Carl Theodor Dreyer directed “Master of the House” in 1925, and the Danish film became a box-office hit in France, the United States and other countries. It tells the story about an ungrateful husband, Viktor, and his long-suffering wife, Ida. When Ida becomes ill from his abuse and moves out to regain her health, Viktor must contend with a tough-minded nanny determined to teach him a lesson about respecting his wife and children.
Viktor, played by Johannes Meyer, behaves so badly towards his wife and children in the first act that I wondered if he could reform. Everything Ida does upsets him, from the temperature of the coffee, to her management of the family budget, to the hanging of the laundry across their living room. Ida accepts Viktor’s bad behavior because, she says, his business is down and it wouldn’t be right to complain.
The Nanny, played by Mathilde Nielsen, tortures Viktor while he sinks deeper into depression over the loss of his wife. She eats his food, orders him around and makes sure she wins the battle of domestic tyrants. The slow-moving film contains so many scenes and details of domestic life that it seems to go no-where for a while. Eventually, however, Viktor reforms, even though it’s still a bit surprising given where he started.