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The Serpent's Egg (1977)

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Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg follows a week in the life of Abel Rosenberg, an out-of-work American circus acrobat living in poverty-stricken Berlin following Germany's defeat in World... See full summary »



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Title: The Serpent's Egg (1977)

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Credited cast:
Manuela Rosenberg
Inspector Bauer (as Gert Froebe)
Heinz Bennent ...
Hans Vergerus
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Girl in uniform
Toni Berger ...
Mr. Rosenberg
Richard Bohne ...
Police officer
Paula Braend ...
Mrs. Hemse
Erna Brünell ...
Mrs. Rosenberg (as Erna Bruenell)
Paul Burian ...
Experiment person
Hildegard Busse ...
Paul Bürks ...
Cabaret Comedian (as Paul Buerks)
Gaby Dohm ...
Woman with baby
Hans Eichler ...


Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg follows a week in the life of Abel Rosenberg, an out-of-work American circus acrobat living in poverty-stricken Berlin following Germany's defeat in World War I. When his brother commits suicide, Abel seeks refuge in the apartment of an old acquaintance Professor Veregus. Desperate to make ends meet in the war-ravaged city, Abel takes a job in Veregus' clinic, where he discovers the horrific truth behind the work of the strangely beneficent professor and unlocks the chilling mystery that drove his brother to kill himself. Written by Leigh Thomas

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

clinic | suicide | serpent | circus | cabaret | See more »


The kind of terror that could never be... until now... until Bergman! See more »


R | See all certifications »






Release Date:

15 February 1978 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Serpent's Egg  »

Box Office


DEM 12,000,000 (estimated)


SEK 2,359,946 (Sweden)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


First of two pictures that Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman made in West Germany. The second was From the Life of the Marionettes (1980) [From the Life of the Marionettes]. See more »


The Nazi-looking thugs that are beating up people are wearing Model 1943 German army caps and 1940s style clothing. This film is supposed to take place in the 1920s. See more »


Abel Rosenberg: I wake up from a nightmare and find that real life is worse than the dream.
See more »


Featured in German Expressionism (2004) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

An unfortunate blemish on several notable filmographies
30 January 2004 | by (Lexington, Kentucky) – See all my reviews

When asked by an interviewer about his notorious 1969 flop `A Place for Lovers,' Italian director Vittorio de Sica, who had previously made some of the most influential films in the history of cinema, simply replied `I'm an artist. Artists make mistakes.' It was an honest, straightforward statement that acknowledged the necessity of failure in the business of moviemaking. Filmmakers have their boundaries, and when those lines are crossed it is only appropriate that they are shocked and prodded back into their proper place.

Like de Sica, Ingmar Bergman has made many stunning films that skillfully explore the facets of the human soul. `The Serpent's Egg' is not one of them. This is a clumsy, heavy-handed mess that fails to find anything interesting in its subject. I'm sure this story has something interesting to say about the suffering caused by war, poverty, and bigotry, but Bergman doesn't seem to know how to translate his own script's ambitions to the screen.

Certainly, there are elements present that always make for an interesting Bergman film: family tragedy, frustrated love, a protagonist fearing for his own sanity, and a hint of the supernatural. But these elements do not flow together as they did in Bergman's previous films; on the whole, it comes off feeling static, lacking the urgency so desperately needed. Character motivations are frequently illogical, and the more interesting figures (such as a priest played by James Whitmore) are given too little screen time while the more frustrating characters are given too much. The film is also weighed down by banal dialogue that spells out the emotions of the characters in an insulting and sometimes laughable way. The performances don't help either; to call them `overwrought' is a dire understatement. David Carradine spends much of his time posturing and pouting, Liv Ullmann shrieks her lines enough to set your teeth on edge, and Heinz Bennett scowls and sneers his way through his final confrontation with Carradine just to make sure there are no doubts that his character is the villain.

The only really effective element to `The Serpent's Egg' is the atmosphere, thanks largely to photographer Sven Nykvist, who gives the smoke-filled cabaret halls a lurid, grimy feel. The recreation of 1923 Berlin is convincing, effectively portraying a society that justifies evil by using it to pull itself out of poverty. But the visuals are a thin shell that cannot hide the emptiness of the drama. Perhaps Bergman's vision was at odds with the demands of producer Dino de Laurentiis, who, at the time, was better known for action fluff such as `Mandingo,' `Death Wish,' and the 1976 remake of `King Kong.' Or perhaps Bergman, who made his most personal films in and around his Swedish homeland, did not know how to transplant his ideas into so foreign a setting. In any case, Bergman, like de Sica, later acknowledged his `mistake' in his autobiography `Images,' where he rightly described the film as one of the most disappointing experiences of his career. `The Serpent's Egg' is only of interest if you want to see what results when a talented artist pushes his art in the wrong direction.

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