The Maxim Trilogy - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USSR, 1935–39

Directors: Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg

PART 1: YUNOST MAXIMA (The Youth of Maxim)



Production: Lenfilm (Leningrad); black and white, 35mm; Part 1: running time: 98 minutes, some versions 86 minutes; length: 2,678 meters; Released 27 January 1935. Part 2: running time: 112 minutes; length: 3,082 meters; released 23 May 1937. Part 3: running time: 120 minutes; length: 3,276 meters; released 2 February 1939.

Scenario and screenplay: Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg (with Lev Slavin for Part 1); assistant directors: N. Kosheverova, Kh. Lokshina, and M. Nesterov; photography: Andrei Moskvin; sound: I Volk; art directors: Evgeny Enei (Parts 1 and 2), V. Vlasov (Part 3); music: Dmitri Shostakovich.

Cast: Boris Chirkov ( Maxim ); Valentina Kibardina ( Natasha ); A. Kulakov ( Andrei ); Mikhail Tarkhanov ( Polivanov ); M. Shchelkovsky ( Foreman ); S. Leontyev ( Engineer ); P. Volkov ( Worker ); Stepan Kayukov ( Dyoma ); Alexandr Zrazhevsky ( Yerofeyev ); A. Kuznetsov ( Turaev ); Mikhail Zharov ( Dymba, the Anarchist ); Vasily Vanin ( Nikolai ); A. Chistyakov ( Mishchenko ); Yuri Tolubeyev ( Bugai ); A. Bondi ( Menshevik ); Vasily Merkuriev ( Student ); N. Kriuchkov ( Soldier ); Maxim Strauch ( Lenin ); Mikhail Gelovani ( Stalin ); Natalia Uzhvi ( Yevdokia ); L. Lyubashevski ( Sverdlov ); B. Zhukovski ( Attorney ); D. Dudnikov ( Ropshin ); M. Nazarov ( Lapshin ).

Awards: Order of Lenin to Lenfilm studios for producing Yunost Maxima , 1935. Stalin Prize awarded to the entire trilogy, 1941.



Leyda, Jay, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film , London, 1960.

Verdone, Mario, and Barthélemy Amengual, La Feks , Paris, 1970.

Klinowski, Jacek, and Adam Garbicz, Cinema, The Magic Vehicle: A Guide to Its Achievement: Journey One: The Cinema Through 1949 , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975.

Rapisardi, Giusi, editor, La Feks: Kozintsev e Trauberg , Rome, 1975.

Learning, Barbara, Grigori Kozintsev , New York, 1980.

Houten, Theodore van, Leonid Trauberg and His Films: Always the Unexpected , 's-Hertogenbosch, 1989.

Houten, Theodore van, 'Eisenstein Was Great Eater': In Memory of Leonid Trauberg , 's-Hertogenbosch, 1991.


Pudovkin, V. I., in New Theatre , February 1935.

New York Times , 12 May 1939.

Boehnel, William, in New York World Telegram , 13 May 1939.

Variety (New York), 17 May 1939.

Kozintsev, Grigori, "Over the Parisiana," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1962–63.

Museum of Modern Art Department of Film Program Notes (New York), 25 September-11 November 1969.

"Grigori Kozintsev," in International Film Guide 1972 , London, 1971.

"A Child of the Revolution," in Cinema in Revolution , edited by Luda and Jean Schnitzer, New York, 1973.

Volochova, Sonia, "Films from the Archive," in Museum of Modern Art Department of Film Program Notes (New York), 26–27 February 1987.

Henderson, Brian, "Leonid Trauberg and His Films," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 46, no. 1, Fall 1992.

Kepley, V., Jr., "Pudovkin, Socialist Realism, and the Classic Hollywood Style," in Journal of Film and Video (Atlanta), vol. 47, no. 4, 1995/1996.

"Etpy bol'shogo puti," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow) no. 5, 1996.

* * *

The first episode of The Maxim Trilogy was released a few months after Chapaev and provided an alternative, equally successful, answer to that perennial but seldom soluble obsession of the Soviet arts establishment: the search for an ideal Communist hero. Whereas the Vasiliev brothers had patiently re-created Chapaev, a real-life champion, the directorial team of Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg came up with an entirely synthetic hero, their own invention, Maxim. First envisaged as a conventional proto-Bolshevik—in an early treatment described as "a lean lad, of intelligent appearance, with a sharp nose and a shock of straight hair, withdrawn a bookworm self-taught"—he grew in the hands of the young but highly experienced and original filmmakers into a very different, more interesting and much more believable individual, with a touch of Til Eulenspiegel perhaps, or, as Kozintsev himself observed, with his roots in the favourite characters of Russian folklore, of fairground farces, Petrushka and Ivan Durak (Ivan the Fool), the holy innocent and the dumb youngest brother who always gets the Princess in the end.

This, of course, was only Maxim's ancestry: his personality grew, as might be expected, from the workings of two creative and complementary minds. But Maxim was no test-tube baby: together with the scripts as a whole he was developed against a background of thorough research into the history and actual documents of the period and locale—pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg. Once cast in the role, Boris Chirkov joined the process and was made, for instance, to try out any number of pre-1914 songs before one was found to fit the character: it was to become a leit-motif for the whole trilogy—but the composer, Shostakovich, and the directors were well aware of the oft-neglected truth that "music from nowhere," however inspired, whatever its contribution to mood, is the enemy of reality. In the first film, The Youth of Maxim , therefore, except for the opening prologue, there is little symphonic "background," only the actual sounds of song, accordion and guitar that belonged to the environment and the era.

Sense of period is also enhanced by Andrei Moskvin's photography and Evgeny Enei's art direction; both men were regular members of K and T's team. A memorable example is the scene in which police break up a demo in front of a huge bill-board announcing "ARA PILLS—THE BEST IN THE WORLD," giving us in one bold brush-stroke, as it were, an uncluttered background to the action, a sharp stab of visual irony and, in the simplistic advertising message, so remote in time and space from Madison Avenue, a glimpse of a complacent and unsuspecting "bourgeois" society. By such juxtapositions, by a succession of apparently disparate, even "unimportant" images, by a series of incidents rather than a relentless plot, the whole trilogy is allowed to grow. There is, however, a stylistic unity, and the strong central character helps to hold the kaleidoscope together.

On the other hand, Maxim is not continuously shoved into the centre of things. Dovzhenko reproached K and T for this: "Maxim is frequently out of focus!" he complained, comparing the film, in a sense, unfavourably with Chapaev : that film's "secret of success" was said to be that "the Commander is always to be found at the centre of things." But within a much freer framework, and throughout the whole trilogy, Maxim is never too far away. The real "secret of success" shared by both teams of directors (but absent from most attempts to idealize revolutionary heros) was a warm and liberating sense of humour.

Most of the belly laughs are in the first film: open and innocent, the youthful Maxim, chasing a clucking chicken or a pretty girl, singing his "Blue Globe" song, provides plenty of fun himself, and there are many humorous confrontations as the future revolutionary learns who his enemies are—masters, bosses, police, informers.

In Part II, The Return of Maxim , although he still appears to be the same naive youth, his naiveté has become a sort of disguise: for Maxim is now a revolutionary, working in the "underground." In the course of this dangerous activity he has to learn who are his "new enemies—Mensheviks and dissidents," says a Soviet film historian, who adds: "Maxim shows himself unable to reconcile himself with any kind of ideological vacillation." But the heavy political message is made much lighter (in both senses) by a masterly evocation of the glorious summer of 1914, the last before "the lights went out all over Europe," particularly poignant perhaps in Saint Petersberg.

In Part III, The Vyborg Side (the slummier side of St. Petersberg), although never allowed to forget, or regret, his working-class origins, and not entirely denied his sense of humour, Maxim is already a commissar somewhat sober, dignified and strict. In the final significant sequence, which is played for laughs, he confronts some definitely "vacillating" bank employees, who plead "We are peaceful Russian people." "What's Russian about you?" he replies— "Messrs Schumacher, Andersen, etc. Your surnames are German: you have consorted with English spies and have thought about setting up Japanese accounting systems." An odd piece of dialogue, one might think, when one of the directors was called Trauberg: but, with the Nazi menace already building up, it is an early example of the shift from the "class struggle" towards the more chauvinistic "patriotic" propaganda of the following decade.

And even the immensely popular "synthetic" hero was not allowed to die. By popular demand the somewhat reluctant Boris Chirkov was made to re-enact Maxim (by now a member of the Central Committee) in Ermler's two-part Great Citizen , just before World War II and, in 1941, still singing his "Blue Globe" song (with appropriate new lyrics), he opened the first "Fighting Film Album," under Gerasimov's direction, in Meeting with Maxim .

Indeed, the outstanding excellence of the Maxim Trilogy (and the first part, at least, is a true classic) has been almost overshadowed by the authors' successful creation of their "Communist hero"—one of the few fictitious characters who, like Sherlock Holmes, is obstinately believed, against all the evidence, to have actually existed.

—Robert Dunbar

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