Classic Movie Review: Ivan the Terrible (1944)

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter I

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Ivan the Terrible
Release Date: December 30, 1944
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Production Company: Mosfilm
Summary/Review: Ivan the Terrible is an odd duck.  It ranks #39 on the Cahiers du Cinéma list and has appeared on past editions of the Sight and Sound list but it was also included in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (and How They Got That Way). It was directed by the legendary film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin), but it was made at the behest of the cruel dictator Joseph Stalin.  Roger Ebert gives the film his top 4-star rating but his review is less enthusiastic and full of caveats.

Like Children of Paradise, this film is an epic historical drama made at a time when the nation was fighting the Nazi threat to all of Europe.  It tells the story of Ivan IV (Nikolay Cherkasov) who as Tsar united disparate fiefdoms under Moscow to create the first Russian empire.  The film begins with Ivan’s coronation in 1547 and a speech in which declares his intentions to bring all of Russia under his control, much to the annoyance of the boyars who were kind of oligarchy of aristocrats used to doing things their own way. Thus the palace intrigue begins.  Ivan marries Anastasia (Lyudmila Tselikovskaya) and they produce an heir, which further enrages the boyars.  War, betrayal, and dramatic death bed scenes ensue.

The performances in the film are very stagey, as if this were some kind of pageant rather than a drama. It is also reminds of  The Scarlet Empress, from the large-scale furnishings and overwhelming shadows to the general over-the-top nature of the performances. While The Scarlet Empress was a Hollywood spectacle about the Russian monarchy, it seems strange that Russian filmmakers would depict their own history in such a campy way.  Eisenstein made a second part to Ivan the Terrible that displeased Stalin so it would not be released until 1958.  A third part was abandoned while in production for the same reason.  So it’s an unfinished epic a lot like Napoléon (except that Ivan actually had military success in Russia).

I suppose I’m supposed to watch both Part 1 & Part 2, but as I didn’t enjoy the first part all too much, and I have 27 movies to watch this April, I’m going to give Part 2 a pass.

Rating: **1/2