The Assassination of Trotsky (1972)




Director: Joseph Losey.

Cast:  Richard Burton (Leon Trotsky), Alain Delon (Frank Jackson), Romy Schneider (Gita Samuels), Valentina Cortese (Natalia Sedowa Trotsky), Enrico Maria Salerno (Salazar), Luigi Vannucchi (Ruiz), Duilio Del Prete (Felipe), Jean Desailly (Alfred Rosmer), Simone ValPre (Marguerite Rosmer), Carlos Miranda (Sheldon Harte), Peter Chatel (Otto), Michael Forest (Jim), Marco Lucantoni (Seva), Claudio Brook (Roberto), Jack Betts (Lou).

French-Italian-British film.


Story of the last days of the theorist of the Russian communist revolutionaries, hunted down by his once communist allies. 


1879  --  Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein. 

1896  --  student revolutionary at age 17.

1900  --  arrested; exile in Siberia.

1907-1917  -  exile from Czarist Russia. 

1917  --  leader of the Russian Revolution. 

1918  -- founder of the Red Army.

1929  --  exiled by Stalin to Turkey.

1932  --  wandering exile. 


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

Mexico City 1940.  Trotsky and his wife live in a housing compound surrounded by a high wall and watched by private guards.  In Mexico there is a split between the Stalinists and the Trotskyites and, during the May Day parades, the two groups clash.

In his compound Trotsky says he and his wife have lost four children to his enemies siding with Stalin.  He had a son poisoned, a daughter driven to suicide and a son-in-law sent to Siberia.  Trotsky takes a liking to one of his guards, Sheldon Harte. 

Gita Samuels works for Trotsky.  She has a new boyfriend, Frank Jacson who she calls Jacques.  She loves him very much but he is a very moody person changing from elation to depression relatively quickly.   Gita wants to introduce Frank to Trotsky, who she greatly admires, but Mr. Jacson says he doesn't want to meet the man. 

A Communist muralist leads a group of men dressed in police uniforms on an attack on the Trotsky compound.  With automatic weapons they shoot around one hundred rounds into Trotsky's bedroom.  But Trotsky and his wife dived under their bedroom bed and escaped harm.  The police arrive and tell Trotsky that the guard Sheldon was the one who let the attackers into the compound.  Trotsky refuses to believe it.  (Later Trotsky is taken to the morgue to identify a dead body as Sheldon.)

Communist Frank Jacson meets with his Communist contact and they talk about getting rid of Trotsky.  Frank volunteers to take some friends of Trotsky and his wife to Vera Cruz.   He tells Gita that he now wants to meet Trotsky.  Frank starts coming to the compound to pick up Gita, but he tells the guards that he does not want to enter the compound.  One of the guards remarks that Frank is one of the few people in Mexico City who doesn't want to get into the compound.  The guards come to know Frank over time.  On the day of the trip to Vera Cruz, Gita tells Frank to come into the compound, which he does.  Trotsky is introduced to Frank and they talk for a while. 

As Frank visits the compound more and more everyone becomes relaxed around him.  That is everyone but Mrs. Trotsky.  She talked with Frank for awhile when her husband was unavailable and she thought his responses very strange.  He asks Trotsky to read and review an article he has been working on about current trends in France.  Trotsky agrees and Frank stands behind him while he reads and makes changes to the manuscript.  It looks like Frank is very torn about whether or not to act.  After quite of bit of hesitation, Frank takes the article, thanks Trotsky and leaves.

Gita tells Frank that she can't take his moods anymore.  She wants him to tell her what's wrong.  She tells him that when in these moods of his she wonders what he might do.  Frank starts packing and she becomes very upset.  She tells him:  "If you go, I'll kill myself.  I don't know who I am and I don't know who you are."  Frank then says he is not leaving so she should calm down.

Frank shows up at Trotsky's den.  He wants Trotsky to look at his article once more.  Frank stands behind Trotsky again, but this time he takes out a hand pick from the overcoat he carries.  But again Frank hesitates.  Trotsky starts to become uncomfortable and turns around to look at Frank.  As Trotsky becomes more alarmed and starts to rise, Frank strikes him with the pick on the top of his head near the forehead.  Trotsky becomes all bloody, but starts to struggle with Frank.  Pushed back, Trotsky is able to throw a book at Frank.  Frank just stands there as the guards jump on him bringing him down to the floor.  They then proceed to beat and kick Frank  Trotsky says: "It's happened at last."  Meanwhile, Frank acts like a crazy man shouting and screaming such things as "They got my mother."  With his wife Trotsky is taken to a hospital.  The doctors examine the wound and try to treat it.

Gita at first does not believe the police that her boyfriend has attacked and wounded Trotsky.  Trotsky dies in a hospital bed.  The police bring in Gita to see Frank and now she tries to attack Frank, but is held back by the police.  She shouts:  "Kill him! Kill him. All lies." 

After Gita is taken out, the police interrogator asks Frank: "Who are you?"  He merely responds:  "I killed Trotsky."


This is an o.k. movie.  It was a little hard to take big-voiced Richard Burton as the more intellectual looking and thinner Trotsky.  The relationship between Gita and Frank seemed strange.  It also seemed as though implied that the famous Communist muralist Diego Rivera tried to kill Trotsky.  But it was at Diego and artist Frida Kahlo's home where Trotsky stayed and where he was eventually assassinated. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1937 (January)  --  Trotsky, Natalia Sedova, and some followers arrive in Mexico.  They stayed in a suburb of Mexico City known as Coyoacan in the house lent to them by the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and the artist Frida Kahlo. 

The future assassin of Trotsky, Raymond Mercader (pseudonym Jacques Mornard) went to Moscow where he was prepared to assassinate Trotsky. 

In France, Mercader was introduced to the young American Trotskyite Sylvia Ageloff.  She eventually came to work for Trotsky in Coyoacan. Mercader seduced Sylvia and used her to get at Trotsky. 

1940 (January)  --  Mercader accompanies Sylvia to Mexico.  He starts to let the Trotsky household and the guards at the compound get to know him.  

1940 (May 24)  --  a group of armed men raided the Trotsky compound.  They machine-gunned Trotsky's bedroom, but Trotsky and Natalia were not hurt having jumped under their bed.  The guard Robert Sheldon Harte was tricked into letting the raider into the compound.  Trotsky's grandson, Seva, was slightly injured by a bullet. (Sheldon was later found dead in a lime pit.)

Mercader met Trotsky for the first time a few days after the May 24 raid.  His first private meeting with Trotsky was just a dress rehearsal for the real thing. 

The police arrested some of the raiders of May 24.  Their leader was David Alfaro Siqueiros, a well-known painter and a leading member of the Mexican Communist Party.

1940 (August 20)  --  Mercader delivers a lethal blow to the back of Trotsky's head with a sawed-off ice axe he hid in his rain coat.  Trotsky was still alive and he struggled with his assassin and thereby prevented Mercader from delivery more blows. 

1941 (August 21)  --  Trotsky dies in the hospital. 

1941 (March)  --  the Communists placed pressure on the Mexican government and the raiders of Trotsky's compound were released.  (And this despite the fact that Sigueiros had bragged about his role in the raid.)

Mercader was sentenced to twenty years in prison. 

After his release from prison, Mercader was honored in eastern Europe. 


See: The Assassination of Trotsky Lynn Walsh.



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