Seeing The Devil's Eye makes one wish Ingmar Bergman would stop playing with his damn symbols for a while and just tell a story. If he had been willing to do so, this film might have been the funniest comedy of the year. As it stands, it is merely a confused tale, that never says enough humorously or seriously to make it worth the bother.
Certainly Bergman has the makings of an excellent comedy. Working from the Irish proverb, "A woman's chastity is a sty in the eye of the Devil," he develops the story of a devil plagued with a sore eye, which his advisors attribute to a Swedish vicar's careful daughter. The arch fiend considers his resources and finally decides Don Juan is the man to remedy the situation.
The devil dispatches him to the surface to relieve the girl of her virtue. The don is accompanied by his manservant, Pablo, and an assistant demon to keep everyone in line. They contrive to meet the vicar, who introduces them to his wife and daughter. Pablo immediately seduces the vicar's wife, and Don Juan begins on the daughter. The great lover--whom Bergman has made the personification of the "greasy, plastered-down look"--finds, however, that the girl will not be seduced. Instead she offers to give herself to him out of pity. In the end he falls hopelessly in love with her, and returns to hell a broken man, forcing the devil to wait until the girl marries for his eye to heal.
Along with this fertile, if predictable, plot Bergman has his usual advantages of his troupe's superb acting and unparalleled camerawork by Gunnar Fischer. The story gives ample room for the irony of inversion, where good and bad are reversed, at which Bergman is so adroit. One wonders, then, how a director could possibly ruin the film.
He has done it in a way that only Bergman could. He has overemphasized the character of the vicar, and used him as a vehicle to examine some very un-comic but typically Bergman questions. The vicar is naive; he is also a man of god. The problem of whether or not the vicar's naivete in some way protects him from the world in which he lives, or the question of how much of his faith is the result of his blindness to the facts of his own existence, are not fit topics for comedy. They may be of immense interest to Bergman, but they do not belong here, and the movie's comic structure cannot stand the strain they impose.
This lack of discipline and uncertainity of purpose on Bergman's part recurs constantly. He cannot fore-bear from adding an enigmatic sequence of pure symbolism, relating the legend of how Don Juan was carried to hell. It is a striking sequence, invested with Bergman's typicalaly nightmarish quality. But it makes no sense, and has no relation to the story. The vicar's wife, on hearing the legend, becomes upset and cries: "Life is a stupid comedy. No one can understand it." At this point, most of the audience is inclined to agree with her.
The Devil's Eye is a film that does not do what it was intended to do, or even what it starts out to do. By posing questions more suited to a medieval morality play than to a fantasy of love and seduction, Bergman has lost his chance to produce what could have been one of the finest foreign films of the year.