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The Czar Wants to Sleep (1934)

Poruchik Kizhe (original title)
A sarcastic comedy about the Russian-Soviet bureaucracy, based on the eponymous novella by Yuri Tynyanov. Set in the reign of Emperor Paul I. A copying error by a military scribe turns the ... See full summary »



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Cast overview:
Mikhail Yanshin ...
Boris Gorin-Goryainov ...
Count von Pahlen
Nina Shaternikova ...
Princess Gagarina
Sofiya Magarill ...
Princess Gagarina's companion
Erast Garin ...
Mikhail Rostovtsev ...
Fortress commandant


A sarcastic comedy about the Russian-Soviet bureaucracy, based on the eponymous novella by Yuri Tynyanov. Set in the reign of Emperor Paul I. A copying error by a military scribe turns the Russian words for "the lieutenants, however" into what looks like "lieutenant Kizhe". The Tsar reads the error, and wants to meet this (non-existent) Lieutenant Kizhe. His courtiers are at first too frightened to contradict the Tsar, but then the fiction turns out to be all too convenient for them. So Lieutenant Kizhe gets himself exiled to Siberia, recalled from exile, promoted, and married. He dies and receives a state funeral. In many ways, he is the most charming and lovable character in the film, even though he remains throughout the film a "confidential person, without a shape". Written by Steve Shelokhonov, rev. by Skripach

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Drama





Release Date:

9 December 1934 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Czar Wants to Sleep  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Though the film is little known today, the five-movement suite Prokofiev arranged from his music for it (usually called "Lieutenant Kijé Suite") has become a standard classical concert piece and has been recorded often. See more »


The document with the crucial slip of the pen as corrected by Tsar Paul I is clearly not the same as the one written by the army scribe in the previous scene. In the first version, the second (mistaken) letter K is clearly larger than the first. In the version corrected by the Tsar, they are the same size. (Though the subtitles have the Tsar capitalizing the second K, what he is actually doing is adding a letter between the two two Ks - the Russian "hard sign" required at the end of many words in the pre-revolutionary spelling system. The effect is the same: to create a fictional Lieutenant Kizhe.) See more »


Palen: [subtitled version] The prisoner is confidential, and has no shape.
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Referenced in The Horse's Mouth (1958) See more »


Lieutenant Kije
Sergei Prokofiev
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User Reviews

The unexpected consequences of a typographical error
22 January 2016 | by (Tappan, New York) – See all my reviews

Outside Russia "Lieutenant Kizhe" is known chiefly as the source of Serge Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kizhe Suite", which he based upon the original score that he wrote for this film. That's unfortunate because this move is a very funny satirical farce about the unexpected consequences of a typographical error and deserves recognition in for its own merits. In that sense, while watching this I couldn't help wondering if it might have provided the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's movie, "Brazil".

Tsar Paul is such a martinet that his courtiers are so terrified to admit to a typographical error in the regimental orders of the day that they resort to inventing a non-existent Lieutenant Kizhe in order to comply with what is written down on the paper. However, matters begin to spiral out of control when the eccentric Tsar takes a personal interest in the "confidential and invisible" officer.

This movie is highly recommended to anyone who thinks that Russian Cinema begins and ends with the heavy, epic propaganda films of Serge Eisenstein. "Lieutenant Kizhe" is well produced and the actors are excellent, but the material is never ponderous. incidentally, for those who may be interested, it is available on Youtube. I might add that even the subtitles are very legible, which is not always the case with Russian films.

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