Huge reservoirs of manpower and materials have been thrown into this epic production, which is lavish in scope, theme, performance and wealth of production detail, but despite its magnificence and scale the picture lacks the qualities which first impressed director Sergei Eisenstein’s technique. Analogy is drawn to present-day politics, and meaning and purpose of the entire production are shaped toward threats against any Russian invader.
Saga relates of times in the early 1200s when Russia was overrun by Tartars in the east and Teutonic Knights from Germany on the west. Prince Alexander, whose fighting fame had spread throughout the land and even beyond, is summoned from peaceful occupations by popular acclaim. He exhorts and arouses the peasantry to bear arms in defense of Russia. At Lake Peipus, in 1242, Alexander’s strategy defeats a superior German force. It is an utter rout, with fleeing Teutons perishing beneath the icy waters of the lake.
The Teutonic Knights are portrayed as ancient forerunners of the Ku Klux Klan. While there is a slight romantic tale paralleling major events, it is not seriously developed and serves merely to relieve the stern character of the warlike tale. First half of the picture is expository and deals with attempts of Alexander to arouse his followers to action. In the latter half of the picture great masses of troops move onward toward the crucial battle.
At times, Eisenstein’s direction of battle movements appears extremely stilted and unreal. Groups of soldiers stand about static and uncertain as to where to go or what to do with their weapons.
Of the numerous ‘honored artists’ in the film, Nikolai Cherkasov, as Prince Alexander, fulfills the requirements of the part in every respect. He is kingly, commanding, human and gives a performance not easily forgotten.