The second section of Sergei Eisenstein's epic saga of Russia's first czar, IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART II, is devoted almost entirely to the intrigues surrounding Ivan's bloody conflicts with Russia's aristocracy and the officials of her church. More controversial than PART I, it was shelved
for a dozen years before the Kremlin allowed its release.
After returning to Moscow from self-imposed exile, Czar Ivan IV (Nikolai Cherkasov) resumes his bitter power struggle with the boyars, Russia's noble families. He recalls that following his father's death, the boyars had murdered his mother, and as a boy (Eric Pyriev), he had become determined to
ascend the throne. In a weak moment, he appoints his old friend, Kolychev (Andrei Abrikosov), a boyar and a monk, Metropolitan of Moscow. Meanwhile, his friend, Kurbsky (Mikhail Nazvanov), the commander of Ivan's forces in the west, defects to the enemy.
Ivan is told that his boyar aunt, Euphrosyne Staritsky (Serafima Birman), was his wife's murderer. Unwilling to execute a blood relative, he orders the death of several members of Kolychev's family, after which he pledges to show his enemies no mercy. "From now on I shall become that which you
name!" he declares. "Terrible shall I become."
The boyars send Peter Volynets (Vladimir Balachov) to a court banquet to assassinate the czar. Also attending the affair is Vladimir Staritsky (Pavel Kadochnikov), Euphrosyne's effeminate, dimwitted son and her choice to succeed Ivan as czar. At dinner, Vladimir, who has no stomach for intrigue or
murder, tells the czar he does not covet the crown. Ivan, who has learned of the assassination plot, shrewdly dresses the drunken Vladimir in royal regalia. Mistaking Vladimir for Ivan, Peter kills the young man and is immediately seized by Ivan's guards. Euphrosyne is shattered by the sight of
the czar alive and her son dead. Ivan frees Peter and declares that, now that Russia's internal enemies have been defeated, the moment has come to vanquish her foreign foes.
By the time Eisenstein received the Stalin Prize for IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART I (1945), he had completed PART II. While dancing at the Stalin Prize celebration in February 1946, he suffered a heart attack. His problems were compounded when the megalomaniacal Ivan of PART II was perceived in some
official quarters as a thinly disguised slap at Stalin. In September, the Central Committee of the Communist Party issued a resolution publicly denouncing the still-unreleased second part of Eisenstein's saga. The statement harshly criticized the director for rendering Ivan as a Hamletic weakling,
and the czar's corps of bodyguards as "a degenerate band rather like the Ku Klux Klan." Eisenstein responded with a long and deeply pitiable statement in which he called his own film "worthless and vicious in an ideological sense.... The sense of historical truth was betrayed by me in the second
part of IVAN."
Probably as a result of this abject apology, Eisenstein and Cherkasov, the highly talented and charismatic star of IVAN THE TERRIBLE, were invited to meet with Stalin in February 1947. Long hopeful of turning the IVAN saga into a trilogy, the director was heartened when the Soviet dictator gave
him the green light to film part three. Eisenstein died a year later, on the eve of his 50th birthday. Part three was never shot, and the Soviet government waited until 1958 before releasing PART II.
IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART II continues the story in the same dense and lavishly operatic style of PART I. Driven half mad by the loneliness of power and the intensity of his power struggle with the boyars, Ivan, as interpreted by Eisenstein and Cherkasov, has come, at film's end, to resemble John
Barrymore made up as SVENGALI (1931). Shot in color, the climactic banquet sequence provides the two-part film with its liveliest stretch--a Karamazovian orgy of song, dance, and even a little dark comedy involving the czar and his drunken victim, Vladimir. Eisenstein's use of color was
audaciously expressionistic, but the color itself is weak, possibly because the film stock, confiscated from the Germans during WWII, was of inferior quality.
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- Review: The second section of Sergei Eisenstein's epic saga of Russia's first czar, IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART II, is devoted almost entirely to the intrigues surrounding Ivan's bloody conflicts with Russia's aristocracy and the officials of her church. More controve… (more)