The Death Ray

No rating due to partly missing film

In a nutshell: This 1925 Soviet action film by master film theorist Lev Kuleshov is all about editing and light-hearted spy fun in a pre-James Bond era. Both critics and the audince found the film too experimental or too dumb. Still it is a masterpiece of expressive editing and has some spectacular stunts.

The Death Ray (Luch Smerti). 1925, Russia/USSR. Written and directed by Lev Kuleshov, Vsevolod Pudovkin. Based on the novel Lord of Iron (Povelityel Zhelyeza) by Valentin Katayev (uncertain, uncredited). Starring: Porfiri Podobed, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Sergei Komarov, Vladimir Fogel, Alexandra Kokhlova. Produced for Gosfilm. IMDb score: 6.4

One of the film's many exciting action scenes.

One of the film’s many exciting action scenes.

No-one should fault me for not trying to dig up what I can about these films. In researching this film I have requested corrections for both the film’s English Wikipedia page and IMDb.

The problem with Lev Kuleshov’s 1925 film Luch Smerti, or The Death Ray, is that there is very little information to be found about it online, even on Russian web pages. This is a bit surprising, as Kuleshov was one of the Soviet Union’s foremost directors and The Death Ray was made with a large budget and was highly publicized when it was released. It was, however, a flop both with audiences and critics, and it was later disowned and buried by the powers that be (was), because the Soviet bureacrats under Stalin thought it was too influenced by Western cinema, and the sci-fi element didn’t sit well with the demands of Soviet realism. Continue reading

Aelita: Queen of Mars


(8/10) In a nutshell: This highly visually influential 1924 sci-fi classic from the Soviet Union is not at all the socialist propaganda it is sometimes lambasted as, but rather a daringly critical and multi-layered satire on the concept of the popular revolution. Unfortunately its multiple Earth-bound social allegories also make it surprisingly talky for a silent film, resulting in occasionally dull stretches.

Aelita: Queen of Mars. 1924, The Soviet Union/Russia. Directed by: Yakov Protazanov. Written by: Alexei Fayko, Fyodor Ostep, Yakov Protazanov. Based on the book by Alexei Tolstoy. Starring: Nikolai Tsereteli, Nikolai Batalov, Yuliya Solntseva, Valentina Kuindzhi. Cinematography: Emil Schünemann, Yuri Zhelyabuszhky. Set design: Viktor Simov. Costume design: Alexandra Exter. Produced for Mezhradom-Rus. Tomatometer: 100 %. IMDb score: 6.5

Yuliya Solntseva as the mesmerizing Aelita.

Yuliya Solntseva as the mesmerizing Aelita.

Aelita: Queen of Mars, has been just as highly praised as it has often been misunderstood, primarily by western critics. There are few, though, who contest its visual influence on the genre of science fiction. It is also the first Russian/Soviet science fiction film, closely rivalled by Lev Kuleshov’s The Death Ray (Luch Smerti) that was made the year after. The silent film was released in 1924, and was a box office hit, but a critical failure. It remains director Yakov Protazanov’s best remembered film. The film is sometimes dismissed by western (amateur) critics as a blatant example of communist propaganda, but this is not really the case, neither did the Soviet critics and politicians at the time see it as such. But we will get into that later. Continue reading