The two parts of Eisenstein's "Ivan the Terrible"are epic in scope, awesome in visuals, and nonsensical in story. This is one of those films that can be elevated directly to Great Movie status without ever having to go through any of the stages of being good movies. It is a film that every serious cinema lover must see at least once. I apologize to all students who are interested in cinema.
Stalin supported the productions, claiming Ivan to be his personal hero. The films were shot during World War Two at Alma Ata Studios in Kazakhstan. Major Soviet directors had been relocated to greater safety. Eisenstein appears to have had few restrictions even during wartime. Part II features spectacular shots of Ivan's army and proletarians marching to ask for his return to exile. Stalin, who was the sole one to count, made great use of the 1944 film. Part II, which was finished in 1946, was suppressed by Stalin or state censors. Stalin found Stalin uncomfortably close with the dictator. Eisenstein had planned the third part of his trilogy, and filmed some scenes. However production was stopped and the director died in 1948.
Film opens in Moscow's throne hall, where Ivan is coronated. The approval of the Boyars (a hereditary class of wealthy bourgeois) allowed the film to be shot. As the confident, tall teenager declares himself to be the Tsar for all Russia, their smiles are replaced by angry frowns. He vows to marry Princess Anastasia and will continue to protect and expand Russian borders as well as exercise control over the Boyars.
The scene sets the tone for both movies. It is a stately and deliberate coronation ceremony. It is difficult to find heavy, ornate costumes that are bejewelled and bejewelled. Acting is loud and flamboyant. Eisenstein's acting style is declamatory and bombastic. He will use dramatic close-ups throughout the movie. His actors often appear strange. Lightning from below can sometimes magnify their features. The camera angles of Ivan are unusually oblique. Ivan's adversaries are seen as a collection of bizarre human caricatures. They can be seen individually without any attempt to determine their geographic location.
It is impossible to look at those faces and not think immediately of the Danish silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc,"made by Carl Theodore Dreyer in 1928. Eisenstein had almost certainly seen it before he began filming in the early 1940s, if not in Russia then in Hollywood, where after the success of his early films "Potemkin"and "October"he was invited in 1930 to make a film by Paramount. He was rejected by the studio and became the object of anti-Communists. (He did however find himself greatly impressed by the early work of Walt Disney, and later declared "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"the greatest film ever made.)
Dreyer placed Joan of Arc in subservient positions below the bench of judges. Onlookers can see them in angry or frowning close-ups at oblique angles and in stylized lighting. Dreyer's set design might also have had an impact on Eisenstein. Joan of Arc can be seen in extreme architecture with its exaggerated and angled walls suggesting cold hostility.
Eisenstein's sets can be incomparably larger but still have the same appearance. Some have unadorned walls and others are voids of ornamentation, arches or nooks. Some walls, such as the throne area, are covered in painted icons and decorations. Although it's easy to think that we are looking at optical effects or matte drawings, Eisenstein's shots show characters walking behind posts and pillars, which demonstrates the depth of the images. He also uses large shadows that are presumably real, such as the one showing Ivan's huge head and wickedly pointed mustache in dramatic shots.
Part I introduces those who are involved in court intrigues around the Tsar Nikolai Cherkasov. Kolychev, his close friend, wants to get out of this situation completely and decides to go to a remote monastery. Kurbsky is another friend who is being pressured by Ivan. This is because the Boyars had power monopoly and Ivan assumed the role of Tsar out of nowhere.
They have one child after Ivan marries Princess Anastasia, whom he honestly considers his best friend. Euphrosinia's aunt, Ivan's aunt, is enraged by this. Her son Prince Staritsky is the one she loves. This choice brings humor to the movie because Staritsky's baby face, with his blonde hair cut in a choirboy style, is a mama's boy. He flings his self into the arms of his mother and complains about how she is constantly trying to force him to do certain things. He doesn't want to be Tsar.
The Euphrosinia, an evil creature often dressed in a witches hat, is known as the Euphrosinia. One peculiarity about the throne rooms is its arches, which are too low to allow anyone to walk through them upright. She bends nearly double to reach her apartment's entrance, and then she slithers into view as if on a snake. She is the one who plots to make Ivan bring an unknowingly poisoned cup to Anastasia. Ivan takes revenge by dressing Staritsky up in Tsar clothes and putting his crown upon the head of the young lad.
Part I is filled with historical pomp and circumstance. Part II goes through a tone shift, and is cheerfully outrageous. It is best described as comedy camp. Part I's performances by Nikolai Cherkasov as the Tsar are impressive. Part II, however, sometimes seems like it was adapted from Mel Brooks. Personally, I felt very little emotion in the films. It was more like reluctant hagiography to a madman.