticated levels. The plot turns on points of honor, loyalty to country, fidelity to family, and the treachery of greed and war. Though some of the cinematic devices will seem quaint, as in a technique resembling a huge stage whisper where the traitorous count hides in plain sight in the drawing room of the van Hauens, the emotionally satisfying screenplay has heart and timelessness. The visual style that clearly influenced German expressionist films that followed is pure pleasure to watch.
The Night of Revenge, released in 1916, was the second great success for the actor, director and writer Christensen, who was born in 1879. The melodrama was greeted in Denmark and America with enthusiastic reviews. Christensen not only wrote and directed the film, but also played the lead of Strongman Henry, a circus acrobat who has been wrongly sentenced to prison for allegedly murdering a little girl. Ebbe Neergaard's description of the film 40 years later in his "Story of Danish Film" confirms the lasting impression made by the thriller: "In his first two films Christensen raises melodrama to the level of a lasting narrative that still has relevance for us today."
Det hemmelighedsfulde X / Sealed Orders - Denmark 1914 - Directed and written by: Benjamin Christensen Cinematographed by: Emil Dinesen - Cast: Benjamin Christensen, Karen Sandberg, Fritz Lamprecht, Amanda Lund, Hermann Spiro, Svend Rindom - Produced by: Dansk Biografkompagni - Premiere: March 23, 1914
Hævnens nat / Blind Justice - Denmark 1916 - Directed and wrirtten by: Benjamin Christensen - Cinematographed by: Johan Ankerstjerne - Cast: Benjamin Christensen, Karen Sandberg, Peter Fjeldstrup, Jon Iversen, Fritz Lamprecht - Production: Dansk Biografkompagni. - Premiere: September 25, 1916
- Det hemmelighedsfulde X 1914, 85'
- Hævnens nat (tinted) 1916, 100'
- Chapter Selection
- Piano Scores by Neil Brand
Edited by: Danish Film Institute & Cinematheque
DVD Authoring: Angel DVD
DVD Supervision: Thomas Christensen