The Serpent’s Egg (1977) – Film Review
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: David Carradine, Liv Ullmann
by Sarah Morgan
In the world of cinema, Ingmar Bergman is regarded almost as a god. An innovator, a master storyteller and a visual colossus, he has inspired hundreds of film-makers. But even geniuses can have bad days.
The Serpent’s Egg is widely regarded as one of his lesser films, but perhaps its rather dark script is understandable when you consider the period in which it was made – it was Bergman’s first project after being arrested on charges of tax evasion.The charges were eventually dropped, but too late to prevent a nervous breakdown. He then spent time in hospital suffering from depression.
The movie is a German-American co-production featuring starring roles for Bergman acolyte Liv Ullman and, perhaps surprisingly, David Carradine. At the time he would have been best known for his role in the TV series Kung Fu and for movies such as Death Race 2000 and Bound for Glory.
However, he and Bergman initially hit it off and although they later fell out over a scene involving the mutilation of a horse, Carradine delivers one of the most subtle performances of his career.
The setting is 1920s Berlin – think Cabaret but without Liza Minnelli’s barnstorming performance and you get the idea; this is a seedy place where the nightclub performers aren’t necessarily skilful; they’re around to titillate the clientele more than anything else.
Carradine plays Abel, a trapeze artist whose partner in the act, his brother, kills himself for reasons nobody can quite discern; his suicide is linked to several other mysterious deaths in the city, and the police wonder if Abel might be behind them all.
He reunites with his former sister-in-law, Manuela (Ullman), who is now appearing in a cabaret, where Abel bumps into a creepy childhood friend-turned-scientist he would sooner avoid.
As time goes by, this mysterious figure plays an increasingly important role in Abel and Manuela’s lives, and it becomes clear he knows far more about the mysterious deaths than the authorities realise.
Even a lesser Bergman project is worth watching, although it’s doubtful that anybody would want to sit through anything quite so bleak and distressing as The Serpent’s Egg twice.
It cleverly weaves the decadence, grit, grime and uncertainty of post-First World War Berlin with the rise of fascism, suggesting where the Nazis would get their ideas for experimentation from.
The Serpent’s Egg is a curiosity piece and no mistake – and one that will chill you to the bone.
‘The Serpent’s Egg’ is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Academy, out now