Alexander Nevsky


1938 directed by Sergei Eisenstein.  Soviet-era films depicts Russian prince Alexander Nevsky who led the Russians against an invasion by Teutonic Knights.  This is the public domain version that was first released on video-tape, with the original, poorly recorded soundtrack of Prokofiev's music and subtitles with stilted language.

Alexander Nevsky () is a 1938 historical drama film directed by Sergei Eisenstein. It depicts the attempted invasion of Novgorod in the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire and their defeat by Prince Alexander, known popularly as Alexander Nevsky (1220?1263).
Eisenstein made the film in association with Dmitri Ivanovich Vasilyev and with a script co-written with Pyotr Pavlenko; they were assigned to ensure that 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 the first and most popular of Eisenstein's three sound films. In 1941 Eisenstein, Pavlenko, Cherkasov and Andrei Abrikosov were awarded the Stalin Prize for the film.
In 1978 the film was included in the world's 100 best motion pictures according to the opinion poll conducted by the Italy publishing house "Arnoldo Mondadori Editore".

Plot summary

The Teutonic 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 Peipsi-Pihkva, they defeat the Teutonic knights. The story ends in the retaken Pskov where the ordinary foot-soldiers are set free, the surviving Teutonic knights will be held for ransom and Tverdilo is swarmed over by the vengeful people (and supposedly torn to pieces).
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. Vasilisa, the daughter of a boyar of Pskov killed by the Germans, joins the Novgorod forces as a front-line soldier, and she and Buslai fight side by side (which makes a strong impression on Buslai); she also personally slays the traitor Ananias. After both Gavrilo and Buslai have been seriously wounded, Buslai publicly states that neither he nor Gavrilo was the bravest in battle: that honor goes to Vasilisa, 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, a voivode 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 (disambiguation) as Vasilisa, a maid of Pskov
  • Vladimir Yershov as Hermann 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 Nevsky was the first film completed by Eisenstein in 10 years. It was made during the History of the Soviet Union (1927?1953), when the Soviet Union was at odds with Nazi Germany. The film contains elements of obvious allegory that lect the political situation between the two countries at the time it was produced. Some types of helmets worn by the Teutonic infantries resemble mock-ups of Stahlhelms from World War I. In the first draft of the Alexander Nevsky script, swastikas even appeared in the invaders' helmets. 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 </>
It made a central theme the importance of the common people in saving Russia, while portraying the nobles and merchants as "bourgeoisie" and enemy of the people who do nothing, a motif that was heavily employed.
While shooting the film, Eisenstein published an article in the official newspaper of record Izvestia entitled "Alexander Nevsky and the Rout of the Germans," drawing a specific parallel between Nevsky and Stalin.< name=bergan></> As a result, the Kremlin requested an advance screening and, without Eisenstein being consulted, his assistants showed the footage to the dictator and, during the process of this screening, one of the reels, which featured a scene depicting a brawl among the populace of Novgorod, disappeared.
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., Henry V (1944 film), Spartacus (film), The Empire Strikes Back). This climactic set piece was the first to be filmed and, since it was shot during a blazing hot summer on a location outside Moscow, cinematographer Eduard Tisse had to take extraordinary steps to render a wintry landscape, including: use of a filter to suggest winter light, painting all the trees light blue and dusting them with chalk, creating an artificial horizon out of sand, and constructing simulated ice sheets out of asphalt and melted glass, supported by floating pontoons that were deflated on cue so that the ersatz ice sheets would shatter under the weight of the Teutonic knights according to pre-cut patterns.< name=hoberman></>

Musical score

File:Sergei Prokofiev 03.jpg

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 musical composition by Sergei Prokofiev, who later reworked the score into a cantata. The creation of Alexander Nevsky was a collaboration in the fullest sense of the word: some of the film was shot to Prokofiev's music and some of Prokofiev's music was composed to Eisenstein's footage.<></> 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. 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,

  • Criterion Collection essay by J. Hoberman
  • *Alexander Nevsky] at official
    Category:1938 films
    Category:Black-and-white films
    Category:War epic films
    Category:Films directed by Sergei Eisenstein
    Category:Films set in Russia
    Category:Films set in the 13th century
    Category:Mosfilm films
    Category:Soviet films
    Category:Soviet historical films
    Category:Soviet war films
    Category:1930s drama films
    Category:1930s historical films
    Category:War films based on actual events
  • nosesilo

    More Public Domain Movies