Ivan Groznyj I

(Ivan The Terrible Part I)

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1944 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time
98:59 minutes
(not 94 minutes as per packaging)
Other Extras Menu Audio and Animation
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Sergei Eisenstein

Force Video
Starring Nikolai Cherkassov
Ludmilla Tselikoskaya
Serafima Birman
Mikhail Nazvanov
Case Transparent Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music Sergei Prokofiev

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
16x9 Enhancement No Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 224 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Macrovision ? Smoking No
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or
After Credits

Plot Synopsis

    One thing that stands out immediately amongst the films of Sergei Eisenstein that I have seen thus far in the voyage through Russian films from Force Video is the fact that he could never be considered understated. Indeed, at times he makes the calibre of some of Cecil B. de Mille's over the top efforts look positively small in comparison! Bearing in mind that this was filmed during the height of World War 2 (filming commenced in 1943) at a time when things were not exactly going swimmingly for the Soviet Union, it is amazing how large the cast of extras used appeared to be. When Sergei Eisenstein wants a marching army, that is definitely what you get - not just a couple of extras pretending to be a marching army. As a result there is a grandeur to his films that is hard to ignore and it is that imposing nature that runs through this film. Whilst he is perhaps best remembered for his earlier film Bronenosets Potyomkin, this later effort (the first of three films about Ivan The Terrible, of which the last did not see the light of day apparently) is amongst his finest works. Whilst I would perhaps not go so far as to agree with the current assessment of the voters on the Internet Movie Database, it is nonetheless a powerful enough film about one of the most pivotal characters in Russian history.

    Ivan IV, far better known these days as Ivan The Terrible, was born in 1530 and ascended to the title of Tsar (the first person to do so) at the age of three upon the death of his father. He was not crowned Tsar until he was sixteen and until that time power was held by his regents, as stipulated by his father. Upon assuming the title of Tsar, he embarked upon a journey to restore the power and prestige of Russia. This involved reforms to the military (he was the first to raise a permanent Russian army), the church and the law. Not all of his reforms were looked upon favourably by the feudal aristocracy (known as the boyars) and he was a decidedly unpopular person in these circles. He gained further unpopularity by marrying a Russian girl in Anastasia Romanova rather than the traditional foreign bride. Despite the lack of support from the aristocracy, however, Ivan was popular with the masses and with their help he conquered Kazan and Astrakhan and made serious forays into Siberia, resulting in what is generally accepted to be the first unified kingdom of Russia. However his unpopularity amongst the boyars led to many problems for him, the first serious one being in 1553 after the conquering of Kazan when Ivan became quite ill and almost died. When he asked his advisors to swear allegiance to his one year son as his heir, few if any would do so: in preference they rather swore allegiance to Vladimir Staritsky, a boyar, a tad inconvenient for them when Ivan recovered. A mini pogrom occurred but this did not stop the resistance to Ivan and the story took a decided twist in 1560 when the boyars poisoned the Tsarina Anastasia. Ivan used this as an excuse to withdraw from public, but when the masses begged him to return he did so, using the popular support to consolidate his power. This is broadly the story covered by the film. His later years, when the treachery of his advisors resulted in him seeing treachery everywhere, saw him embark on a reign of terror that earned him the nickname by which he is now universally known.

    Whilst I readily admit that this is a very poor synopsis of Russian history of the period, much of the history is still subject to discussion and interpretation. What is indisputable is the fact that like so many leaders since, Ivan was a popular man who eventually went wildly off the rails - not unlike the man whose name bears the prize that this film won: The Stalin Prize. Interestingly for a film from the height of the Stalin era, there is significant reference to the church in the film (not necessarily altogether flattering references admittedly) which contrasts quite markedly with the anti-church stance of the Stalin regime. The power of this film though comes from the performance of Nikolai Cherkassov in the lead. There is a firmness here that almost makes you really believe that he is the real Ivan, and this permeates the film and enriches the film no end. Obviously Sergei Eisenstein had an admiration for his talents as he was also the star in his earlier film Aleksandr Nevsky (to be reviewed shortly). The rest of the cast are far less memorable, although none are less than effective. It has to be said that some of the acting by today's standards is positively amateurish, but that is more of a reflection of the times than anything else.

    Whilst not necessarily agreeing with the group that would laud this is a supreme classic of Russian film, I have to agree that it is a powerful film and in that respect demands some respect.

Transfer Quality


    Somewhat unusually amongst the films of Sergei Eisenstein to come from Force Video thus far, this film dates from a relatively modern period. Unfortunately, the relative youth of the film is not completely reflected in the quality of the transfer. I can only presume that the original print has suffered from rather poor storage for there are significant problems with it. The transfer also suffers from an obvious lack of restoration work on the print, and this is doubly regrettable, for the stature of the film-making on show here certainly deserves a far more comprehensive restoration, as does the preservation of the film for future generations. It would be most interesting to see how much better this transfer would be if handled by someone of the ilk of The Criterion Collection.

    The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format.

    This does indeed make an interesting comparison with black and white films of the same era from America, which seem to be of demonstrably better quality. The main problem here is the wide degree of inconsistency in the visual aspect of the transfer. Whilst at times the transfer was beautifully sharp and well detailed, at other times it became quite soft and a little murky in detail. Overall, this was a lot glossier in style than American films, not so much from a colour point of view but rather in the way that the main focus of the image was much more obviously contrasted to the background. Detail at times is poor, which does little to help the film, but overall is quite decent and occasionally ascends to better than respectable. Overall, it is hard to suggest that the film has any degree of clarity to it. Shadow detail is not especially wonderful at any point of the film, but this is rather in keeping with the age and origin of the film. There does not appear to be any low level noise problems with the transfer.

    Complementing the variability of the transfer is a degree of variability of colouration. Whilst the film does occasionally demonstrate an appealing depth to the blacks and a nice clarity to the whites, it is unfortunate that there is no consistency in this regard. Some scenes show a distinct lack of any depth to the blacks in particular and really capture the murky greys that really ruin black and white films. It should be stressed however that it would appear that Eisenstein was using the colour variability for emphasis in some scenes, as most scenes involving the presence of the ornamental side of costuming demonstrated a far better clarity of colour than scenes involving the plotting of the boyars.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, although there were a few minor hints of possible macro blocking early on in the film. There did not appear to be many significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, apart from one rather noticeable green flash at 79:13 which really disrupts the viewing experience. Not being an expert on the complexities of video transfers, I do not know what really causes these discolourations, but when they turn up in a black and white film they really do impinge enormously on the flow of the film. The most serious problem in this transfer though is the film artefacts and this is certainly one of the problematic transfers I have seen from this era. Apart from the expected dirt and scratches, there were some rather noticeable blotches on the print which really are more reminiscent of a film far older: this is definitely an indicator that the original print suffered badly from poor storage. The film also suffers far more than I would have expected from jumps and continuity problems. Overall, the artefacts were quite disruptive to the enjoyment of the film.

    Somewhat unusually I felt, the opening credits were in English and I am therefore suspecting that they are not the original credits. If this is correct, it is a little disappointing. Also disappointing is the fact that the English subtitles are not selectable, but rather are burned into the picture. Compounding this however is the fact that the subtitles are in white lettering which is extremely difficult at times to read against the light background of the film. I often found myself frustrated by not being able to read the subtitles, and these really should have been done in a better contrasting colour - probably yellow would have been a much better choice. The subtitles are in any case anything but complete and only give a broad picture of what is actually being spoken in the film, although I found this to be far less of a frustration.


    If you think I have been a little easy on the video transfer, wait until you read about the audio transfer.

    There is just the one audio track on the DVD, a Russian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack, so obviously I listened to it. You should note that the track is flagged as an English track but it is definitely Russian. I would not be surprised to discover that this is the very original sound recording for the film, as I have rarely heard such a muffled effort on DVD. This really is a poor example of a mono soundtrack and if I thought that little restoration work had been done on the video, then I can practically guarantee you that none has been done on the audio. It is a very constricted sounding effort and suffers noticeably from mild distortion virtually throughout. At times, it was quite difficult to listen to the dialogue (making the problems with the subtitles even worse). About the only thing positive here is that there did not seem to be any significant problems with audio sync.

    Like the previously reviewed Oktyabr, the music score comes from one of the great Russian composers of the Twentieth Century: this time it is Sergei Prokofiev. And the score sure does deserve far better than it got here. I recall once hearing a studio performance of some of the music from the score and whilst I would not call it top drawer Prokofiev, it certainly seemed a powerful and commanding piece. You would not know it from this soundtrack: a tragedy of the highest order I would suggest.

    Indeed the sound is so bad here that it is almost like listening to a 1960s television show with your speakers covered by plastic bags. The vocal track is very recessed in the mix and extremely frontal, so that there is no doubt that this is coming at you straight from the centre speaker with nothing from any other channel. Toss in the mild distortion and you really have something pretty woeful indeed. Purists would probably be well satisfied with this, arguing that the context of the sound has been retained. Whilst I am not asking for nor expecting a full 5.1 digital remastering, I would have thought that a cleaning up of this constricted effort would not have been asking too much. Without doubt the worst example of sound that I have yet heard on a DVD.


    Another rather limited effort indeed here, but at least consistent with previous efforts from this source.


    The audio enhancement is dubious at best as it suffers from the same constricted, mildly distorted sound as the main feature.


    A brief history of Ivan The Terrible, so at least you get a bit of historical context about the man. Another of those scrolling efforts in common with other Force Video releases. The only problem here is that once it gets to the end of the notes it doe not stop. If you do not push the enter button on your remote you will spend the evening boning up on the life of Ivan The Terrible.

R4 vs R1

    It would appear that the Region 4 release is pretty much identical to the Region 1 version, at least as far as the package is concerned. Whether the transfer is the same, I would not be able to advise as reviews of this film are rare indeed, but assuming a similar transfer then Region 4 is the region of choice.


    I would love to extol the virtues of the film and encourage you to at least give this a rent, as the work of Sergei Eisenstein is well worth the effort. Unfortunately, whilst I can perhaps live with the video faults and even the subtitle problems, the audio makes this very tedious watching. This could have been, and to my mind, should have been so much better than what it is. Only the relative age of the film stops this from making the Hall Of Shame.

    A poorish video transfer.

    An appalling audio transfer.

    An uninspiring extras package.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
14th May 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL