Prison is a turgid, tedious film finally invalidated by the tendency to inflate a personal neurosis into a Vision of Life. Its explicit thesis is that life on earth is already Hell, that the devil rules. But all one could deduce from the evidence it presents is that some people are very nasty and some others very ineffectual. (p. 29)
The chief contribution [Port of Call] makes is the extension of Bergman's antipathy to parental figures to include the social authorities, presented with consistent hostility.
The limitations of these early films are crippling. It appears to have been impossible for Bergman at this stage to conceive of an acceptable maturity. One can see signs of a tentative awareness of the need to come to some sort of terms with adult life, in the ending of Port of Call…. (p. 30)
Summer Interlude is the earliest in which one feels in the presence of a great artist, not merely a gifted, or precocious, or ambitious one. The film shows an achieved mastery both in the overall line, the inner movement, and in the minutiae of mise-en-scène in which that movement finds local expression….
The importance of Summer Interlude in relation to Bergman's early films is immediately evident: it both continues and develops the characteristic preoccupation with youth and the vulnerability of innocence. But here the transition from innocent youth to experienced adulthood is really explored, and with it the possibility of coming to terms with the world of Experience. (p. 32)
The film's most distinctive characteristic is perhaps its feeling for nature. While nature is obviously of great importance in, for example, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, I know of no other Bergman film where it is felt as a pervasive influence to the extent it is in Summer Interlude…. (p. 33)
Summer with Monika is the perfect companion-piece and complement for Summer Interlude….
It is a less personal work than Summer Interlude, and relatively minor; it never achieves the generalising significance of the earlier film, being in a more restrictive way a study of character and of a particular relationship. (p. 39)
[The] most important thing in the film is the extremely complex and detailed treatment of Monika. She is the direct opposite of the helpless child-women and pure prostitutes of the early work. She entirely lacks purity, but the loss of innocence is felt to be inseparable from her splendid energy, her animal vitality and sensuality. (p. 41)
Sawdust and Tinsel and its immediate successor A Lesson in Love both have distinctive flavours unique in strength if not in kind in Bergman's work; and they are at almost opposite poles. A Lesson in Love is arguably the warmest and funniest of all Bergman's films, characterized by an overall atmosphere of relaxed good nature. Sawdust and Tinsel has a tone of savage bitterness and rage that nowhere else in Bergman's work erupts with such intensity or establishes itself so unequivocally as the central creative impulse. It is discernible elsewhere though, even, very muted, in the occasional tartness that serves to spice the prevailing good humour of A Lesson in Love….
Sawdust and Tinsel expresses a view of life one can hardly find balanced or objective. Clearly, in a sense, Bergman 'meant' it; but it must not be taken as absolute. Though it is not as narrow as first impressions and the introductory flashback might suggest its peculiar intensity and narrowness limit Sawdust and Tinsel, but they also give it its distinctive character, hence its value as the expression of one aspect of the Bergman world. (p. 49)
[An] intensely physical sensitivity informs Sawdust and Tinsel: there is a shot near the beginning of bent weeds that a cart wheel passes over and presses down, as the first raindrops splash into an adjacent puddle. No other Bergman film, not even The Virgin Spring, which has a more detached presentation, evokes quite such intense and consistent physical empathy in the spectator…. (p. 50)
[Smiles of a Summer Night ] is less a beginning...
(The entire section is 2,363 words.)