Despite usual good Russian photography, a powerful score, a couple of nice performances and flashes of original direction, Ivan the Terrible has so much that is tiresome, has so little action, and becomes so involved that the average history student hardly will recognize this glorified Ivan. Additionally, it has the ususal quota of Soviet propaganda. These heavy-handed propaganda slugs include bows to the common folks, the merchants and tradesmen, pleas for a strong Russia, united to face the world and halt foreign intrigue.
Yarn makes Ivan virtually a saint, and at least the final saviour of his people. Story hardly depicts him as the man known in history, and seldom as one of action. It never measures up to its initial premise or even its opening colorful coronation scene.
There’s an impressive final scene where thousands of Ivan’s friends follow him in the snow away from Moscow and his scheming enemies. But that sequence, like the battle scene and several others, never quite rises to its potentialities because of flighty direction or cutting, or a combination of both. Prinicpal fault seems to lie in the fact that the producers fail to make up their minds as to whether it is a spectacle, a historical opus or a character study of Ivan.
On the credit side is a splendid score by Sergei Prokofiev, fairly good if spotty direction by Sergei Eisenstein, fine camerawork, and the superb character portrayal of Ivan by Nikolai Cherkasov.