Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein and Dmitri Vasilyev
Written by Sergei M. Eisenstein and Pyotr Pavlenko
Alexandr Nevsky: Go tell all in foreign lands that Russia lives! Those who come to us in peace will be welcome as a guest. But those who come to us sword in hand will die by the sword! On that Russia stands and forever will we stand!
My appreciation of this film took a nose dive due to the substandard print and sound track on the rental DVD I received. I rated it very highly when viewed in a restored print.
The story is based on the historical Prince Alexander (1220-1263) who defeated an army of Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire who were invading Novgorod.
Most of Russia, save Novgorod, has fallen to the Mongol Horde. The people call on Alexander, who had previously defeated a Swedish invasion, to free Russia of the Mongol yoke. Alexander declines, saying that the real threat will come from Germany. Soon enough, the Teutonic Knights have defeated the city of Pskov, massacring its civilian population (and throwing babies into bonfires).
The people beg Alexander to lead them against the foe and he arrives in Novgorod, where the nobility and merchants desert the town. The common people, including woman warrior Vasilisa, bravely fight the Huns on frozen Lake Peipus. The Germans are roundly defeated and their clergy crushed. The people take pity on captured German foot soldiers but have no mercy for Russian traitors.
The main attractions of Eisenstein’s film are the magnificent Prokofiev score and the masterfully edited and shot battle sequences. These were obscured by a blurry print and a tinny, static-fillied soundtrack in the version I watched. In addition, the subtitles made the characters sound like medieval Yodas. I can recommend the Criterion Collection version and I am sure there are other good restored prints out there.
The film was a great success on its 1938 release. In 1939, it was withdrawn from circulation when Stalin entered the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact with Hitler. Following the Nazi invasion of the USSR in 1941, it was rapidly returned to Soviet screens. Eisenstein was awarded the Stalin Prize for the film the same year.
Clip – Battle on the Ice (beautiful sound)