When Bergman was a young boy, his father took him to see Sjöström's Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage 1921) in a church, and the screening had an immense effect on young Ingmar. The film, which Sjöström wrote, directed and starred in, is based on a story by Selma Lagerlöf. It's about David Holm, an alcoholic and abusive man who on New Year's Eve dies, and is collected by a servant of Death, riding in to town in an old carriage. Then, in flashbacks, David Holm's sorry story is told.
Here's a clip from the beginning of the film:
The special importance Körkarlen had for Bergman can be seen not only in the references to it in his films, but also in the fact that in 1998, Bergman directed P-O Enquist's play Bildmakarna (The Image Makers) for, first, the stage and then for TV. It's about Selma Lagerlöf, Victor Sjöström, Tora Teje and Julius Jaenzon and the making of Körkarlen.
When Bergman became a director Sjöström was head of production at SF, Svensk Filmindustri, where Bergman was employed. The actors in Bergman's first film Kris (Crisis 1945) came to Sjöström and complained about the fact that Bergman was intolerable on set, angry and cruel, so Sjöström took him for a walk around the studio sets, trying to talk some sense into him, moderately successful.
Then, five years later, Bergman gave Sjöström a part in his film Till glädje (To Joy 1950). Sjöström was rather good, but the film in itself isn't particularly striking, although it can be seen as a dress rehearsal for Bergman's first truly great film, Sommarlek (Summer Interlude 1951).
The most famous collaboration between Sjöström and Bergman is of course their last film together, Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries 1957), where Sjöström is playing the lead. It's a wonderful performance, full of warmth, depth and wisdom. He carries the film from start to finish, and positively glows.
He was, though, already old and fragile, and in the last two years before he died January 1960 he moved back and forth to hospital.
Körkarlen is perhaps the film of Sjöström's which had the most profound effect on Bergman, but others films of his are equally good, or perhaps even better. That's especially the case with the early film Ingeborg Holm (1913), which is very moving and socially daring, as well as with a clever, complex use of deep focus, and a film Sjöström did during his successful time in Hollywood, He Who Gets Slapped (1924), a cruel story of humiliation, with a circus setting, which quite possibly influenced Bergman, and not only before making Gycklarnas afton (Sawdust and Tinsel / The Night of the Clowns / The Naked Night, 1953).
A book could and should be written on Bergman and Sjöström. I might do it myself some day. For the moment though, I leave you with this clip from He Who Gets Slapped: