33 user 41 critic

The Serpent's Egg (1977)

Berlin, 1923. Following the suicide of his brother, American circus acrobat Abel Rosenberg attempts to survive while facing unemployment, depression, alcoholism and the social decay of Germany during the Weimar Republic.


Ingmar Bergman


Ingmar Bergman (a film by)




Credited cast:
Liv Ullmann ... Manuela Rosenberg
David Carradine ... Abel Rosenberg
Gert Fröbe ... Inspector Bauer (as Gert Froebe)
Heinz Bennent ... Hans Vergerus
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Toni Berger ... Mr. Rosenberg
Christian Berkel ... Student
Paula Braend Paula Braend ... Mrs. Hemse
Erna Brünell Erna Brünell ... Mrs. Rosenberg (as Erna Bruenell)
Paul Bürks Paul Bürks ... Cabaret Comedian (as Paul Buerks)
Gaby Dohm ... Woman with baby
Emil Feist Emil Feist ... Miser
Kai Fischer ... Prostitute
Georg Hartmann Georg Hartmann ... Hollinger
Edith Heerdegen Edith Heerdegen ... Mrs. Holle
Klaus Hoffmann Klaus Hoffmann ... Commando Announcer


It's early November, 1923. Jewish-American brothers Abel and Max Rosenberg, and Max's ex-wife Manuela Rosenberg had a trapeze act in a circus touring through Europe up until a month ago when a wrist injury to Max sidelined the act. The three remained in Berlin, Germany generally depressed with rampant inflation leading to Abel taking up the bottle to cope. The Jewish are also being blamed for many of society's problems, but Abel fears no reprisal against himself if he does nothing wrong. Abel and Manuela, the latter who ended up living in a rooming house on her own while working in a cabaret, are reunited when Abel has to inform her that Max committed suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Feeling at a loss both professionally with the act no more and emotionally both due to Max's death, Abel and Manuela turn to each other for comfort and support as the only person the other truly has. Abel's life becomes even more complicated when Police Inspector Bauer, who handled ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Berlin 1923! A dangerous time to be alive and stay that way! See more »


R | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


On the DVD commentary, David Carradine himself recognizes or confirms that he was very nearly Oscar-nominated the previous year, 1976, for his performance as Woody Guthrie in 'Bound for Glory' (dir. Hal Ashby). Many critics and fans thought that Carradine was a shoo-in for the nomination and were surprised, even shocked, when he failed to receive it. 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 »


Hans Vergerus: [explains the upcoming social and political developments in Germany to Abel Rosenberg] It's like a serpent's egg. Through the thin membranes, you can clearly discern the already perfect reptile.
See more »


Referenced in Jeopardy!: Episode #22.33 (2005) See more »


Das Lied vom süssen Bonbon
Music by Rolf A. Wilhelm
Lyrics by Rolf A. Wilhelm and Kurt Wilhelm
Performed by Liv Ullmann
See more »

User Reviews

Ingmar Bergman bogging himself down in the origins of Nazism.
14 July 2018 | by clanciaiSee all my reviews

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 artitsts 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 Froebe) 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.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 33 user reviews »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more »



West Germany | USA


English | German

Release Date:

15 February 1978 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Serpent's Egg See more »

Filming Locations:

Germany See more »


Box Office


DEM12,000,000 (estimated)

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (Eastmancolor)| Black and White (science films footage)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

Contribute to This Page

Recently Viewed