Well, I tell you what, it’s a good thing that this part of the movie recaps the first one in a “last time, on Ivan the Terrible …” style. After all, it wasn’t actually released to the public until 1958, a few years after Stalin’s death. Also, the characters’ and actors’ names are also recapped, which I found helpful, as I was spending the first movie referring to the characters as That Dude, The Other Dude, The Dude that Became a Monk, The Dude Who Could Play Jesus in a Movie, The Creepy Lady Who Looks Like a Dude, and Her Son.
So Part II picks up in 1566 or so, and Ivan is well on his way to being a crazy despot. His main focus is how he is all alone, and how he can trust no one. No one loves him, everyone hates him, he might as well eat worms. However, Ivan is still battling the boyars, and we even get a treat of a flashback, showing how his mother was allegedly poisoned by the boyars so that they could take control and parcel out the “lands of Russia to foreigners”. Ivan is also still grieiving for his wife Anatasia, murdered in the previous movie by Ivan’s own aunt, who is still schemeing to get her son Vladimir posted as “The Boyar Tsar”. (Never mind the fact that Ivan had at least a half-dozen wifes after Anatasia.)
The movie is still sumptuous in its settings and costuming, but now the acting and cinematogrography seems to get more and more bombastic. There are a lot of tightly posed closeups, shadows, and swashbuckling Shakespearean-type acting that even the Alabama Shakespeare Festival would envy. Even better, near the middle of the film, it breaks into luscious color, featuring what looks like a mash up of Jerome Robbins’ Small House of Uncle Thomas ballet from The King and I and the Bottle Dance from Fiddler on the Roof:
Eventually, a murder plot is foiled, and Ivan continues to reign supreme in Russia, knowing that his enimies in Moscow are vanquished, and he can now turn his sights on reunifying Russia without those pasky boyars getting in his way. A Part III was originally intended, but seeing as how Stalin hated this one, most of the film that had been produced for Part III was destroyed and the whole project scrapped. Sergei Eisenstein, the writer and director, died in 1948. Sergei Prokofiev’s music was adapted into a ballet, Ivan the Terrible, in 1975.
What the K.C. is knitting while watching: