"The Parson's Widow" (1920)

aka "Prastankan"

aka "The Fourth Marriage of Dame Margaret"

Directed by Carl Dreyer
Produced by Svensk Filmindustri, Stockholm
First shown October 4, 1920, at the Rialto Theater in Stockholm.
Based on a true story by Kristofer Janson, a turn of the century popular and acclaimed Scandinavian author.
The print shown in the United States was titled "The Witch Woman." The print reviewed here is titled "The Parson's Widow" and has English titles.

Cast: Hildur Carlberg, Einar Red, Greta Almroth, Olav Aukrust, Kurt Welin, Mathilde Nielson, Emil Helsengree, and Lorentz Thyholt.

Mutiliation of Dreyer's Films

No filmmaker's work has been more mutilated for English-language audiences than Carl Dreyer's films. Titles have been changed, inter-titles rewritten, shots reshuffled. His highly acclaimed "La Passion deJeanne d'Arc" circulates in several different versions since the original print has yet to be found. The American print of "Vampyr" is scavenged from French, German and English prints, and they lack crucial shots and scenes. "The Day Of Wrath" that is distributed abroad is an English version, and the Danish text has been replaced by an English translation of the Latin poem that is completely different from the Danish text. "Leaves From Satan's Book" is available in several versions including a mutilated copy with narration. I had been under the impression that Carl Dreyer's films were rather disjointed until I read David Bordell's book on Dreyer mentioned in my sources.


A rather simple story of a very poor young man, Sofren, who is selected over two other applicants to become the parson of a small rural village. According to the custom of the parish, the wife of the deceased parson, the elderly Dame Margaret, has the right to marry the new parson. Sofren, in order to obtain the position as the parson and all its fringe benefits, agrees to marry Dame Margaret who has been widowed three prior times. Sofren has been engaged for many years to a young lady, Mari, whose father will not consent to their marriage until Sofren is made a parson. Sofren, who prefers the comforts of the parsonage but will not give up Mari, brings Mari into the parsonage by the ruse that she is his sister. Sofren and Mari seek ways to circumvent Dame Margaret while they await the elderly Dame Margaret to die.

One day when both Dame Margaret and Mari are in the loft, Sofren moves the ladder leading to the loft, hoping to hasten the old ladies end but .......

The New York Times, April 8, 1929, " A somewhat ingenuous little tale, laid in the Gudbrand Valley of Norway some three centuries ago is now on exhibition at the Fifth Avenue Playhouse. It is an adaptation of
Christopher Janson's novel, " The Parson's Widow, " and it comes to the screen under the sinister and misleading title of "The Witch Woman."

Carl Dreyer

Carl Dreyer was born in Copenhagen, and during his long career, he directed films in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, France, and Germany. His first work was as a pianist in a local café. He had been given piano lessons by his brother-in-law, and, at the end of his first evening of playing, he was told not to come back. He worked as a an accountant, a journalist for a tabloid writing theater reviews, and he then began film scripts eventually joining Nordisk Films Kompagni.

Nordisk was producing over a hundred films a year, and, after five years of writing scripts and adapting novels and plays for the cinema, he began directing films for Nordisk. His first film was "The President," and he then produced the very popular, "Blade Of Satan's Bog" or "Leaves From Satan's Book." He was very annoyed when "Leaves From Satan's Book " was severely edited for the premiere that was held in Oslo. He quit Nordisk and embarked on an independent career working for various studios. He produced "The Parsons Widow" in Sweden for Svensk Filmindustri.

Greta Almroth

Greta Almroth, who plays the role of Mari, entered films in 1913 after some stage experience in Swedish provincial theaters. She worked with the pioneer Scandinavian directors including Victor Sjostrom, Mauritz Stiller and Carl Dreyer. Her screen persona was characterized by her fresh look and blonde hair, and, during her short career, she appeared in over 30 feature films. She played in few roles after retiring from Svensk Filmindustri in

Svensk Filmindustri was founded in 1907 as a cinema chain, and, shortly thereafter, they hired a photographer and began producing documentaries and short fiction films. In 1911 the company hired Victor Sjostrom and
Mauritz Stiller and subsequently prospered as the Swedish cinema reached its golden age that lasted until the early 1920's. Its golden age was characterized by its quality literary adaptations of classic Scandinavian literature.

Nordisk was founded in 1906, and it was the oldest film company in Denmark. By 1910 it had developed into one of the largest film firms in Europe, and, up until the outbreak of World War I, it spread the popularity of Danish films all over the world.

The Films Of Carl Dreyer by David Bordwell

Encyclopedia of European Cinema by Ginette Vincendeau

World Film Directors by John Wakeman.

copyright 2002 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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