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Nekhlyudov, a Russian nobleman serving on a jury, discovers that the young girl on trial, Katusha, is someone he once seduced and abandoned and that he himself bears responsibility for reducing her to crime. He sets out to redeem her and himself in the process. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Moving story of one man's search for truth in a disintegrating society
Russia is portrayed as rotten, a grotesquely unequal society ripe for revolution. The aristocracy solely intent on maintaining their privileges, the army a brutalising institution of gamblers, womanisers and drunks, and the law a cynical façade for savage punishment of the peasant majority. Only the church is handled with respect.
Frederic March is excellent as the three Dmitris; clean-shaven as the intense romantic schoolboy, moustached as the coarse swaggering cavalryman, and a horrible little goatee as the urban intellectual (quite a touch of Ivan Karamazov about him). Anna Sten as Katusha, herself Russian, is only seen as pretty maid and sad prisoner but brings beauty and charm to both roles.
Both direction and photography are fine, only marred a couple of times by use of obvious backcloths. Outdoor scenes have Californian light and vegetation, with the railways using 19th century American locomotives.
Dialogue is mostly good until Dmitri starts his soul-searching, where the turgidity no doubt reflects the original text. Music is superb, particularly the long scene of the Easter service in the village, full of song, chant and exclamation all in sonorous Russian. That scene marks the peak of the story, as the people celebrate Christ's rising with joyful kisses and the young couple realise they have risen from the innocence of childhood to being potential lovers. It is all downhill for them from then on: they will suffer and be entombed in Siberia.
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