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It's June, 1941 in a farming cooperative in the Soviet Socialist Republic of the Ukraine. Although the citizens of the cooperative hear about the atrocities of the war on their radios, they are on the most part not yet directly affected by it. It's the end of the school year, and some of the older youth are excited about their futures. Beyond that, a small group of those youths are looking most forward to their imminent vacation to Kiev, where they are planning to hike for the four or five days it takes to get there above their planned three days in the city itself. They include: Damian Terasa Simonov, who finished top of his class including getting a scholarship to study at the State University of Kiev in the fall; his girlfriend, Marina Pavlov, the two who will be separated for the year as she finishes her schooling and who plan eventually to reunite in Kiev not only for Marina to go to university as well but for the two to get married; Kolya Simonov, Damian's older, more worldly ...Written by
The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film. See more »
In the opening moments of the film, Damian slides out from under a tractor that has rubber tires. Moments later the tractor is shown as having only steel wheels and no rubber tires. See more »
Boris Stepanich Simonov, truck driver:
Comrades, we have good reasons to know our country is at war. In our small village alone, 30 people have been injured. Eleven people have been killed. But his is not a time for mourning - it is time for revenge. We will divide into two groups, each to do his duty from this day until death. The able-bodied men are to come forward to the right of this building. We will move from our village to the hills to take our position as guerrillas. I will go immediate to comrade Commander Petrov's garrison...
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In its time, this probably fulfilled its desired purpose reasonably well, with a fine cast and some effective scenes depicting the suffering caused by Nazi troops. It is probably more interesting now, when it can be viewed with more objectivity, and when it is interesting for a new set of reasons. Its depiction of life in the Soviet Union is a revealing statement about the priorities of its time. The actual movie and story, viewed apart from any and all political issues, work quite well at times, while falling short at others.
The first part of the story simply dwells on the daily lives of the residents of a Ukrainian farm town. This part is quite slow, and would be of little interest except for the sharp change of tone that comes with the Nazi attack. As banal as the lives of the villagers may have seemed, they certainly did nothing to deserve the suffering they bore as a result of the invasion. Things pick up dramatically in the second part, and at the same time the characters come more sharply into focus.
Naturally, the scenario is more fiction than fact, especially in its idyllic depiction of life under Stalin's rule. More than anything else, this reflects the urgent desire of the US Government (whose hand was supposedly quite active in the production) to promote full-fledged public support for working with the Soviet Union against the Axis. Like the majority of features in any era that address a then-contemporary issue, it looks much different when viewed years afterward. The truth about both Stalin and Hitler is much easier for us now to determine than it was for the movie's original viewers.
The cast helps considerably in making it work on a dramatic level. Experienced stars like Walter Huston and Walter Brennan combine with then-young performers like Anne Baxter, Farley Granger, and others to create a generally interesting set of characters. Jane Withers also has a good role, as a hapless but often endearing young woman who is desperate to help. Lillian Hellman brought her considerable reputation to the screenplay, although this kind of material is not really her strength. Lewis Milestone shows his steady hand in the battle sequences.
Because the cast, director, and writer all add their weight to the production, this works well enough as a fictional drama as long as you set aside what you thought or think about the USSR. As history, the story is not reliable, but the movie itself is interesting as one of the more earnest attempts of its day to use cinema to influence public opinion.
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