Ivan the Terrible

Critics poll
102 nd
Directors poll
322 nd

Ivan the Terrible

Year: 1945 Country: USSR
Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein
Featuring Nikolai Cherkasov / Ludmila Tselikovskaya / Serafima Birman

Introduction

The first part of Sergei Eisenstein’s truncated masterpiece about the 16th-century Russian Tsar sees young Ivan attempting to unite Russia under a single ruler.

“Overpowering in style, the movie resembles a gigantic Expressionist mural. The figures are like giant spiders and rodents: as in science fiction, some horrible mutation seems to have taken place.”
Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies

The first half of Sergei Eisenstein’s last film (originally planned as a trilogy) marked the summit of his creative process. It combines the graphic potency of his silent films with a highly stylized approach to performance that feels almost operatic at times, an impression enhanced by Sergei Prokofiev’s score. Each image is so crammed with symbolic layers that it demands several viewings to unpick their complexity.

The central scenario of the newly crowned Prince Ivan’s determination to assert his own will over conflicting and conspiring forces (often within his own court) comes across so forcefully that it’s easy to see why Stalin responded so warmly: Ivan’s cruelty – and, by extension, Stalin’s own – is shown as essential to ensure the nation’s future well-being.

Eisenstein would continue along a similar, albeit darker and more suggestive path in Ivan the Terrible Part II (1946), which found far less favour with Stalin.

2 directors voted for this film

Manoel de Oliveira Roee Rosen