'The Serpent's Egg: Special Edition'
(Liv Ullmann, David Carradine, Gert Fröbe, et al / Blu-ray / R / (1977) 2018 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: Berlin, 1923. Out-of-work circus performer Abel Rosenberg (David Carradine, 'Bound in Glory', 'Kill Bill') is living in poverty.
When his brother commits suicide, he moves into the apartment of his cabaret singer sister-in-law (Liv Ullmann, 'The Emigrants', 'Scenes from a Marriage'), but the pair soon attract the attentions of both the police and a professor with a terrifying area of research when they start to make inquiries about his mysterious death.
Blu-ray Verdict: In truth, and yes, in my humble opinion, Ingmar Bergman didn't always make good films. He generally scripted his films himself, and he obviously didn't notice or care when his scripts were not very good but filmed them anyway. Although not a bad film, this is not an altogether good script.
David Carradine as Abel Rosenberg, an American Jew, comes to Berlin in October 1923 and finds his brother Max dead in his bed having shot his brains out. That's how it begins.
The brothers were circus trapeze artists and out of work, and the dead brother had a girl friend (separated, Liv Ullmann,) who tries to take care of Abel, which is not very easy, since he is constantly misbehaving and spends every day and night drinking.
The local police inspector, (Gert Fröbe) with whom he got in touch concerning his brother's suicide, consults Abel over a number of mysterious and atrocious murders, and Abel gets into a paranoic state believing himself to be a suspect, which doesn't make his own situation any better.
The character of the film is consistently depressive, and the occasional interesting moments are the insights into the extreme and absurd conditions of Berlin and Germany in 1923, which gave rise to Hitler. This makes it a fascinating time documentary.
The cabaret scenes lift the show to a bizarre level of gleeful decadence, but they also gradually go from bad to worse, especially when they are interrupted by power cuts and brutal razzias by hoodlums.
Bergman made this film in Germany while he was in exile from Sweden, chased out of the country by clumsy tax authorities, and he admits himself in his autobiography that he like many Swedes were ardent Nazis before the war. So there are some interesting explanatory excuses and motives for the film.
It emanates into a Kafkaesque nightmare into an archive of terrible human experimentation, definitely heralding Nazism, and ultimately into a very dramatic finale with Heinz Bennent, another cavalier of Liv Ullman's, which gives the film its meaning; but you have to wait for it through many long and absurd scenes, many without reason or meaning.
So, in closing, what feelings was I left with? Well, I kept wishing that Carradine, as Rosenberg, had followed his brother's example and shot himself; so dark and unpleasant is he.
One also feels an affinity for the Liv Ullmann and Gert Fröbe characters, trying hard to live honestly in a world falling apart. But I'm sure you will also find your own thoughts too come the end of the film. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original English mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Audio Commentary by actor David Carradine
Bergman's Egg - a newly filmed appreciation by critic and author Barry Forshaw
Away From Home, archival featurette including interviews with David Carradine and Liv Ullman
German Expressionism, archival interview with Author Marc Gervais
Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices
+ FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Geoffrey Macnab