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The Queen of Spades More at IMDbPro »Pikovaya dama (original title)

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9 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Fine adaptation of Pushkin story

Author: Rosabel from Ottawa, Canada
17 November 2004

This film was a happy surprise for me - I had not realized how ambitious early Russian silent film-making was. This movie has a large cast, elaborate sets and even some tricky camera-work. It's also the earliest performance I've seen so far by Ivan Mosjoukine, and it is interesting to compare to his more mature work later in France. At this point, he is clearly learning how to play down to the camera; many scenes are just perfect in tone, mostly the ones that involve Germann (not Herman, as listed in the credits) alone and reflective. Some of the more dramatic moments still carry the traces of stage performance, and come across as a bit over-the-top, but these moments are rare. Mosjoukine is already showing some of the characteristic traits of his later film acting - his hands are particularly beautiful and expressive. He also has those light, birdlike movements, especially of the head, that come across so well on film, but would have been invisible on the live stage. He was clearly giving a great deal of thought to how to bring out the best in this new technology. 'The Queen of Spades' has some nice double-exposure effects, particularly at the end, as an unshaven, ragged Germann plays with invisible cards in his cell in the insane asylum. The ghost of the Countess is very effective here, unlike in its first appearance, where it was so clearly solid it cast shadows. I imagine doing a long scene in double exposure with the two performers so close together would have been rather difficult at the time. On the other hand, the trick photography of Germann caught in a spider web as he sinks into insanity is very effective and gripping. This is a very good movie, far more than just a footnote of early Russian film-making.

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Excellent Production of A Classic Story

Author: Snow Leopard from Ohio
22 June 2005

This Yakov Protazanov movie is an excellent adaptation of Pushkin's classic short story, "The Queen of Spades", with a very good leading performance by Ivan Mozzhukhin and an impressive production for 1916. The story is told deliberately and with considerable detail, allowing the psychological impact to sink in fully, as well as following the developments and turns of the plot itself.

All of the cast is solid, giving carefully restrained performances that work well, but Mozzhukhin stands out as German. He uses his eyes, face, and careful gestures to communicate more than the most extravagant gestures could have done. Even his occasional stylized or exaggerated moments still seem to fit in with the increasing deterioration of his character's mind.

The photography, flashbacks, and special visual effects are quite good for its era, and the special effects are incorporated well into the story. There is one very imaginative sequence that uses a flashback and a jump cut, in the scene when German comes to confront the Countess in her room. The techniques help to flesh out the character of the old Countess and to add extra tension to this crucial scene.

The production as a whole is also of good quality, with detailed settings and good use of extras in the sequences that take place in public. At the time, it would have been quite difficult to improve on this adaptation of Pushkin's story.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Russian Fantasy

Author: Cineanalyst
29 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spoilers Warning Elaborated: In this comment, I discuss the ending to this film (and other narrative moments), as well as the ending to "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari) (1920).

With this film, "The Queen of Spades", director Yakov Protazanov avoids what seemed to me his greatest weakness in the other three films of his I've seen: "Departure of a Grand Old Man" (1912), "Father Sergius" (1917) and "Aelita" (1924). That is, his films are a series of boring long takes of long shots. In this film, the camera rarely moves, but there's some editing, especially with the fantasy sequences. It also doesn't hurt that it's from a story by Pushkin, which Tchaikovsky had adapted into an opera.

The flashbacks help brake up the monotony of the static camera shots, and they do well to give the background story of the Countess. The first flashback is told by a secondary source narrator and features some well-done crosscutting between the imagined story and the storyteller. There's also a suggestion of overlapping between reality and fantasy, although not quite in the way of "Aelita". In one scene, the Countess dreams of a youthful liaison, only to have it dissolve to current reality where German is entering the room. There's also a scene with fantasy and reality in split-screen.

The ambiguity over what is real is made more evident in the film's dénouement when German becomes mad. The scene at the mental hospital mildly suggests the possibility that a madman had narrated the entire story. I might, however, be reading too much into it, as it doesn't seem so intentional as in the classic case of "Dr. Caligari". The suggestion is enough, though, and, as a result, I don't fault the film for a jump cut (which is, technically, stopping filming during a shot and then resuming without having altered the camera positioning significantly) in a scene where an extra disappears before exiting the frame.

The Countess' ghost casting a shadow may be seen as an error. And, the acting is typical for the time, even though Ivan Mozzhukhin became Russia's leading star from his partnership with Protazanov. Mozzhukhin was on the side of actors who practiced stiffness, rather than gesticulation, to express their characters. Both styles are noticeably artificial and, at times, bothersome. He does a lot with the eyes, which is emphasized by the heavy mascara; a tracking shot of him, as German, entering the casino a third time highlights this.

Protazanov managed, after a brief refuge in France, to continue making films in the Soviet Union; although, as far as I know, he never subscribed to the montage school, as demonstrated by "Aelita", which does have a communist standpoint nonetheless. He certainly didn't have the genius of Yevgeni Bauer, but that's an unfair comparison. With "The Queen of Spades", he does show skill, and, if I ever get a chance, I'd be happy to see more of his work.

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THE QUEEN OF SPADES (Yakov Protazanov, 1916) **1/2

Author: MARIO GAUCI ( from Naxxar, Malta
19 October 2013

The supremely stylish yet chilling 1949 British adaptation of Aleksandr Pushkin's supernatural tale is not only the best-regarded version of this particular source, but among the finest genre outings to emerge from that country; with this in mind, I do not expect it to be surpassed by any other rendition I may care to check out! The film under review (snippets from which, found on the RusCiCo/Image DVD of another popular Russian horror story i.e. THE VIY {1967}, had first intrigued me some years back!), in fact, is one of two I intend including in the current Halloween challenge – the other, even less well-known, emanating from France in 1965. This Russian production, then, dates from the early days of cinema, so that the camera remains static throughout and the cast tends to gesticulate (apart from being heavily made-up, especially around the eyes, in order for their facial expression to better register on-screen!). Still, the end result is not ineffective for all that – after all, leading man Ivan Mozzhukhin (whom I was familiar with so far via THE LATE MATHIAS PASCAL {1926}) was a genuine star, comparable in his handsome looks and thespian skills to John Barrymore – where a sudden transition, within the same shot, between the past and the present proves its single most creative touch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the devilish pact sealing the card-playing trick is absent here, relegating the fantasy elements to the Countess' ghostly visitation at the very end!; for the record, director Protazanov would later helm the seminal Sci-Fi epic AELITA, QUEEN OF MARS (1924) – which I do own a copy of but have yet to watch…

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An Overlooked Film

Author: SukkaPunch from United States
20 January 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The "Queen of Spades," from 1916 is a very interesting film, worth more than the lack of attention which it has received. The film revolves around a young man named German (Ivan Mozzhukhin,) who becomes obsessed about learning a magical secret on how to consistently win at cards. He seeks to learn this secret from an elderly countess who learned about this in her youth. Eventually, he gains this knowledge after killing the countess, but at a cost to his sanity and inner peace.

"Queen of Spades," stands out to me for many reasons. Foremost, the film was released before the Russian Revolution, making it one of the few surviving Russian full-length films from that era. Because of this, the viewer has the opportunity to glimpse aspects of Russian aristocracy without elements of Soviet propaganda which bashes the bourgeois; which makes this a rare look into pre-Soviet Russia.

As for the editing and pacing of the film, I would argue that it is very ahead of its time. Not being an expert on films of the 1910s, I have very little to compare it too, but I can say that this film is very on par with films of the early 20s. The cross dissolves in this film, as well as the double exposures during the insanity scenes work very well. I also enjoyed with film because of its effective uses of flashbacks and changes of juxtaposition.

The acting in the film is nothing worth bragging about, but it isn't bad either. Without a doubt, the best performance in the film is done by the film's lead Ivan Mozzhukhin who emotes pretty well, and his expressions after he loses his mind are fairly impressive. The rest of the cast do their job well, but not great.

The greatness in this film lays in its ability to tell the story, (which it is certainly an interesting story,) as well as its ahead of its time editing.

I've only seen this film available online and I know of no online stores which sell it. The internet's version of this film is pretty good however, and comes with a well done sound track.

I highly recommend this film for those who love early silents, especially if they like films which include elements of horror.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Moments before Eisenstein

Author: chaos-rampant from Greece
9 April 2012

Here's an interesting film from the days before tireless proles dominated the Russian screens; army officers in impeccable attire gamble and drink and tell stories, pampered aristocrats stroll and saunter about in upscale establishments in Paris, and the only hint of poverty is that the poor young maid is dissatisfied by having to serve the old countess.

It is important to appreciate the significance of this apart from the screen, I feel. These characters and their decadent, opulent world are months away from actually being swept away from life, as are the filmmakers and actors seen here. Both the people who inspired the characters and actors portraying them, a lot of them at least, would be forced to go on the trail and into exile in France or Germany, and for a lot of the same reasons.

And this is what our film is partially about. A complacent upper class who gambles away its fortunes because there is nothing else to pass the time with, whose biggest worry is how to keep the husband count from getting to find out, or how to steal the secret way of quickly making easy money. Of course, how a countess can be in the position to have so much money to idly lose on the turn of a card is strategically absent from the film.

The games of cards as fate left to chance, transient life where playing your cards in certain order does not ensure control of the outcome, and karmic retribution on the closing end of this cycle.

For the most part, this is ordinary stuff right down to the supernatural visitation of guilt, except perhaps for two things.

Ordinarily, the young army officer eager to learn the secret of the cards would be portrayed in ways that immediately signalled to the audience the right distance to keep from him and a karmic downfall in the works. Mozzhukhin portrays him instead as a blank slate of pensive introversion, a folded card waiting its turn and perhaps bluffing. Kuleshov would make a lot of this once Mozzhukhin had been swept away to France and Soviets had taken control of images to build reality - including Mozzhukhin's.

The other is that this is not theatric, even though it seems so at first glance. Tchaikovksy had adapted the same story for the opera, and we may presume this derives from that stage. The camera is static, yes, but notice some very cinematic framing going on - a shot of the secret being whispered in flashback cuts to match the present time telling of the story among the officers. Also notice a second-hand narrator of the story and later an unreliable mind with unsure footing in the world, both these we encounter again in the films of Epstein - who, no doubt, would have come into contact with the Russian emigres in Paris, himself one.

This is far from Proletkult's radical space for the eye, but as with Bauer, it has a certain stately finesse.which, no doubt, comes from a foot in the complacent life shown here.

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