Ivan Groznyy (Ivan the Terrible, Part One) Reviews

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Harlequin68
Super Reviewer
½ April 30, 2010
[font=Century Gothic][color=red]Sergei Eisenstein made a two part epic about Ivan the Terrible in the 1940's in the USSR. Both films are good and recommended.[/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=red][/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=red]The first part starts with Ivan's coronation and shows his continuing battles with the boyars. In this segment, Ivan places a great deal of emphasis on why he should have absolute power. This can be seen as a defense of Stalin's absolute hold on his country at the time this film was made. It's ironic because Eisenstein is using a Tsar to defend the rule of a Communist leader.[/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=#ff0000][/color][/font]
[font=Century Gothic][color=#ff0000]The second part is about the end of Ivan's battle with the boyars as he starts to use peasants as his enforcers in a brutal crackdown. Now, Eisenstein is starting to examine some of the negative aspects of absolute rule. The film climaxes with a delirious banquet scene filmed in color.[/color][/font]
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
½ November 21, 2012
Hey, I don't know about terrible; this film is just fine. Man, I can't even crack a lame joke, because this is a 1940s foreign language period piece biopic by the dude who did "Battleship Potemkin", so of course the critics weren't going to call it terrible. If anything pertaining to this film in the slightest way is terrible, then it's quite decidedly Sergei Eisenstein's hair, because even when the dude was balding, he was still getting the symbolism lovers ready for a world with David Lynch in more than just a few ways. Hey, when your surname sounds like that of Einstein's, you're bound to inherit a little something from good ol' Al. Eisenstein certainly didn't quite inherit Einstein's genius, which isn't to say Eisenstein and his symoblism lovin' self wasn't clever, though it is to say, "Shut up, critics!" So yeah, this isn't quite the sensation that most everyone and his or her Russian grandmother say it is, and yet, with that said, this film remains a promising start to a saga that I thankfully don't have to wait 11 years to continue... yet will never finish, because Eisenstein died before he could finish the third part. Oh well, it's not like this film built up that much anticipation, for although this film is a decent one, it's not without its shortcomings, none of which are really "terrible" (Ha-ha), yet remain nevertheless.

Whether it be because of dating or simply slip-ups with the handling of what advancements there were at the time, this film gets to be rather faulty technically, with the ever so occasional awkward editing slip, as well as consistently improvable sound design that may prove to be to many as both obnoxious and rather unappealing. The technical missteps aren't quite as glaring as I make them sound, yet they are there, and they undercut the technical areas in which the film accels, while tainting engagement value, though certainly not as much as the awkward spots in storytelling. Sergei Eisenstein is generally quite decent and sometimes fairly commendable, yet he just can't keep his perhaps overly artistic mindset completely at bay, and while we're certainly not looking at a Terrence Malick film here, there is a kind of limp lyricism to certain moments that gets to be a touch overbearing. Eisenstein's directorial storytelling touches make glaring Eisenstein's overambition, which goes both betrayed by the occasionally over-inspired artistry and, of course, Eisenstein's screenplay's moments of improvable story structuring, for although there's not too much to complain about with the written plotting, there is the occasional forced happening, as well as long do-little, if not just plain do-nothing periods. If nothing else, the film gets to be repetitious, treading along in circles with not much going on, thus leaving steam to fall, little by little, even without the aforementioned other problematic storytelling moments. Now, there's not really a whole lot to complain about, none of the missteps that I just listed are quite as severe as I made them sound, yet they remain, and all too consistently, biting at the film until the final product finds itself with only so much of its own bite to deliver, thus an underwhelming execution of a worthy vision is rendered rather underwhelming. Nevertheless, for every betrayal of Eisenstein's perhaps too palpable ambition, there is something to fulfill Eisenstein's worthy vision, certainly to where the film rewards, as a whole, yet still to where the film engages your investment, or at least, thanks to visual style, your eyes.

Being behind a 1940s black-and-white film, certainly, Andrei Moskvin's and Eduard Tisse's cinematography has dated, yet to this day, there's no missing the sharpness in this film's visual artistry, with lighting being striking and detailed, to where it not only catches your eye, but emphasizes environment and atmosphere in order to supplement the film's tonal and thematic depths, and by the time we're facing a scene near the final act in which shadows are heavily accentuated, perhaps even more than the performers from whom the shadows are cast, Moskvin's and Tisse's photographic efforts are defined as quite significant in the final product. Just as, if not more significant than the photography is, of course, Sergei Prokofiev's score, which often finds itself betrayed by a few sound design mishaps, yet is, on the whole, well, near-phenomenal, boasting spirited sweep and delightful dynamicity in a grandly classical fashion that not only provides awesome music and entertainment value, but further compliment to the film's depths. Sure, the faults within the atmosphere undercut the effectiveness of the atmospheric supplements, yet the visual and musical artistry of the film help in bringing the film's tonal depths to life, while what brings this world itself to life is the upstanding production value, which goes packed with fine designs that bring this era and setting to life quite handsomely. There's no getting around the aging of this production, yet just as much difficulty rests within the challenge of getting around this film's artistry's being still fairly impressive to this day, both by its own right and as an aid in this story's being brought to life rather engagingly. Still, it's not like this subject matter needs a whole lot of pretty stuff and fine production designs to sustain your attention, because although the film does lose all too often, on the whole, it's easy to stick with the story, as its subject is worthy and rather interesting, so much so that it deserves to be brought to life in a better film, which isn't to say that this film faults exceedingly with its portrayal of this story, for although Sergei Eisenstein makes his share of mistakes, when he picks things up, he delivers, both as writer and an almost elegantly subtle directorial storyteller. The film is rich with symbolism that goes betrayed by the limitations in storytelling sensibilities, yet still stands reasonably firm, and as a rather intriguing supplement to the film's depths that, when truly brought to life, create a fair bit of resonance that gives this tale some weight, until by the time we come to the conclusion of this first part, the film has wrapped most everything up reasonably well and left you looking foward to see what Eisenstein did next with the second part. I do indeed wish I could say that the directorial strengths carry the final product enough to make it genuinely rewarding, yet at the end of the day, the film, while underwhelming, engages enough to keep you going through and through, even if you walk away wanting a little bit more, and not just because there's a part two.

When the first chapter closes, the film is left tainted by a few technical mishaps, as well as plagued by storytelling missteps, spawned from a kind of overambitious and occasionally overly lyrical atmosphere, and somtimes problematic and often repetitious plotting, until the final product is left with only so much steam and bite, though not to where it's rendered toothless, boasting nifty visual artistry and remarkable score to supplement tonal and thematic depth, commendable production value to bring this world to life handsomely, and direction by Sergei Eisenstein that often stands as improvable, yet graces the film with enough occasional resonance, subtle grace and engagement value to make "Ivan the Terrible Part I" an enjoyable first installment in Eisenstein's trilo-I mean, two-part saga (Sorry you died, Serg, my man), even with its shortcomings.

2.5/5 - Fair
littlecharmer1959
Super Reviewer
½ July 23, 2008
Visually stunning.
December 16, 2008
nikolai cherkasov was awesome in this movie. i love how expressive he was in his 'death scene' and the use of lighting and camera work is pretty impressive
July 26, 2008
I kind of want to kick my own ass for loving Russian epics. I know that I swim with the pretentious from day-to-day, but there is no way that I ever thought that I would really dig this movie.

It is a little hard to review this movie without taking into context Ivan the Terrible -Part II. This movie isn't exactly a sequelized movie, but really one story broken up into two parts. Kind of like Kill Bill, but not at all. (Honestly, I wanted the be the first reviewer ever to compare Ivan the Terrible to Kill Bill. I'm a turd.) This one is really the set up of the film. The amazing this is that Eisenstein is giving this great background on the character for non-Rusisan viewers. But I can imagine that most Russian viewers had at least a basic knowledge of this man and the polticial situation at the time. (For some reason, I think that only Americans aren't aware of their history.) Really, the meat of the story is in part two, but you can't deny how great part one is.

I first noticed Eisenstein when I watched Alexander Nevsky. That movie impressed the living daylights out of me. I purchased the Eisenstein Sound Years box from Criterion excited to see this one. The thing about Alexander Nevsky is that it is far more accessible than you'd imagine. Ivan the Terrible isn't as accessible, but it still is fairly straightforward with the clarity of direction that Eisenstein offers. But there is one really noticable thing that Eisenstein has as part of his method of directing and that is an extremely creative use of visuals. He has this epic scope to his films. While most directors would be happy with simply throwing hundreds of extras on screen and filming how much spectacle is going on, Eisenstein goes a different direction and frames his spectacle in a perfect way. I'll cite one example, but please understand that there are many scenes that reflect Eisenstein's visual genius. There is a scene in the latter end of the movie where Ivan's armies are moving to their new location as Ivan overlooks their exodus. Rather than simply allowing for the traditional shot of everyone moving by, we get a closeup of Ivan's face juxtaposed with the moving army's straight line off into the horizon. The movie is full of these moments.

I'm going to address this more when I get to discussing part two, but there's a real Hamlet contrast in this story. There are people making power plays and the movie really plays up the corruption and greed of individual clans. In this case, the evildoers are the Boyars. Eisenstein does a really good job of making these characters look villainous. Considering that the titular character's name describes him as "terrible," the antagonists really are physically and emotionally evil. We see the evil makeup that almost make them look vampiric or demonic in nature. They are scary people and not to be pitied by any means. Also, people in this movie are really represented as cliches of their characters. I mean, he made the dumb guy look dumb. Perhaps that has to do with casting or perhaps it is with makeup, but it's very effective. The odd choice in design is Ivan. Perhaps we aren't necessarily meant to be on his side the entire time, despite the direction and text because he looks extremely demonic. We see the level he goes through and his makeup goes through the darkness that his soul does.

Again, I have to stress that this movie really needs to be seen with Part 2, but it is a fantastic movie in its own right. Get over your issues with watching artsy movies and just enjoy this one. Also, stop looking down on me. I watched this with Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, so we know I watch everything.
June 11, 2006
A centerpiece Russian film.
Vibrant, interesting, colorful.
An immense film really, and probably my favorite Eisenstein film. I need to see Pt. 2.
May 3, 2015
The gradiose soviet epic as forceful as it is emotional about a cult person in history. Expertly and masterfully shot by Eisenstein with many maginificent and astonishing cinematic desicions.
April 20, 2015
I WILL see this one day, when I am old and wise and able to say, "That was cute. Where's my cranberry juice?"
½ September 16, 2013
In his review Ebert notes that Eisenstein's last two films made the unusual leap to being great without bring good. I agree.

To me, these are must-see films for serious students of film who want to see the evolution of technique, of light and shadow, of set building, etc. etc.

If you are just a casual movie fan though, this is a film you can probably comfortably skip. The film is weirdly over-produced, with nearly every frame as carefully composed as a painting, with camera angles heightening the epic-style acting to the level of camp.

I can't lie: I enjoyed this film a lot. But most of my fascination is definitely with the art of the film-making rather than with story being told.
½ April 19, 2013
The cinematography is quite haunting throughout the film, but I didn't enjoy the sit-through.
January 2, 2013
A well made film from Russia with good performances. The sets, costumes and props captured the era.
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
½ November 21, 2012
Hey, I don't know about terrible; this film is just fine. Man, I can't even crack a lame joke, because this is a 1940s foreign language period piece biopic by the dude who did "Battleship Potemkin", so of course the critics weren't going to call it terrible. If anything pertaining to this film in the slightest way is terrible, then it's quite decidedly Sergei Eisenstein's hair, because even when the dude was balding, he was still getting the symbolism lovers ready for a world with David Lynch in more than just a few ways. Hey, when your surname sounds like that of Einstein's, you're bound to inherit a little something from good ol' Al. Eisenstein certainly didn't quite inherit Einstein's genius, which isn't to say Eisenstein and his symoblism lovin' self wasn't clever, though it is to say, "Shut up, critics!" So yeah, this isn't quite the sensation that most everyone and his or her Russian grandmother say it is, and yet, with that said, this film remains a promising start to a saga that I thankfully don't have to wait 11 years to continue... yet will never finish, because Eisenstein died before he could finish the third part. Oh well, it's not like this film built up that much anticipation, for although this film is a decent one, it's not without its shortcomings, none of which are really "terrible" (Ha-ha), yet remain nevertheless.

Whether it be because of dating or simply slip-ups with the handling of what advancements there were at the time, this film gets to be rather faulty technically, with the ever so occasional awkward editing slip, as well as consistently improvable sound design that may prove to be to many as both obnoxious and rather unappealing. The technical missteps aren't quite as glaring as I make them sound, yet they are there, and they undercut the technical areas in which the film accels, while tainting engagement value, though certainly not as much as the awkward spots in storytelling. Sergei Eisenstein is generally quite decent and sometimes fairly commendable, yet he just can't keep his perhaps overly artistic mindset completely at bay, and while we're certainly not looking at a Terrence Malick film here, there is a kind of limp lyricism to certain moments that gets to be a touch overbearing. Eisenstein's directorial storytelling touches make glaring Eisenstein's overambition, which goes both betrayed by the occasionally over-inspired artistry and, of course, Eisenstein's screenplay's moments of improvable story structuring, for although there's not too much to complain about with the written plotting, there is the occasional forced happening, as well as long do-little, if not just plain do-nothing periods. If nothing else, the film gets to be repetitious, treading along in circles with not much going on, thus leaving steam to fall, little by little, even without the aforementioned other problematic storytelling moments. Now, there's not really a whole lot to complain about, none of the missteps that I just listed are quite as severe as I made them sound, yet they remain, and all too consistently, biting at the film until the final product finds itself with only so much of its own bite to deliver, thus an underwhelming execution of a worthy vision is rendered rather underwhelming. Nevertheless, for every betrayal of Eisenstein's perhaps too palpable ambition, there is something to fulfill Eisenstein's worthy vision, certainly to where the film rewards, as a whole, yet still to where the film engages your investment, or at least, thanks to visual style, your eyes.

Being behind a 1940s black-and-white film, certainly, Andrei Moskvin's and Eduard Tisse's cinematography has dated, yet to this day, there's no missing the sharpness in this film's visual artistry, with lighting being striking and detailed, to where it not only catches your eye, but emphasizes environment and atmosphere in order to supplement the film's tonal and thematic depths, and by the time we're facing a scene near the final act in which shadows are heavily accentuated, perhaps even more than the performers from whom the shadows are cast, Moskvin's and Tisse's photographic efforts are defined as quite significant in the final product. Just as, if not more significant than the photography is, of course, Sergei Prokofiev's score, which often finds itself betrayed by a few sound design mishaps, yet is, on the whole, well, near-phenomenal, boasting spirited sweep and delightful dynamicity in a grandly classical fashion that not only provides awesome music and entertainment value, but further compliment to the film's depths. Sure, the faults within the atmosphere undercut the effectiveness of the atmospheric supplements, yet the visual and musical artistry of the film help in bringing the film's tonal depths to life, while what brings this world itself to life is the upstanding production value, which goes packed with fine designs that bring this era and setting to life quite handsomely. There's no getting around the aging of this production, yet just as much difficulty rests within the challenge of getting around this film's artistry's being still fairly impressive to this day, both by its own right and as an aid in this story's being brought to life rather engagingly. Still, it's not like this subject matter needs a whole lot of pretty stuff and fine production designs to sustain your attention, because although the film does lose all too often, on the whole, it's easy to stick with the story, as its subject is worthy and rather interesting, so much so that it deserves to be brought to life in a better film, which isn't to say that this film faults exceedingly with its portrayal of this story, for although Sergei Eisenstein makes his share of mistakes, when he picks things up, he delivers, both as writer and an almost elegantly subtle directorial storyteller. The film is rich with symbolism that goes betrayed by the limitations in storytelling sensibilities, yet still stands reasonably firm, and as a rather intriguing supplement to the film's depths that, when truly brought to life, create a fair bit of resonance that gives this tale some weight, until by the time we come to the conclusion of this first part, the film has wrapped most everything up reasonably well and left you looking foward to see what Eisenstein did next with the second part. I do indeed wish I could say that the directorial strengths carry the final product enough to make it genuinely rewarding, yet at the end of the day, the film, while underwhelming, engages enough to keep you going through and through, even if you walk away wanting a little bit more, and not just because there's a part two.

When the first chapter closes, the film is left tainted by a few technical mishaps, as well as plagued by storytelling missteps, spawned from a kind of overambitious and occasionally overly lyrical atmosphere, and somtimes problematic and often repetitious plotting, until the final product is left with only so much steam and bite, though not to where it's rendered toothless, boasting nifty visual artistry and remarkable score to supplement tonal and thematic depth, commendable production value to bring this world to life handsomely, and direction by Sergei Eisenstein that often stands as improvable, yet graces the film with enough occasional resonance, subtle grace and engagement value to make "Ivan the Terrible Part I" an enjoyable first installment in Eisenstein's trilo-I mean, two-part saga (Sorry you died, Serg, my man), even with its shortcomings.

2.5/5 - Fair
May 1, 2012
The first of the two part series finds the beginning of Ivan's career, where he becomes Tsar of Russia and has the intent of unifying the nation. Many spectacular scenes erupt, with battles galore and bizarre, perplexing black and white imagery. Fairly corny, and also a times pretty funny, but also significant for being an unusual tale of the famed Tsar. The dialogue is generally amusing and odd. If you thought Part I was weird, wait until you see Part II.
February 28, 2012
Tuesday, February 28, 2012

(1947) Ivan The Terrible, Part One
(In Russian with English subtitles)
HISTORY

The first of two films directed by Sergei Einstein's about the life and times of Ivan IV Vasilyevich also known as Ivan The Terrible as soon as he was selected to take the crown and septure to lead an army to conquer all of Russia. The film is not for everyone but it is made like a Shakespere play involving backstabbers and double crossers!

3 out of 4
½ January 10, 2012
Eye pleasing......A true masterpiece by Eisenstein.....
½ December 1, 2011
By the time he made "Ivan the Terrible" Eisenstein had moved from employing film montage juxtapositions to creating juxtapositions within the frame so the feel of the movie is very different from his early films. Between that change in style and the high contract lighting and the overwrought pantomime acting style, "Ivan" looks almost like a parody of an early silent film - despite being a talkie. Add to that the mostly static framing, the majestic but often sparsely furnished sets, the elegant and sometimes extreme looking costumes and hair and I was often reminded of nothing so much as the old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials I watched on television as a kid - but with Ming the Merciless as the hero - and without much of the action.

Not unrewarding, but not the Eisenstein I would recommend.
½ November 15, 2010
On one hand, this two-part masterpiece, which should have been composed of three parts, was a complete departure from director Sergei Eisenstein?s early revolutionary dramas ?Strike? and ?Battleship Potempkin.? As in 1938?s ?Alexander Nevsky,? the hero of the story has switched from embodying an entire mass of people to simply a single man, in this case, a man who has such an overwhelming determination to reunite the Motherland that he is willing to do literally anything.

It is perhaps Ivan?s single-minded thinking that remains his curse ? he is perpetually lonely in his time of rule ? while he attempts to fill in the immensely vast holes in Russia?s borders with his solitary might. It is interesting to see his character, played memorably by the great Nikolai Cherkasov, slowly develop from a defiant ruler full of potential to a hellish tyrant who has lost all earthly embassies of love and is crazed by paranoia. Clearly, Stalin knew where Eisenstein was getting with this rather operatically conceived biography, and swiftly prevented the completion of Part III.

The large scale sets and battle scenes in the first part show how the young Tsar was not shy about presenting the military might of Russia before the entire world, while the more introspective second part revealed a hidden dark side to the strikingly egocentric ruler. Vertically integrated camera angles, ?boogie-man? ? like shadows rampaging up the walls and ultimately the use of color film in select scenes provide the director with an ingeniously conceived character study that show not only the true colors of the main subject, by the filmmaker himself.

Eisenstein most likely was counting on the Communist ruler to halt the production of his trilogy of glory, paranoia and hollow triumph at some point. If anything, I would think he was either waiting for the tyrant to kick the bucket so that he could resume production, or if he himself passed, that someone else would find he means to complete the films. Sadly, only a brief few minutes of Ivan the Terribly, Part III exist today.
½ November 15, 2010
It Does Go On a Bit, Doesn't It?

There is a certain amount of historical balance to the idea that Stalin wanted a movie made to glorify Ivan the Terrible. Stalin really did think that Ivan IV was one of the greatest rulers in Russian history, a man who had the strength and the drive to unite warring peoples under one central ruler, a Tsar and not a boyar. Ivan is told in the movie that no one even knows who his father is, and there is apparently a certain amount of historical debate as to who Stalin's own father was. The two men had a great deal in common--ultimately more than Stalin was comfortable with, which is why these movies are not part of a trilogy. Not even Stalin could get around the fact that, well, Ivan IV was crazy and kind of evil, and while Stalin may have taken a certain amount of satisfaction from some of the possible comparisons between the men, there were other comparisons which would not have made him comfortable. After all, while Ivan was in the beginning a good ruler, as time went by, not so much.

Ivan (Nikolai Cherkasov), upon taking the throne of the Tsars in 1547, declares that he will be the true ruler of all the Russias. The boyars will be subordinate to him and, if not like it, at least suck it up. He is very young, but he is very determined, not least because he saw his mother, Tsarina Elena Glinskaya (Ada Vojstik), die in front of him, poisoned. She blamed the boyars, and that is part of why Ivan is so set on depriving them of their power. He marries the lovely Anastasia Romanovna (Lyudmila Tesilkovskaya), but she, too, is poisoned. Ivan is trapped in the machinations of his aunt, Efrosinia Staritskaya (Serafima Birman), who wishes her son, Vladimir Andreyevich Staritsky (Pavel Kadochnikov), to take Ivan's throne. All his attempts to improve Russia are met with resistance by those who think the old ways are best. It is easy to feel sorry for the Ivan presented here, which may well have been another of Stalin's problems, really. Such a noble man should not be an object of pity, but he is--until he is an object of derision.

Of course, Ivan in Russian cultural memory is also not so crazy as the West portrays him. There's even a drive to make him a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church, though the Church has refused fairly adamantly. "Terrible" is, we are reminded, not the best translation of "[i]grozny[/i]," the sobriquet he is given in Russian. "Terrifying," possibly. "Formidable," certainly. There was a reason for Ivan's enemies to fear him, which is, again, probably part of why Stalin liked him as much as he did. Nobody messed with Ivan twice, not even his children. (Famously, Stalin's older son was taken prisoner by the Germans, and Stalin refused to trade for him, because his son was a disappointment to him--in part because he was captured in the first place.) It's a much less certain place in history than Stalin's--very, very few people doubt that Stalin was, you know, kind of evil. Yes, Ivan killed his son, beat his pregnant daughter-in-law into a miscarriage, and started the policies which lead to serfdom, but there are so many things to say about Stalin that one doesn't know where to begin. Though that photograph which started out with five men in it and slowly became Stalin alone's not a bad place.

Eisenstein himself once said that, had he died after [i]Battleship Potemkin[/i], that might have been the best thing possible for his reputation. Certainly the reaction to these films was mixed. For one thing, I find the colour sequences in the second film a little perplexing and out of place. The Criterion Collection print of the film includes, on the second disc, probably a half-hour or better about Eisenstein's use of symbolism in the film, the fact that various characters are intended to be analogous to or represented by various animals, the designs painted on walls, and so forth. On the other hand, there is no moment which stands out for me for any reason beyond, "Okay, that was weird." Even there, it was mainly the colour. Well, there is the moment when young Ivan, upon taking the throne, discovers that his feet don't reach the ceremonial pillow under them. That was cute. But still, we're looking at over three hours, here.

It is interesting to speculate how reactions might have changed had Stalin let Eisenstein produce the third part, the days leading to Ivan's ultimate evil and death. I don't mean Stalin's, of course. I mean the reaction of film critics in general. As it stands, the reviews of this are decidedly mixed, as it is apparently both a Film I Should See Before I Die and, per another book, among the fifty worst movies ever made. Would the closure that the third movie would have brought have changed that? And, of course, which way? Naturally, we will never know, as historical speculation is interesting but generally impossible to resolve for sure. Who knows? Maybe the whole thing would have been in that bad, cheap colour which he used in the second part. (A mistake; the B&W shimmers in a way the colour process used could not.) Eisenstein was a brilliant director. But see [i]Battleship Potemkin[/i] instead.
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