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April 22, 2010

Сталинградская битва

I sought out a copy of The Battle of Stalingrad (Part 1) (Part 2) because I have a bit of a taste for Communist propaganda that is either campy or entertaining (or both). My reasoning was that if you took what was likely the most significant battle in what the Soviets consider their most heroic war (the same way we feel about the same war) and make a film about it while Stalin was still alive (the film was released in 1950), that it had the potential to be THE most grandiose, over-the-top propaganda film ever made, and no one in the world could object - other than a few grudge-holding Germans.

My reasoning was wrong. You've probably never seen this film unless you went to film school and they assigned this to you as an example of how a blockbuster story could have its life ripped out. By the late 1940s, of course, Stalin was in total, 100% control. He knew this film would be his official record of his role in the greatest battle in the greatest war, all for his namesake city. Whatever great film makers the Soviet Union had, by 1950 they'd all been killed, exiled, or had all the creativity terrorized out of them.

So they ended up with Vladimir Petrov who directed films from 1928 to 1964. He lived until 1966 and won five Stalin Prizes. A survivor.

The film's main purpose is to cement Stalin in his role as God The Father. He remains in his grand chambers in Emerald City/The Kremlin, calm, focused, caring, awake 24/7, issuing orders and controlling all details of the Battle of Stalingrad. He is never angry, flustered or worried. Smoking pipe always at hand, he shrugs it off when his generals try to praise him for his glorious orders, his omniscience. He thanks them for their hard work and apologizes for asking so much of them.

The film is in black and white, which is very disappointing. I tried to Google for information on the history of color film in the USSR, and didn't find anything definitive. They certainly had color film available, of course. The first Soviet feature length color film was Grunya Kurnakova, made in 1936. And after the war they had supplies of Agfacolor from Germany. Agfacolor was used to film The Fall of Berlin which was released at about the same time as The Battle of Stalingrad.

If you want your own DVD of this film, it's available from International Historic Films. A good restoration with clear English subtitles, it includes parts 1 and 2.

The music in the film is a blessing: Aram Khachaturian was the composer despite the fact that in 1948 he was condemned along with Shostakovich and Prokofiev as "formalist" and "anti-popular." Here is his extremely well known "Sabre Dance." After listening to that, you'll want to listen to his "Adagio From Spartacus" to bring yourself back down to Earth.

Khachaturian used a grating variaton of "O Tannenbaum" as the leitmotiv for the German forces throughout the film. Some of Khachaturian's music from this film is available from iTunes on this album.

THe Big Book of The Battle of Stalingrad
The movie opens with this big book.
See? It's just like your family Bible.

Portrait of Stalin
You know how when you open your family Bible you see a portrait of Jesus?

Stalin as played by Aleksei Dikij
Stalin played by Aleksei Dikij
. He's got an interesting history. Born in Ukraine, he went to Tel Aviv in 1928 to work as a director with the Jewish theater troupe Habima. He returned to Moscow in 1931. He collaborated with Shostakovich on Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District, which was criticized by Stalin. In 1937 he was arrested and sentenced to four years in the Gulag in Siberia. After that he was not allowed to return to either Moscow or Leningrad, and spent most of the war in Omsk. In 1944 he played Prince Kutuzov in the film that was also directed by Vladimir Petrov. For that, Dikij got his first Stalin Prize. He would win four more Stalin Prizes. He was selected for his role in The Battle of Stalingrad by Stalin himself. Dikij said "I am playing not a human, but a granite monument." In all the scenes with Stalin, the camera is positioned only 3 or 4 feet off the floor, so that we are always looking up to the God-figure.

Hitlier gesticulating

Hitler making eyes
As a general rule in cinema, you can never go wrong when you portray Hitler as raving, batshit insane
. Mikhail Astangov has a great time filling out that role.

Franklin Roosevelt
It's Franklin Roosevelt!
He's being played by Nikolai Cherkasov who also played Alexander Nevsky in Eisenstein's film. FDR is portrayed fairly positively. FDR praises Russian fighting ability. The book FDR is holding in this shot is entitled "Goliath." FDR wants to help the USSR and his military advisor says the best way is to invade the continent. FDR laments that the British are blocking this because they want a "cheap victory" fighting Rommel in North Africa. FDR says he is too old to drag Churchill "kicking and screaming" across the Channel. The scene closes with FDR saying "Woe to mankind if we're ever on opposite sides from Russia."

Chruchill Harriman Molotov Stalin
Left to right, Winston Churchill, Averell Harriman, Molotov, Stalin.
A translator sits with his back to us. Boy, they didn't like Churchill or the British! Churchill informs Stalin that there will be no invasion of Europe this year (1942). Harriman seems to roll his eyes. Churchill says Britain can't risk anything that doesn't promise sure success. Stalin accuses them of going back on earlier promises. He says an invasion of Sicily will give political, not military, rewards. Harriman rises to his feet to make a "solemn promise" that France will be invaded in 1943. Stalin gets to his feet to say that the Russians will stop the Germans, but the blood of thousands in Europe will be on the heads of Britain and the U.S. Later, when the diplomats have left, Stalin concludes that the U.S. and Britain intend to let the Soviet Union bleed to death while they race to get to the Balkans.

woman holding dead child
Finally, we get an image of a heroic Socialist worker
, this one carrying her dead baby during a bombing of Stalingrad.

Socialist labor
More socialist labor.

speech being delivered
A speech is delivered to the workers as they march off to defend Stalingrad

Comrades! We must defend the city! Comrade Stalin told us not to give in to panic! Not to give in to the enemy! Keep confidence in our victory! Many of you have fought here under the leadership of Comrade Stalin during the Civil War. Comrades, we will have to fight for our city. Fight, and remember, Stalin is not here physically, but he is always with you!

victory or death
We get a lot of stuff like this.
An officer stiffly declares to the open air "I'll either die in Stalingrad or defeat the enemy." Actually, that was an order from Stalin. Later in the film we see a sequence of different officers staring into space reciting part of this message:

Dear Josef Vissarionovich [Stalin]:
We, the defenders of Stalingrad, would like to tell you and, through you, all of the Soviet people that our morale is high. Our will is strong. Our hands are tirelessly fighting the enemy. We are writing to you in the middle of the fight from a high bank on the great Russian river, the Volga. We have decided to fight to our deaths defending Stalingrad. By sending you this letter from our foxholes, we swear that we swear to you, and in the name of our fathers, the gray-haired heroes of the battle of Tsaritsyn, we swear to the comrades fighting on other fronts, to our combat banners, to all of the Soviet land, we swear that we will defend Stalingrad to the last drop of blood, to the last breath, to the last heart beat, and will not allow the enemy to come to the Volga.

Fortunately, the officers had brought along their bong to help relieve the pain.
I assume the Soviet Navy controlled the hemp supply.

More Hitler.

Throughout the film there are many shots of Moscow showing it as a lovely, completely undamaged city.
I double-checked my recollections of history and, yes, the Germans did attack Moscow, although they never succeeded in taking it.

We finally start getting some images of ordinary, individual soldiers.

shirtless workers
A moment of hot Socialist Realism!

battle damaged building
Suddenly, the film became much more interesting as it showed the German attack on the railway station.
It was as if an entirely new writer had been brought in - or a team of censors had been sent away to the Gulag. It became a real story with real soldiers really fighting instead of a bunch of officers spouting stiff lines at the camera.

rat-like Germans
Germans shown creeping ratlike across the railway tracks.
Very effective.

We must fight until we die
"We must fight until we die."
One recalls Patton's speech at the beginning of "Patton" when he said the goal was to make the other guy die for his country.

All of the battalion's soldiers are dead
"All of the battalion's soldiers are dead."
Well, we saw that coming.

Stalin at his desk
Stalin at his desk dictates answers to three questions from an American reporter
: "I think that the Soviet ability to counter the attack of German villains is no less potent than the desire of Nazi Germany or any other aggressor state for global supremacy."

Soldier listens to There Is A Cliff On The Volga
A soldier listens to "There Is A Cliff On The Volga" played on a gramophone amidst the wreckage of Stalingrad.

Stalin listens to There Is A Cliff On The Volga
While through some communist magic, God-Stalin can hear the same music on his God-radio

Here is a video of "There Is A Cliff On The Volga" performed by Leonid Kharitonov with the Red Army Choir in 1965. A performance that is said to have brought Leonid Brezhnev to tears.

people walking in Kremlin
There is a sequence of shots of high ranking people walking through the empty corridors of the Kremlin to Stalin's offices.
The significance escaped me.

Zhukov is mentioned
Zhukov is mentioned.
Zhukov was in charge of the defense of Stalingrad from October to November of 1942. This is the only reference to him in this film. "This summer Zhukov was transferred away."

Zhukov in 1916!

Navy pilot on the Volga
Comrade Navy pilot sailing up the Volga despite intense bombing by the Germans.

crowd scene
In every crowd scene you'll spot at least a few of the extras staring into the camera.

Germans always die painful deaths
Germans always die painfully.

shadow of camera crew
The cinematography goes to hell when the Russians finally begin their long-awaited counteroffensive.
Those are the shadows of the camera crew you see in the foreground.

Nothing says "Oscar candidate" like this 1950 version of Powerpoint

machine gunners
In this scene the Russians are advancing at a run (from right to left).
This machine gun crew is running along with them, drops to the ground, sets up, and begins firing, which means they are shooting into the backs of advancing Russian troops. I can suspend some disbelief, but when this film was released they were showing it to people who had fought in that war and knew that you did not shoot into the backs of your own advancing troops. I wonder if there were gasps and screams from the audience.

Romanian soldiers
Romanian soldiers wearing surplus "Wizard Of Oz" uniforms.
While the Germans are sometimes portrayed with respect in this film, the Romanians are consistently depicted as worthless cowards. They outfitted them with light or dark-colored fur hats, as you see. This made direction simpler, I think. The ones wearing light-colored hats always ran away like screaming girls while the ones in dark-colored hats stood still in shock while the Russians blew them away.

General Paulus
General Paulus, who commanded the German forces, is portrayed with great respect in this film
, although here it looks like he is waiting for his favorite polka music program to come on the air.

The Soviet forces meet
The famous scene where the two Russian forces meet, completing their encirclement of the German army.

smooth shaven tank commander
Despite the long, difficult battle, this tank commander is shown clean shaven and clean enough to kiss
which happens in the very next shot, of course. Those Russians are always kissing each other. But all the soldiers, on both sides, are always shown clean shaven. Despite all the terrible shortages, there was an abundance of razors I guess.

Kissing officers
Actually, this is a later scene showing how one officer relieves another officer of the command of an army. He sweeps in the door, grabs him up in his arms and gives him a big long smooch. It certainly seems to sooth any ruffled pride.

Hitler goes crazy
Stalin sent these very nice terms of surrender to Paulus and Hitler, but Hitler took it the wrong way and went all apeshit on the message.

Paulus says death
While Paulus seems to grasp the situation much more realistically.

Germans marching through burial ground
When I first saw this shot I thought it was a comical exaggeration
, but in this documentary about Stalingrad I saw a nearly identical shot in some historical footage.

Barmaley Fountain
All films about Stalingrad are required to show
the Barmaley Fountain.

Soviet soldier close up
The film wraps with a victory assembly, allowing the camera to show us lots of heroic, clean-shaven faces.

Berlin on map
Finally, we look through Stalin's magnifying glass to see that he is giving the eye to Berlin.

The complete set of stills I grabbed from the film can be seen here.

Filed under Film/Movies | permalink | April 22, 2010 at 10:13 PM


Perhaps this is why today we see Soviet made films about Stalingrad and not the naval battles on the Black Sea.

Maybe some soviet scum have been at work at Wikipedia where they acknowledge the Romanian Navy fought the Soviets on the Black Sea, but they give credit to the Luftwaffe for defeating the Soviet fleet there: "Although the Soviets enjoyed an overwhelming superiority in surface ships over the Axis, this was effectively negated by German air superiority and most of the Soviet ships sunk were destroyed by bombing. "

In any case, it's interesting to learn I have a reader whose feelings of Romanian nationalism are so strong, he is willing to align himself with fascists.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Jul 7, 2012 8:19:36 AM

fuck the soviet scum! Romania owned them at Bassarabia, Odessa, Kerch & Kuban. On the Black Sea they got anihilated by our navy. Stupid soviet pricks.

Posted by: asdasdsad at Jul 7, 2012 3:42:49 AM

The winners get to write history, and this is a Soviet-made film.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Feb 11, 2012 6:38:23 AM


Posted by: asdsadsadsadasd at Feb 11, 2012 4:32:26 AM

I really love this movie.I watch this again and again.Thank you sharing..

Posted by: walther airguns at Apr 18, 2011 7:39:21 PM

Fascinating stuff. I am enjoying the Red Army Choir videos on you tube now.

Posted by: Raymond at Apr 23, 2010 12:53:06 PM

The chances are pretty good that Zhukov did some vacationing in Finland, no?

Posted by: Ron's Log at Apr 23, 2010 8:30:52 AM

That was pretty exhaustive, if not exhausting.
However, I cannot fail to point out that 'Zhukov in 1916' is reminiscent
of one of Tom's Men. No ?

Posted by: Frank Martin at Apr 23, 2010 1:09:35 AM

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