Director-writer Ingmar Bergman has a morality play in this tale of a returning crusader in the 14th century who keeps Death at bay, via a chess game, while he tries to find out the meaning of life. Film has superior technical narrative, impressive lensing and thesping.
The knight (Max von Sydow) comes back to his home, which is in the grip of the black plague. The re-creation of medieval times is evocative in its bawdiness, superstition, cruelty and humanity. It spreads out an awesome canvas of human cupidity and purity. Characters abound with vitality, and Bergman wraps this into an absorbing film.
The chess game with Death (Bengt Ekerot) is interspersed with his meeting with a family of itinerant mountebanks whom he feels are worth saving, and even Death seems to coincide with this thought as all fall before his coming except them.