How a film about the Battle of the Ice was filmed in the summer of 1937: Wooden ice floes and other behind-the-scenes secrets
How a film about the Battle of the Ice was filmed in the summer of 1937: Wooden ice floes and other behind-the-scenes secrets

In 1937, Sergei Eisenstein, recently rehabilitated in the eyes of Soviet society, received an offer from the director of Mosfilm to create a historical picture. The director was offered plots and characters from Russian history to choose from, and he settled on the figure of Alexander Nevsky. After the release of the screens, the film overshadowed even the famous "Chapaev". The audience was amazed at the courage of the actors, who had to shoot in cold water in winter. No one guessed that the main scene of the picture, the Battle on the Ice, was filmed in a hot summer.

There is a story by Mikhail Romm about how Eisenstein, upon meeting him, asked which scenario he would choose. Romm replied that, of course, "Minin and Pozharsky" (this option was also offered to the director to choose from): after all, the 17th century, it is known how people looked and what happened there. And what is known about the era of Nevsky? “That is why,” Eisenstein replied, “I need to take Alexander Nevsky. As I do, so it will be."

This is how panoramas of non-existent cities in the pre-digital era were created in the cinema (on the set of the film "Alexander Nevsky", 1938)

Despite such a bold statement, the historical aspect of the future painting was approached very seriously: Eisenstein got genuine 13th-century weapons from the Hermitage and closely followed the production of the protagonist's armor. Antique attributes and interior items were created as accurately as possible to what historians know about those distant times. From the Chronicle of Livonia - a manuscript of Henry of Latvia - the filmmakers took the fact of a Catholic monk who played a portable organ during the battle. Especially for the film, an exact copy of a medieval instrument was made, which even worked, and an amazing historical detail was included in the film.

On the set of the film "Alexander Nevsky", 1938

As he embarked on an important "state order", Eisenstein understood how much attention would be paid to his work. He approached the choice of the screenwriter, actors and the entire film crew extremely responsibly. Timing was also very important. The entire filming process had to meet in 198 days. Due to time pressure, work on the "coldest" scene of the film was scheduled for the summer.

A place suitable for filming a massive historical battle was found right next to Mosfilm. I had to uproot the old cherry orchard, level and asphalt an area of ​​32 thousand square meters. This vast area was sprinkled with sawdust and salt, and for a frosty shine, they added naphthalene with chalk and filled it with liquid glass. The illusion of snow in black-and-white film turned out to be very authentic. A small pond played the role of Lake Peipsi, and the ice floes were made of wood, polystyrene and plywood, painted with white paint.

On the set of the film "Alexander Nevsky", 1938

For greater reliability, in addition to historical armor, historical fur coats with sheepskin coats were also sewn in the Mosfilm wardrobe workshops. The actors had to suffer in heavy and warm suits, because the summer of 1938 in Moscow turned out to be really hot. By the way, the iron armor was not props at all. They were made as similar as possible to the old ones, so they weighed about the same and were heated in the same way in the sun. The performers were burned on the hot metal, and red marks remained from the helmets on their foreheads. Makeup also had to be constantly corrected, under the scorching rays, he instantly began to "flow".

Heat on the set of the Battle of the Ice in 1938

The Battle on the Ice takes up almost a third of the film's length - it lasts 35 minutes in a film (out of 102 minutes of the total duration), which is unusual for the history of cinema. Despite the difficult conditions in which the team was forced to work, the work was completed even ahead of schedule (also surprising). We finished filming almost twice as fast as planned, in 115 shooting days. For early completion, the group was awarded a red challenge banner.

The film turned out to be incredibly timely: the theme of the struggle of the Russian people with an external enemy was consonant with the pre-war era, and under the Teutonic knights one could clearly guess Nazi Germany. This hint was so transparent that the film was withdrawn from the box office after the conclusion of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, and after the outbreak of World War II it returned to cinemas. In 1942, for the seven hundredth anniversary of the Battle on the Ice, a poster was issued with the words of Joseph Stalin: "May the courageous image of our great ancestors inspire you in this war."

Nikolay Cherkasov as Alexander Nevsky

On July 29, 1942, the Order of Alexander Nevsky was established - an award for the command staff of the Red Army. Since the lifetime portraits of Alexander Nevsky have not survived, the profile of Nikolai Cherkasov, who played the role of the Russian commander in the famous film, was placed on the order. This fact is considered unique in the history of faleristics.

Always curious about what happened on the set of films and remained behind the scenes

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