(jp) wrote: It Does Go On a Bit, Doesn't It? There is a certain amount of historical balance to the idea that Stalin wanted a movie made to glorify Ivan the Terrible. Stalin really did think that Ivan IV was one of the greatest rulers in Russian history, a man who had the strength and the drive to unite warring peoples under one central ruler, a Tsar and not a boyar. Ivan is told in the movie that no one even knows who his father is, and there is apparently a certain amount of historical debate as to who Stalin's own father was. The two men had a great deal in common--ultimately more than Stalin was comfortable with, which is why these movies are not part of a trilogy. Not even Stalin could get around the fact that, well, Ivan IV was crazy and kind of evil, and while Stalin may have taken a certain amount of satisfaction from some of the possible comparisons between the men, there were other comparisons which would not have made him comfortable. After all, while Ivan was in the beginning a good ruler, as time went by, not so much. Ivan (Nikolai Cherkasov), upon taking the throne of the Tsars in 1547, declares that he will be the true ruler of all the Russias. The boyars will be subordinate to him and, if not like it, at least suck it up. He is very young, but he is very determined, not least because he saw his mother, Tsarina Elena Glinskaya (Ada Vojstik), die in front of him, poisoned. She blamed the boyars, and that is part of why Ivan is so set on depriving them of their power. He marries the lovely Anastasia Romanovna (Lyudmila Tesilkovskaya), but she, too, is poisoned. Ivan is trapped in the machinations of his aunt, Efrosinia Staritskaya (Serafima Birman), who wishes her son, Vladimir Andreyevich Staritsky (Pavel Kadochnikov), to take Ivan's throne. All his attempts to improve Russia are met with resistance by those who think the old ways are best. It is easy to feel sorry for the Ivan presented here, which may well have been another of Stalin's problems, really. Such a noble man should not be an object of pity, but he is--until he is an object of derision. Of course, Ivan in Russian cultural memory is also not so crazy as the West portrays him. There's even a drive to make him a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church, though the Church has refused fairly adamantly. "Terrible" is, we are reminded, not the best translation of "[i]grozny[/i]," the sobriquet he is given in Russian. "Terrifying," possibly. "Formidable," certainly. There was a reason for Ivan's enemies to fear him, which is, again, probably part of why Stalin liked him as much as he did. Nobody messed with Ivan twice, not even his children. (Famously, Stalin's older son was taken prisoner by the Germans, and Stalin refused to trade for him, because his son was a disappointment to him--in part because he was captured in the first place.) It's a much less certain place in history than Stalin's--very, very few people doubt that Stalin was, you know, kind of evil. Yes, Ivan killed his son, beat his pregnant daughter-in-law into a miscarriage, and started the policies which lead to serfdom, but there are so many things to say about Stalin that one doesn't know where to begin. Though that photograph which started out with five men in it and slowly became Stalin alone's not a bad place. Eisenstein himself once said that, had he died after [i]Battleship Potemkin[/i], that might have been the best thing possible for his reputation. Certainly the reaction to these films was mixed. For one thing, I find the colour sequences in the second film a little perplexing and out of place. The Criterion Collection print of the film includes, on the second disc, probably a half-hour or better about Eisenstein's use of symbolism in the film, the fact that various characters are intended to be analogous to or represented by various animals, the designs painted on walls, and so forth. On the other hand, there is no moment which stands out for me for any reason beyond, "Okay, that was weird." Even there, it was mainly the colour. Well, there is the moment when young Ivan, upon taking the throne, discovers that his feet don't reach the ceremonial pillow under them. That was cute. But still, we're looking at over three hours, here. It is interesting to speculate how reactions might have changed had Stalin let Eisenstein produce the third part, the days leading to Ivan's ultimate evil and death. I don't mean Stalin's, of course. I mean the reaction of film critics in general. As it stands, the reviews of this are decidedly mixed, as it is apparently both a Film I Should See Before I Die and, per another book, among the fifty worst movies ever made. Would the closure that the third movie would have brought have changed that? And, of course, which way? Naturally, we will never know, as historical speculation is interesting but generally impossible to resolve for sure. Who knows? Maybe the whole thing would have been in that bad, cheap colour which he used in the second part. (A mistake; the B&W shimmers in a way the colour process used could not.) Eisenstein was a brilliant director. But see [i]Battleship Potemkin[/i] instead.
(ru) wrote: Egad, what a cast! Bogart, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, Judith Anderson, Frank McHugh, William DeMearest (straight from Sullivan's Travels), Jane Darwell, Barton McLane, and if that wasn't enough, throw in a very young Jackie Gleason and Phil Silvers! The first half has some great snappy Howard Hawk's type double-talk, second half doesn't do as well, but this is a small gem.