Scenario concerns an actual historical incident which has been found by the Soviet government in the czarist archives. In 1905 the armored cruiser Potemkin was lying off Odessa. The crew had been getting inedible rations and finally worm-ridden meat was brought on board. The sailors protested and refused to eat this.
The czarist commander, true to the principles of his regime, decided at once to make an example. He portioned off 10 of the sailors, had them covered with a sail cloth and ordered the marines to shoot them. After a moment of hesitancy the soldiers lowered their guns and mutiny broke out.
Within a few moments all the officers had either been shot or thrown overboard. The news of the mutiny spread like wildfire through the city and the oppressed citizens, in the hope that the czarist regime was about to fall, came to pay homage at the bier.
Coming from both sides of the big square and stairway leading up the hill, the Cossack troops shot down mercilessly all in the way, cripples, old men, women and children. This was only stopped by the cruiser opening fire on the city hall.
The cruiser got news the entire Russian fleet was on its way to subdue them. They decided to go to meet it and die a heroic death in battle. The fleet, however, also sympathized with them and let them pass through its lines without firing a single shot. The Potemkin then found refuge in a Romanian harbor, where it was interned until the end of the Russo-Japanese war.
The direction of Sergei Eisenstein is original and powerful. There are moments in the film which even the most hardened conservative could not help being thrilled. Also, the inexorable advance of the shooting Cossacks down the steps is interesting from a rhythmic angle. The photography by Eduard Tisse is fine throughout but occasionally is too ‘pretty’ for the subject.
[Above review is of pic’s first overseas showing, in Berlin in 1926.]