Blu-ray: The Serpent’s Egg

STUDIO: Arrow/MVD | DIRECTOR: Ingmar Bergman | CAST: David Carradine, Liv Ullmann, Gert Frobe, Heinz Bennent, Glynn Turman, James Whitmore
RELEASE DATE: Dec. 4, 2018 | PRICE:  Blu-ray $22.97
BONUSES: commentary, archival featurette and interviews, new appreciation
SPECS: R | 119 min. | Drama mystery | 1.66:1 widescreen | mono | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Ingmar Bergman’s 1977 The Serpent’s Egg isn’t your parents’ Bergman film.

No, no, no…Serpent’s Egg ain’t no Seventh Seal or Wild Strawberries or Virgin Spring. It’s not even as radical—in a Bergman-esque sense—as such Sixties entries as Persona or Hour of the Wolf.  Unlike those titles (classics, the bunch!), there’s no soul-searching or intensely personal revelations to be had here, even as a whole lot of drama, violence, paranoia and weirdness unspools.

Serpent’s Egg stars David Carradine (Bound for Glory) as Abel Rosenberg, a drunken Jewish-American trapeze artist in Berlin in November, 1932, a time when the decadent lifestyle of the Weimar Republic was beginning to crumble and the Socialist German Workers’ party was gaining strength. Carradine discovers his brother (and trapeze partner) has committed suicide, prompting him to share the news with his estranged sister-in-law (Bergman lifer Liv Ullmann of Cries and Whispers and Face to Face, among others). The two of them try to continue their lives in Berlin, he as an out-of-work drunk and she as a cabaret artist and part-time hooker. But Berlin grows darker, nastier and more dangerous and Abel begins to grow paranoid, particularly as local law enforcers suspect him of being involved in his brother’s death, while an odd assortment of performers, scientists and doctors begin to circle him

When it all comes to a head during the film’s final half-hour–when a number of characters have permanently shuffled off the screen and a pair of seemingly mad scientists start showing films of their twisted medical experiments–it becomes clear that the film’s title is referring to the soon-to-be-born emergence and domination of the Nazi party.

An American-West German English-language drama produced by Dino de Laurentis while Bergman was temporarily living in Germany to escape the Swedish tax authorities in his native land, Serpent’s Egg offered the master filmmaker a huge budget and an opportunity to work on a larger scale than he ever had before. The results can definitely be seen on the screen, which presents some grand period production design and costumes, particularly in the cabaret and street scenes, all of it gorgeously served up by Bergman’s go-to- DP Sven Nykvist (Fanny and Alexander). Those scenes display the kind of colorful debauchery and gaudiness that calls to mind Fellini’s Roma and Casanova and, not ironically, I suppose, Fosse’s Cabaret.

The Serpent’s Egg is a real one-off entry in the Bergman canon. Engaging enough to keep a viewer interested and definitely a worthy watch for Bergman completists, it’s also definitely not the movie to use as an introduction for Ingmar newbies.

Buy or Rent The Serpent’s Egg

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.