During World War II, with the German army approaching Moscow, Eisenstein was one of many Moscow-based filmmakers who were evacuated to Alma Ata, in the Kazakh SSR. There, Eisenstein first considered the idea of making a film about Tsar Ivan IV, aka Ivan the Terrible, whom Joseph Stalin admired as the same kind of brilliant, decisive, successful leader that Stalin considered himself to be. Aware of Eisenstein’s interest in a project about Ivan, Stalin ordered the making of the film with Eisenstein as author-director.
The first film, Ivan The Terrible, Part I, was filmed between 1942 and 1944, and released at the end of that year. The film presented Ivan as a national hero, and won Joseph Stalin‘s approval (and even a Stalin Prize).
The second film, Ivan The Terrible, Part II: The Boyars’ Plot, finished filming at Mosfilm in 1946. However, it offended Stalin because it depicted state terrorism at the hands of a mad Ivan. The unshown film received heavy criticism from various state authorities who had seen it, along with Stalin, at a special showing. It was only during the Khrushchev thaw that followed the death of Stalin in 1953 and the denunciation of Stalin therein, that the film was finally released in 1958, 10 years after Eisenstein’s death.
A third film, which began production in 1946, was halted when the decision was made not to release the second film. After Eisenstein’s death in 1948, all footage from the film was confiscated, and it was rumored to have been destroyed (though some stills and a few brief shots still exist today).
The entire production was shot in Kazakhstan at Mosfilm’s substantial production facility in Alma Ata. Although most of the film was shot in black and white, color sequences appears in the second part, making this one of the earliest color films made in the Soviet Union.
Ravaged by time or by the Times?
Ivan the Terrible Part 2 (1946)
Screen: ‘Ivan the Terrible, Part II’; Eisenstein’s 1947 Film Opens at Murray Hill Cherkassov Heads Cast of Soviet Production
WHOEVER it was in Soviet Russia that compelled withholding for twelve years the release of Part II of the late Sergei Eisenstein’s “Ivan the Terrible” was every bit as good a movie critic as he was a stern Russian chauvinist. He might have ordered the film put away forever and have done a service to Eisenstein.
For this second part of what the great director originally intended to be an Ivan trilogy (which he was prevented from completing by a series of heart attacks and then death in 1948) is a murkily monolithic and monotonous series of scenes with little or no dramatic continuity and only fitful dynamic quality.
The first part of “Ivan the Terrible” proved a monumental sort of film, conveying the dark magnificence of Russian medievalism, when it was shown here twelve years ago. This second part, which went on last evening at the Murray Hill Theatre, is but a pale extension of that great tableau, appearing to have been made from pieces of it picked up from the cutting-room floor.
Evidently the spark of inspiration and vigorous concept along pictorial lines that fired Eisenstein when he was making his first study of the reign of Ivan IV had burned out when he got around to this look-in on the phase of the sixteenth-century czar’s career that embraced his return to Moscow from foreign adventures and his suppression of intriguers in the land.
None of the fine panoramic sweep of medieval spectacle that was in the coronation sequence in the earlier film is anywhere matched in this. Nor is there anything here to compare with the sense of supreme ferocity and almost barbaric aggressiveness that ran through the earlier film.
All there really is in this picture is a series of slowly paced scenes, most of them done with facial close-ups, intended to represent Ivan’s bitter dispatch of treacherous boyars (feudal aristocrats) and his ponderously planned trap to catch a plotter who would assassinate him. The political explanations are long and tedious, becoming much confused in the hurried flashing of English subtitles to convey the Russian dialogue. Who is chasing whom and who gets butchered are matters of some doubt and less dramatic concern.
Nikolai Cherkassov’s performance—or rather, his appearance—in the Ivan role is mainly a matter of his posing in grotesque get-ups and attitudes. The indication is that he is supposed to represent a lonely and angry man. He appears to be more of a mad one, with a peculiarly pointed head. The rumor that the reason this picture was suppressed for so long was because it made Ivan look maniacal may well be true and reasonable. In this film he seems akin to Rasputin, the latter-day Mad Monk.
As the gullible boy who would kill him, Piotr Kadochnikov is stupid in looks and generally static in behavior, and as the intriguing mother of this lad, Serafima Birman resembles a Halloween witch. Andrei Abrikosov is a heavily cowled villain in the role of the treacherous religious leader of Moscow, and swarms of extras play boyars with beards.
The musical score of Sergei Prokofieff fails to put much more than sound behind the scenes.
The place for this last of Eisenstein’s pictures is in a hospitable museum.
Also on the bill at the Murray Hill is “The World of Rubens,” a twenty-minute film that tells the story of the great Flemish painter’s life through reflection on his works.
IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART II, written and directed by Sergel Elsenstein; produced by Central Cinema Studio, Alma Ata. U. S. S. R.; distributed by Janus Films and presented by Sovexportfilm and Artkino. At the Murray Hill Theatre. Thirty-fourth Street east of Lexington Avenue. Running Time: eighty-seven minutes.
Ivan IV . . . . . Nikolai Cherkassov
The Boyarina . . . . . Serafima Birman
Vladimir Andreyevich . . . . . Plotr Kadochnikov
Malyuta Skuratov . . . . . Mikhail Zharov
Philip . . . . . Andrei Abrikosov
Pimen . . . . . Alexander Mgebrov
Prince Andrel Kurbsky . . . . . Nikolai Nazvanov
Alexei Basamanov . . . . . Alexei Buchma
Fyodor . . . . . Mikhail Kuznetsov
Plotr Volynets . . . . . Vladimir Balashov
King Sigismund Aueustus . . . . . Pavel Massalskv
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