Alexander Nevsky (1938)



Director:  Sergei Eisenstein

Starring:  Nikolai Cherkassov (Prince Aleksandr Nevsky), Nikolai Okhlopkov, Alexander Abrikossov, Dmitri Orlov, Vassily Novikov. 

Country:  Russian film



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 


Scenes of an old battle field.  There had been a battle on the Neva River where Nevsky defeated the Swedes. 

The next scene is at Plescheevo Lake, where Nevsky is overseeing the netting of fish.  The Mongols of the Golden Horde ride up and demand that the Russians on the hill overlooking the lake show the appropriate respect for the Mongolian envoy.   A fracas breaks out and Nevsky puts a stop to it by his mere intervention.  Impressed, the envoy asks Nevsky if he would work for the Mongos.  Nevsky just says there is an old saying that it is better to die than leave one's homeland. 

After the Mongols depart, Nevsky discusses what to do about the Germans in the west and the Mongols in the east.  He says that they will need help from Novgorod, the last stronghold of free Russia, and that they should defeat the Germans first and then deal with the Mongols. 

In Novgorod two friends Vasily Buslai and Gavrilo Olexich show an interest in a pretty girl named Olga Danilovna.  Gavrilo asks her if he can send matchmakers to her father, but Vasily objects because he also wants to send matchmakers.  They ask her which man she is interested in, but she puts them off by saying that she will give them an answer later. 

Bells ring!  The Germans have taken Pskov.  The call goes out to send for Alexander Nevsky to lead the resistance.  Someone suggests that instead of Nevsky, their leader should be Domash, son of Tverdislav, but Domash declines the offer. 

City of Pskov.  The city lies in ruins.  It is occupied by the German Teutonic Knights.  Knight Hubertus is appointed Prince of Pskov, while knight Dietlieb is made the Prince of Novgorod.  Ananias goes to Novogorod to incite the Russians against Alexander.  The Russian Vasilia has to watch as her father and other Russian patriots are hanged and other Russian prisoners are speared and slashed to death.  The Germans even throw Russian children into the great fires.  Before Vasilia's father dies, he tells his daughter to go to Peryalslavl and get Alexander to lead the people. 

Representatives of Novgorod pay a visit to Alexander, asking him for his help.  They tell him that Izborsh has fallen.  Alexander agrees, but rejects the idea of mounting a defense.  He prefers to go on the offensive against the Germans.  In Novgorod the peasants are mobilized to help in the attack.  Ananias fails to rouse the people against Alexander.  Vasilia dons iron mail and a helmet and joins the troops.  Olga tells her two suitors that she will marry the man who performs the most bravely in the coming battle. 

Alexander's advance guard is trapped in the forest and dispersed.  Domash has fallen.  Alexander scouts out the place for the coming battle.  He decides to anchor his troops at Raven's Rock on Chudskoye Lake.  The ice is not thick, which appeals to Alexander as the Germans will have to come over the lake.  Gavrilo is to lead the left flank, Alexander the right and Vasily the center.  The main thrust will come at the center and it is Vasily's job to stop the German wedge. 

April 5, 1242.  The Germans push into the Russian center and make some progress.  Then the two Russian flanks close in on the Teutonic Knights and their support troops.  During the struggle, Nevsky does battle with the Teutonic master and wins.  The Russians carry the day as the Germans flee in panic with the Russians chasing them.  Some of the German troops are killed when the ice breaks and they fall into the icy waters.  During the battle, Vasilia kills Ananias.  Both Vasily and Govrilo survive the battle.  Olga says that she will marry Vasily since he was the bravest.  But Vasily says that the bravest soldier was actually Vasilia, then Govrilo.  So Olga takes Govrilo for her future husband.  Vasily is not too distraught because he quickly grabs Vasilia to be his future bride. 


Good movie.  The fellow playing the role of Alexander, Nikolai Cherkassov, looked like a strong leader and gave a great performance.  The movie was very patriotic with lots of love songs to Russia.  The movie was a propaganda film.  It was made at the time that the Germans were creating mayhem in Europe and  Sergei Eisenstein thought there were obvious historical parallels between the current situation in Europe and the Russian defeat of the invading Germans.  Stalin liked the film and the character of Nevsky (comparing himself to the great man).  The original movie was to have an unhappy ending with the poisoning of Nevsky, but Stalin rejected this ending for the film as not heroic enough for a great leader. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:



c. 1220 -- born Aleksandr Yaroslavich, Vladimir, Grand Principality of Vladimir; Alexander was the son of Yaroslav II Vsevolodovich, grand prince of Vladimir, the foremost among the Russian rulers.

1236 -- prince of Novgorod (1236-52); Alexander elected prince--little more than military commander--of the city of Novgorod.

1239 -- marries the daughter of the Prince of Polotsk.

1240 -- when Swedes invade Russia to punish the Novgorodians for encroaching on Finnish areas and to bar Russia's access to the sea, Alexander defeats the Swedes at the confluence of the Rivers Izhora and Neva (thereby winning the name Nevsky, "of the Neva"). He starts to intervene in city affairs and gets himself expelled as a result.

1242 -- at the urging of Pope Gregory IX to "Christianize" the Baltic region, the Teutonic Knights shortly invade Russia; in fear Novgorod invites Alexander back; Alexander decisively defeats the Germans in the "massacre on the ice" in April 1242 on a narrow channel between Lakes Chud (Peipus) and Pskov. Alexander, fights the Swedes and Germans and stops their eastward expansion. He also wins a lot of victories over the Lithuanians and the Finnic peoples.

1246 -- Prince of Kiev (1246-52); Mongols on their conquering march; Alexander's father, the grand prince Yaroslav, agrees to cooperate with the new ruler and dies in September of poisoning after his return from a visit to the Great Khan in Mongolia; Alexander and his younger brother Andrew appeal to Khan Batu of the Mongol Golden Horde, who, in turn sends them to the Great Khan, who appoints Andrew grand prince of Vladimir and Alexander prince of Kiev, probably because Alexander was Batu's favourite and Batu was in disfavor with the Great Khan.

1252 -- grand prince of Vladimir (1252-63); Sartak, Batu's son, deposes Andrew when he conspires against the Mongol overlords. Alexander, who had spilled the beans on his brother, installed as grand prince. A Mongolian imposed relative-peace in Russia lasts for over a century.

Alexander continues to rule Novgorod through his son Vasily.

1255 -- Novgorod expels Vasily and invites in an opponent of Mongol hegemony; Alexander assembles an army and reinstalls his son Vasily.

1257 -- uprising in Novgorod against the Mongols, but Alexander helps force the city to submit to Mongol census and taxation.

1262 -- uprisings break out in many towns against the Muslim tax farmers of the Golden Horde, and Alexander makes a fourth journey to Saray to avert reprisals. He succeeds and in addition and begins planning an a planned invasion of Iran.

1263 -- dies. Afterwards, Russia disintegrates into many feuding principalities.

1381 -- Alexander elevated to the status of a local saint

1547 -- canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Alexander's son Daniel founded the house of Moscow, which subsequently reunited the northern Russian lands and ruled until 1598.

1942 -- during World War II, Stalin pronounced Alexander Nevsky a national hero and established a military order in his name.


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