Alexander Nevsky (1938, Sergei Eisenstein)

This will sound awfully disrespectful, but you’d think the renowned master of montage Eisenstein, he who reinvented movie editing, could pick up the pace a little. This movie drags. Each shot has a wonderful composition, and each shot is held for a second or two too long. And to be more disrespectful still, I beg to differ with E. Von Mueller calling Prokofiev’s score the best in history. But maybe he’s kicking back at home with an LP of the full orchestral arrangement, not the weak bits on the film itself (Criterion essay on the director/composer collaboration calls the soundtrack on the film “like a chamber ensemble recorded over a telephone”). I’ve still got to hear the re-recorded score sometime. And I intended to… but after the movie and the DVD commentary, I didn’t feel like going through it a third time.

The bloodless battle on the ice wasn’t exactly choreographed by Sammo Hung… buncha overarmored guys clumsily smacking into each other with weapons. But I’ve made fun of the acclaimed classic film enough now. Composition-wise it is beyond reproach… some of the most amazing-looking shots of the 30’s. A beautiful movie and a swell piece of anti-German propaganda (which is why it was celebrated, then banned, then celebrated).

How you know the Germans are Bad Men: they toss naked babies into fire:

Russia is under Mongol rule, but this is mostly ignored. Nevsky kicked the asses of the Swedes or some other country previously, so he’s called on to protect Russia from the invading Germans, who have already conquered one major town and killed everyone in it, including babies. Meanwhile in another town, two tough guys are competing for the only pretty girl. She says she’ll marry whichever fights the most bravely. So off they go with Nevsky, the town armorer (who dies from being too generous, giving away his best armor and saving the leftovers for himself) and a hot warrior woman. Battle on the ice lasts some 30 minutes. Crowd scenes outdo most of your Braveheart / Lord of the Rings epic battles with lovely, artistic shots of actual masses of people (outdone later in Ivan The Terrible), but close-ups of battle are a little lame. After, one guy is dying, other guy generously tosses the pretty girl at him and goes after the hot warrior chick. The glory of Russia is restored (well, they’re still under Mongol rule) and Nevsky goes back to his humble fishing life, after issuing a stern warning to the Germans which is screamed across the screen in giant bold text!

Mr. Nevsky: