Sorok pervyy (The Forty-First) (1956)
Director: Grigori Chukhrai.
Starring: Izolda Izvitskaya (Soldier Maria Filatovna), Oleg Strizhenov (Lieutenant Vadim Nikolayevich Govorkha, Jr.), Nikolai Kryuchkov (Commander Ansenti Yevsyukov), Nikolai Dupak (Soldier Andrei Chupilko), Georgi Shapovalov (Soldier Terentyev), Pyotr Lyubeshkin, L. Kovylin (Soldier Kovylin), Yu. Romanov (Soldier Vyakhir), Daniil Netrebin (Soldier Semyannin), A. Umuraliyev (Soldier Umankul), Anatoli Kokorin (Soldier Yegorov), Vadim Sinitsyn (Wounded soldier), K. Zharkimbayev (Timerkul), T. Sardarbekova (Altynai, village girl), Vadim Zakharchenko
Soviet film of the romance of a female Red Army sniper and a White Army officer in the Russian Civil War
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Letís go back to the first years of the Russian Revolution. A defeated Red Army detachment retreated from the Caspian Sea into the sands of the Kara Kum sand dunes. There were twenty-three men and their Commissar, Yevsyukov. These men of the Red army had managed to break out of their encirclement by the White Guards.
They are managing with the help of a few camels. The female soldier Maryutka is their best sniper. She has killed thirty-eight White Guards so far. As three White Guards on horseback ride along the horizon, she kills two of them, her thirty-ninth and fortieth kill.
The surviving rider goes back to inform his captain where the survivors are. The captain tells him that the Reds will die in the sands. They are not going to chase them.
The remnants of the Guriev special detachment have no water or any hope of rescue. They have a little bit of rice they will eat and then they will have to eat the camels. Their goal is to cross the sands to the Aral Sea. From there they will take a detour to Kazalinsk to the frontís headquarters.
Maryutka awakens the sleeping Commissar to tell him that a caravan is coming their way. The Reds run as fast as they can to try to intercept them. They reach the top of sand dune hill above the caravan and the Commissar yells to the caravaners: "Halt!"
There is a short gun fight and then someone in the caravan raises a white flag. The Commissar tells the men of the caravan that they are taking their camels. The caravan leader begs the Commissar to take his money, not his camels. Otherwise they will die before crossing the sands. The commissar takes pity on them and leaves them with half the camels and some supplies. In addition, he gives him a receipt for the camels and supplies he took.
They discover a man of the White Guard. Itís Lt. Govorukha-Otrok. They search him and find a note in the lining of his coat. The note is from Admiral Kolchak saying that the Lieutenant will be representing him before the Caspian government of General Denikin with a message for General Dratsenko. The Reds try to make him talk, but the Lieutenant refuses to say anything. So the Commissar decides to take the Lieutenant with them to headquarters and let the higher-ups deal with him.
Umankul will watch the camels for the night, while Maryutka will watch the prisoner. A guard will watch over the campsite. But the guard falls asleep. The next morning the Commissar awakens him saying that he slept through his entire guard duty. And now the camels are gone! Moreover, Umankul has been killed. The guard feels terrible. He puts down his rifle and hat and tells the Commissar to execute him for dereliction of duty. The Commissar lines up the men, but then he just marches them away. The guard follows behind the men. When the men stop to eat the sleeper stays away from them. The Commissar comes over to him, gives him some food and tells him to join in.
The caravan leader reaches the headquarters of the Whites. They want to know where their officer is? The commander sends out some men to find him.
At this time there are only eleven soldiers left walking in the desert. Another dies and there are only ten left. The men only get one swallow of water each. Another soldier dies. There are eight left. Then two men give up and want to be left behind. But when the lead man reaches the top of the next sand dune he shouts out: "The Aral Sea!"
The men come to a small village of native people. The villagers canít believe that the men made it across Kara Kum without camels. They give the survivors food and drink. A young native woman wants one of the epaulets belonging to the Lieutenant. To get rid of her, Maryutka pulls off the epaulet and gives it to her.
At night in camp Maryutka writes some revolutionary verses about the battle they were in. The Lieutenant asks her to read them to him, so she does. He tells her that the verses are "heartfelt". He encourages her to go back to school to learn more so she can be better at writing verses. The tough Maryutka starts to take a liking to the Lieutenant. She has him swear on the poor proletariat and before her, Maria Basova, that if she takes his ropes off, he will not run away. He swears and she unties him.
The Commissar sends two soldiers and Maryutka with the prisoner on a sail boat to cross the Aral Sea to get the prisoner to headquarters more quickly. Before they sail away, the Commissar tells Maryutka not to let the Whites take the Lieutenant alive.
On the sea they run into a terrific storm. The two male soldiers are lost at sea. Maryutka and the Lieutenant land on a large sandbar that makes a small island with no vegetation. They manage to find a shack and they occupy it. They get a fire started and then take most of their clothes off to dry them. She tells the Lieutenant that her real name is Maria Filatovna. Maria says she will stand guard. The Lieutenant is exhausted and falls asleep immediately.
The Lieutenant develops a high fever. Maria becomes his nurse and takes care of him. He survives the fever. Maria gives him some soup and bread.
The detachment of White Guards finds the native village. They grab all the men. A soldier finds an epaulet and they believe it belongs to their Lieutenant. They demand to know from the village leader where is their Lieutenant? The old man will not answer, so they decide to execute him. As they prepare to fire, the young woman who had the epaulet runs in front of him to save him saying that she is the one who took the epaulet from the Lieutenant.
On the sand bar Maria tells the Lieutenant that when she first saw him she thought he has dangerous eyes, for women, that is. Maria is acting very differently. She really seems to be happy for the first time.
One day Maria comes in to tell the Lieutenant that she has found a fishing shack, a real palace, she says. They go to the new place which has food. He thanks her for saving his life.
The Lieutenant keeps calling her his man Friday, but, since she doesnít know what heís talking about, she thinks he is becoming delirious again. The Lieutenant explains that the name is from a story of a man named Robinson Crusoe. Maria wants him to tell her the story in detail. So he makes it a long story. Maria is enchanted by the story and the superb way the Lieutenant tells it. She has stars in her eyes and seems to fall in love with the Lieutenant.
When the story is over, she kisses the Lieutenant. He kisses her back and then they start kissing each other. In the morning they chase each other on the beach like lovers. They walk hand in hand along the beach. The Lieutenant tells her that these are the most content days of his life. Maria says she is happy. They talk more about their situation and the Lieutenant is shocked: "You still want to be a soldier?!" Yes she does. He says he is sick "of all that nonsense." He wants peace!
The Lieutenantís attitude bothers Maria who is totally committed to the revolution. He sees that she is upset and he apologizes if he has hurt her. Later he tells her that he will take her to his home. She asks: ". . . to loll on a feather-bed with you and eat chocolates?" She calls him a sluggard. He tells her that she has become so hardened by war. She slaps him across the face. Now the Lieutenant is upset and angry. He tells her: "I hate you!" He runs to the other end of the sand bar.
They refuse to speak to each other for awhile. He finally breaks down and apologizes. He says it pains him to hurt her. They love each other, he says. She acts very tough saying that she just forgot herself for awhile. She walks away from him.
A little later the Lieutenant hears her crying. He goes to her to comfort her. She asks: "Why did I fall in love with you?" She adds: "Youíre breaking my heart!" The Lieutenant kisses her. They make up. The Lieutenant tells her that she is so good that she doesnít even know it.
The couple sees a sail boat in the distance. They think it is a fishing vessel and will be rescued. But itís a White Guard boat! The Lieutenant is very excited to see them coming. He runs into the water and then parallel to the shore waving and screaming to the men in the boat.
Maria runs to get her rifle. She shouts for him to halt! He, all excited, just continues running to the boat. Without a thought, except for perhaps of the order not to let the Whites take the Lieutenant alive, she fires and he goes down in the water.
She stands there looking for a second or so and then realizes what she just did. She runs to him only to find him dead. She shouts: "Blue Eyes!" She sits in the water holding his dead body.
Good movie and great love story. I enjoyed it very much. The action is set during the Russian Civil War following the Russian Revolution. The Reds (communists) and the Whites (fans of a non-communist regime) fought each other to the death. About the ending. Did Maria fire out of her extreme commitment to the Revolution or because she felt she had to follow orders? What bothered me is that she didnít even stop to think about the consequences of what she was about to do! If she was just following orders, then that is forgivable, but to do it out of some sense of blind, unthinking commitment to the Revolution makes me think she is just another ordinary fool never thinking that perhaps morals and God are above nationalism and commitment to oneís country. Thinking back on it, she had to do it. But I donít really think that was her reason. She was thinking about her own commitment to the revolutionary cause. And if thatís true, I say donít ever put your country above God and the highest morals. (And Iím not using the word God in the traditional sense of the word, so the free thinkers can be assured Iím not being sentimental.)
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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