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Alexander Nevsky (film): Wikis


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Alexander Nevsky

DVD cover
Directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Dmitri Vasilyev
Written by Sergei Eisenstein
Pyotr Pavlenko
Starring Nikolai Cherkasov
Nikolai Okhlopkov
Andrei Abrikosov
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Cinematography Eduard Tisse
Studio Mosfilm
Release date(s) December 1, 1938 (USSR)
March 22, 1939 (US)
Running time 111 minutes
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian

Alexander Nevsky (Russian: Александр Невский) is a 1938 historical drama film directed by Sergei Eisenstein, in association with Dmitri Vasilyev and a script co-written with Pyotr Pavlenko, who were assigned to ensure Eisenstein did not stray into "formalism" and to facilitate shooting on a reasonable timetable. It was produced by Goskino via the Mosfilm production unit, with Nikolai Cherkasov in the title role and a musical score by Sergei Prokofiev, Alexander Nevsky was most popular of Eisenstein's three sound films. In 1941 Eisenstein, Pavlenko, Cherkasov and Abrikosov were awarded the Stalin Prize for the film.



The film depicts the attempted invasion of Novgorod in the 13th century by Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire and their defeat by the Russian people, led by Prince Alexander, known popularly as Alexander Nevsky. It begins as the knights invade and conquer the city of Pskov with the help of the traitor Tverdilo and massacre its population. In the face of resistance by the boyars and merchants of Novgorod (urged on by the monk Ananias), Nevsky rallies the common people of Novgorod and in a decisive Battle of the Ice, on the surface of the frozen Lake Chudskoe.

A comic relief subplot throughout the film concerns Vasili Buslai and Gavrilo Oleksich, two famous warriors from Novgorod and friends, who become commanders of the Novgorod forces and who engage in a contest of courage and fighting skill throughout the Battle on the Ice in order to decide which of them will win the hand of Olga Danilovna, a Novgorod maiden whom both of them are courting. After both of them have been seriously wounded, Buslai publicly states that neither he nor Gavrilo was the bravest in battle: that honor goes to Vasilisa, the daughter of a boyar of Pskov killed by the Germans who had joined the Novgorod forces as a front-line soldier; and that after her came Gavrilo. Thus Gavrilo and Olga are united, while Buslai chooses Vasilisa as his bride-to-be (with her unspoken consent).


  • Nikolai Cherkasov as Prince Aleksandr Nevsky
  • Nikolai Okhlopkov as Vasili Buslaev
  • Andrei Abrikosov as Gavrilo Oleksich
  • Dmitri Orlov as Ignat, the master armorer
  • Vasili Novikov as Pavsha, the mayor of Pskov
  • Nikolai Arsky as Domash Tverdislavich, a Novgorod boyar
  • Varvara Massalitinova as Amelfa Timoferevna, Buslay's Mother
  • Vera Ivashova as Olga Danilovna, a maid of Novgorod
  • Aleksandra Danilova as Vasilisa, a maid of Pskov
  • Vladimir Yershov as Hermann von Balk, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order
  • Sergei Blinnikov as Tverdilo, the traitor of Pskov
  • Ivan Lagutin as Anani, a Monk
  • Lev Fenin as the Archbishop
  • Naum Rogozhin as the Black-Hooded Monk

Political subtext

Alexander (Nikolai Cherkasov) refuses to accept a Mongol ambassador's offer to join the Golden Horde

Alexander Nevsky was made during the Stalinist era, when the Soviet Union was at odds with Nazi Germany. The film contains obvious allegory that reflect the political situation between the two countries at the time it was produced. The helmets worn by the Teutonic soldiers resemble exaggerated versions of German soldier helmets from the 20th century, emphasizing grasping eagle talons or animal horns, and covering the entire face except for a narrow full-face slit for eyes which cannot be seen. "In the first draft of the Alexander Nevsky script, swastikas even appeared in the invaders' helmets".[1] The film portrays Alexander as a folk hero and shows him bypassing a fight with the Mongols, his old enemies, in order to face the more dangerous enemy.

Thus the film is also highly anti-clerical and anti-Catholic.[2] This is highlighted by the fact that the knights' bishop's miter is adorned by swastikas, while religion plays a minor role on the Russian side, being present mostly as a backdrop in the form of Novgorod's St. Nicholas Cathedral and the clerics with their icons during the victorious entry of Nevsky into the city after the battle.

The film was finished only a few months before Stalin entered into the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, which provided for non-aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union. The film was therefore pulled from distribution within a few weeks of its (highly successful) opening within and outside the Soviet Union, ostensibly indefinitely. It was the first film completed by Eisenstein in 10 years. But the situation was reversed dramatically in 1941 after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and the film was rapidly returned to Soviet and western screens.

Scenes from the film were later incorporated in the American propaganda film The Battle of Russia.


Teutonic knights take over Pskov

Alexander Nevsky is less experimental in its narrative structure than Eisenstein's previous films: it tells one story with a single narrative arc and focuses on one main character. The special effects and cinematography were some of the most advanced at the time.[3]

The film was the first of Eisenstein's dramatic films to use sound. (The earlier Bezhin Meadow, had also used sound, but production was shut down and most of the finished scenes were destroyed.) The film's score was composed by Sergei Prokofiev, who later reworked the score into a concert cantata. Prokofiev viewed the film's rough cut as the first step in composing its inimitable score. The strong and technically innovative collaboration between Eisenstein and Prokofiev in the editing process resulted in a match of music and imagery that remains a standard for filmmakers.

The film climaxes in the half-hour Battle of the Ice, propelled by Prokofiev's ominous, rousing, triumphant musical narrative, a sequence that has served as a model for epic movie battles ever since (e.g., Spartacus, The Empire Strikes Back). Valery Gergiev, the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, has stated his opinion that Prokofiev's music for this film is "the best ever composed for the cinema".


In the 1990s a new, cleaner print became available. A number of symphony orchestras gave performances of Prokofiev's cantata, synchronized with a showing of the new print. The New York Philharmonic,[4] the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Philadelphia Orchestra are four such ensembles. The concerts were quite popular, because Prokofiev's music is badly degraded by the original soundtrack recording, which suffers from extreme distortion and limited frequency response, as well as cuts to the original score to fit scenes that had already been shot. The cantata not only restored cuts but considerably expanded parts of the score.

New edition of the film

In 1995, a new edition of the film was issued on VHS and laserdisc, for which Prokofiev's score was entirely re-recorded in hi-fi digital stereo by Yuri Temirkanov conducting the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, although the dialogue portions of the soundtrack were left unchanged. This enabled a new generation to experience Eisenstein's film and Prokofiev's score in high fidelity, rather than having to settle for the badly recorded musical portion that had existed since the film's original release. Regrettably, there is no version of the re-recorded score available on DVD.

In popular culture

Several films have scenes strongly influenced by the Battle of Lake Peipus, including Doctor Zhivago (1965), Mulan (1998), and King Arthur (2004).

The Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising depicted two American intelligence officers watching Alexander Nevsky (pirating the Soviet state television satellite feed) on the eve of World War III. The officers took note of the film's improved sound track as well as its anti-German sentiment and strong sense of Russian (as opposed to Soviet) nationalism. The next day, as part of a plot to split the NATO alliance politically, KGB agents detonated a bomb in the Kremlin and arrested a West German sleeper agent on charges of terrorism. While airing Nevsky immediately prior to the bombing may have been intended to inflame the Soviet population in favor of war with the West, the timing of the two events led the Americans to suspect the plot.

Ralph Bakshi's 1977 film Wizards rotoscoped footage of the ice-battle scene from Nevsky to create parts of Blackwolf's mutant army.

The movie makes a brief appearance in the 1984 war film Red Dawn. When the protagonists return to their hometown occupied by the Soviet army, Alexander Nevsky is the only movie available at the local cinema.


  1. ^ Unspecified (1998) and two elaborated swastikas do appear on the miter of the bishop of the Holy Roman Empire, who supervises his fighting German lackeys from just behind the lines. Eisenstein's Symphonic Vision. In Alexander Nevsky [DVD liner notes]. Chatsworth: Image Entertainment.
  2. ^ Tatara, Paul. "Review - Alexander Nevsky"
  3. ^ A. Tommassini, "MUSIC IN REVIEW; Alexander Nevsky" New York Times October 21, 2006. "To fortify popular sentiment against the Germans, Soviet officials asked Eisenstein to make a film commemorating the victory of the Russian prince Alexander Nevsky over the marauding Knights of the Teutonic Order from Germany in 1242."
  4. ^ A. Tommassini, "MUSIC IN REVIEW; Alexander Nevsky" New York Times October 21, 2006. "the home of the New York Philharmonic has been temporarily turned into a movie house to present screenings of Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 epic, Alexander Nevsky."

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