Directed by Alexandr Ptushko, sometimes called the "Walt Disney of the USSR," this lavish fantasy film falls into the distinctly Russian genre of film-bylina: fairy tale film.
Minstrel Sadko (Sergei Stolyarov) returns to his hometown of Novgorod after years of wandering, and is dismayed at the changes he sees. The rich merchants have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, and a sense of pervasive unhappiness hangs over the city. Inspired by a story he once heard about a bird of happiness, Sadko mounts an expedition to find this bird and return with it. He pays for the journey with the help of Princess Ilmen (Ninel Myshkova), a daughter of the Tsar of the Ocean (Stepan Kayukov). Having fallen in love with his sad songs, she helps him net some priceless golden fish that purchase three ships and the supplies he needs. Sadko's only regret is that he must leave behind Lubava (Alla Larianova), the beautiful girl with whom he has fallen in love and who promises to wait for him. Sadko and his crew battle Vikings and sail far from Russia before hearing that an Indian maharajah (M. Astangov) keeps a magical bird locked away in a heavily guarded chamber. Sadko wins it in a game of chess, only to find that the Phoenix (Lidiya Vertinskaya) brings no happiness, only a druggy, magical sleep. The Phoenix, a large bird with the head of a beautiful woman, is easily the film's most disturbing and memorable image. As Sadko and his men sail past the wonders of Egypt, he has a revelation: Happiness can only be found at home, and so he sets sail for Russia, where after a watery detour to the Ocean Tsar's domain he is reunited with Lubava.
Ten years after it won the Venice Film Festival's "Silver Lion", SADKO was released in the US, dubbed, edited and retitled The Magic Voyage of Sinbad. Throughout the film, names were were anglicized in an effort to conceal the film's Russian origins Roger Corman, who bought the US distribution rights, didn't want to run afoul of cold-war anto-Soviet sentiments. Sadko became Sinbad, Novgorod became Covasan, actor Sergei Stolyarov became "Edward Stolar," etc. The English-language script was written by the then 22-year-old Francis Ford Coppola, who also dubbed the voice of the Novgorod bear-wrestler. Most of the ten minutes of deleted footage involved peasant dancing, and did not significantly alter the story. This truncated version is the one that has been mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Directed by Alexandr Ptushko, sometimes called the "Walt Disney of the USSR," this lavish fantasy film falls into the distinctly Russian genre of film-bylina: fairy tale film. Minstrel Sadko (Sergei Stolyarov) returns to his hometown of Novgorod after yea… (more)