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alexander nevsky posterLike many of Eisenstein's best films, Alexander Nevsky was conceived as a morale-booster, aimed at stirring up Russian patriotism. It is set in the 13th century, but the villainous Teutonic Knights are obviously meant to represent the burgeoning threat of Hitler's hordes. With Russia besieged by both these knights and by the Tartars, only a charismatic leader can save the populace from these barbaric baby killers (yes, we see the villains tossing screaming infants into bonfires!) The hero of the piece is the legendary Prince Alexander Nevsky, portrayed by Nikolai Cherkasov, who bears a striking resemblance to Gary Cooper. The saving turnaround for Nevsky is the battle of ice-covered Lake Peipus in 1242. This bravura sequence is staged in spectacular fashion, underlined by the specially-commissioned music of Sergei Prokofiev.

Cast:  Nikolay Cherkasov, Nikolai Okhlopkov, Vasiliy Novikov, Dmitri N. Orlov, N.N. Arski
Genre: Art House & International, Drama
Directed By: D.I. Vessiliev, Sergei M. Eisenstein, Dmitriy Vasiylev
Runtime: 107 minutes


by Frank Veenstra

The movie is based on a true battle fought between a Russian prince, Aleksandr Nevsky against the German Teutonic knights. It's always interesting to watch a movie about a true historical battle, even when the movie itself is propaganda. For "Aleksandr Nevsky" is truly a piece of Stalinist-propaganda, against the German enemy, shortly before the events of WW II.

alexander nevsky5The enemy in this movie is made to look extra evil. They are all masked villains, who plunder and kill and even throw innocent little children in the fire. While the Russians are being presented as a forgiving and loyal to the motherland kind of people. It's obvious but yet it isn't really disturbing. It makes this movie a sort of pleasant one to watch, with a simple story and black & white characters, that don't really require to be developed. You know who these persons are and where they stand.

It seems pretty weird that the movie is named Aleksandr Nevsky, while he in my opinion really doesn't form the central character of the movie. The movie is perhaps more Akira Kurosawa-style, with concentrating more on the 'smaller' and 'less' important characters, involved in the battle.

The acting by 1938 standards is extremely old fashioned. Also none of the actors seem to really be natural born talents.

Also the production values aren't too high. The movie is good looking with its sets and costumes but is really lacking with its sound. Some of the sequences were even obviously recorded without sound, obviously for budget reasons. It makes the movie feel cheap at parts but it overall doesn't disturb from the overall movie.

The cinematography on the other hand is superb, as is the suiting musical score that truly uplifts the movie at times, especially during the battle sequences.

alexander nevsky2The entire movie can be perhaps seen as one big build up to the epic end battle on the ice. Yes, it really is this climatic end battle that makes this movie such a classic and a well known one. Always impressive to see hundreds of fully dressed and equipped persons charging toward each other. It always and still looks better than any other CGI battle.

But what really makes the end battle so memorable and classic is the way it is brought to the screen, with camera-angles, editing and overall style that would later pretty much influence how other big battle sequences in future movies would be brought to the screen. That even goes for movies till this present day. It makes the battle a fantastic as well as an influential one.

But it really isn't Sergei M. Eisenstein's best. Yes, there are a couple of moments of greatness and some nice symbolism but overall the movie is lacking in true creativity.

A memorable movie nevertheless, that is definitely worth seeing and even still perfectly watchable by today's standards.