Like his earlier A Man There Was, Victor Sjöström's The Outlaw and His Wife is a tale of redemption played out against the vast expenses of nature, which can turn from accommodating to forbidding from one moment to another. Berg-Ejvind (Sjöström) is a rugged wanderer who, driven to stealing to feed his family, hides from the authorities in a ranch run by the wealthy widow Halla (Edith Erastoff). The two fall in love and, when his past is revealed, the couple flees to the Icelandic mountaintops, where they eke out a blissful existence for a while; in a twist that anticipates Stroheim's Blind Husbands, Berg-Ejvind and Halla are joined by another fugitive (John Ekman) in the rocky slopes and, as one intertitle puts it, “Love makes one man good—and another evil.” Humanity's geographical-spiritual link to the elements has always been Sjöström's great theme, and here it is explored in images at once allegorical and tactile. The heat of a geyser feels as palpable as the chill of a frostbitten cave, and the idyllic suddenly turns animalistic: When surrounded by galloping intruders, the wife impulsively hurls her child down a gorge like a wolf sacrificing its cub. Despite his admiration for Sjöström, Ingmar Bergman took little of the older filmmaker's feeling for open-air shooting (in that area, Sjöström's true Swedish heir may have been Jan Troell, the director of The Emigrants and The New Land). Instead, what stamped itself in Bergman's mind was the sense of a harsh world where people hang on to each other like life rafts despite (and sometimes because of) their disparities. Surely Sjöström's sublime final tableau came back to Bergman during the shooting of Scenes from a Marriage.
Although the image is rough in a few spots, and at times seems to be played at the wrong speed, the transfer is clear enough to count the blades of grass in the heroine's farm.
In Gösta Werner's hour-long documentary Victor Sjöström, the great filmmaker is eulogized by longtime pupil Ingmar Bergman, who cogently analyzes his influence as a director and wistfully recalls his support as a mentor and friend. Footage from Sjöström's oeuvre shows treasures still waiting to be discovered (quick views of The Monastery of Sedomir and Love's Crucible are especially tantalizing).
Nature gives and nature takes away in Victor Sjöström's pantheistic classic.