Carl Theodor Dreyer’s sly 1925 silent film, Master of the House is a story about a great tyrant, Viktor Frandsen (Johannes Meyer), who narcissistically rules over his domain with total disdain for those who live within—his wife, Ida (Astrid Holm), his children, Karen (Karin Nellemose), Dreng and Barnet and his former nanny, “Mads” (Mathilde Nielsen), who volunteers to help out his wife from time to time—until finally, in one way or another, they all are in psychological duress, the youngest crying endlessly as the “howler monkey” spits out his orders, Dreng forced to stand in the corner while the family eats their frugal supper (even butter is scraped away from their sandwiches in order to slather more of the tyrant’s bread) simply because he has dared play in the streets with friends a bit beyond his allotted time, and Karen being terrified of not meeting his strict demands. When the hard-working Ida is finally sent away to a place to rest—part of a plot that Mads has hatched with Ida’s mother, Alvilda Kryer (Clara Schønfeld), his wife has a nervous breakdown. Sound familiar?
“Mads” is indeed a more than a bit “mad,” but underneath it all, the director helps us realize, she does have a heart of gold, and realizes that it has become necessary to retrain her early pupil. And when he truly shows signs of breaking because he sorely misses his loving wife, she summons the girl home, forcing her to hide in a cabinet for a brief period so that she might witness Viktor’s transformations.