Yesterday, I watched the 1938 Soviet-era film, "Alexander Nevsky" directed by Sergei Eisenstein. I don't know how many of you here have seen it, but I would commend it to you.
A couple of observations. This is obviously a propaganda film to stir people's patriotism. As Alexander takes on the Teutonic Order (they are never called that, just simply the Germans), it is meant to remind the Russian people of the fight that they soon will have to fight the Germans (though Stalin pulled the film after the non-aggression treaty was signed). Unlike Eisenstein's other films about the struggles of the Proletariat, this film is strictly about defending one's homeland. The Germans are generally portrayed as faceless (their knights are almost always wearing their helmets) and the music heard when they are on screen(wonderfully done by Sergei Prokofiev) reminds you of the music he wrote for the wolf in "Peter and the Wolf." The Germans have no redeeming qualiites whatsoever. They are simply butchers.
Alexander comes off as two dimensional. He is singularly obsessed with repelling the German invaders from Russian land or any foreigner from Russian land. THe beginning of the movie sees him at Lake Neva catching fish where they sing of their triumph over the Swedes. Duty is his sole character trait.
Most characters in this movie are two dimensional, except for the sub plot that Eisenstein work is in: an attempt by two men to attract the same woman. These characters are the most genuine of all even though the woman says her criteria for whom she will marry is proved by whichever of them fights better.
The Battle of the Ice is one of those moments in early cinematography that you just have to see. Yes, it looks extremlely poor by standards today, but just the sheer magnitude of it and the number of people involved should really get your attention.
The costuming is also very good. Though in black and white, it is very impressive. I think that the costuming of the Germans had some later influences. Their dress and helmets reminded me of James Earl Jones in Conan the Barbarian.
A noteable thing though not surprisingly is that only the Germans are seen praying. There is an outdoor mass with lots of crucifixes and even a make-shift pipe organ! Alexander Nevsky and the Rus are never seen in a church. You will see churches throughout the film, but no use of them. Only at the end of the film do you see priests leading a funeral procession but you will see none of the faithful cross themselves or do anything remotely Orthodox. The Teuton invasion of Novgorod was historically a crusade to convert the pagans and Orthodox to Roman Catholicism but you'd think from watching the movie that the Orthodox could care less. The movie is all about repelling invaders.
Again, I'd recommend it if you haven't seen it. I did see Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible, at least parts of it and I thought that was better in many ways, but this has some good stuff, too.