(director: Rouben Mamoulian; screenwriters: from the novel Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy/Maxwell Anderson/Leonard Praskins/Preston Sturges; cinematographer: Gregg Toland; editor: Otho Lovering; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Anna Sten (Katusha Maslova), Fredric March (Prince Dmitri Nekhlyudov), Jane Baxter (Missy Kortchagin), C. Aubrey Smith (Prince Kortchagin), Sam Jaffe (Gregory Simonson), Ethel Griffies (Aunt Marie), Gwendolyn Logan (Aunt Sophia); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel Goldwyn; MGM; 1934)

“This 19th-century costume drama was saved from its lapses by the grandiose direction of Rouben Mamoulian.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the sixth film version of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection. It was intended as a starring vehicle for Samuel Goldwyn’s protégé Anna Sten. This 19th-century costume drama was saved from its lapses by the grandiose direction of Rouben Mamoulian (“Becky Sharp”/”Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) and the stuning photography of Gregg Toland. The screenplay is handled by playwright Maxwell Anderson, Leonard Praskins, and Preston Sturges (used to bring some light touches to the heavy melodrama). The first half is animated and moving, while the second half is mired in the doldrums and fails to completely satisfy.

It opens in the spring of 1875 in czarist Russia, and shows blonde servant farm peasant Katusha Maslova (Anna Sten) in the field excited about the return of her childhood playmate, Prince Dmitri Nekhlyudov (Fredric March), from military boarding school after six years away. Dmitri is surprised to find Katusha has grown into a beautiful full-figured and desirous woman and openly flirts with her and spouts his radical ideas about everybody being equal, which she doesn’t seem to grasp. Their love is forbidden in such a restricted society, where everyone must know their place. The Prince disturbs his conservative Aunt Marie (Ethel Griffies) and Aunt Sophia (Gwendolyn Logan) by stating he does not wish to become an army officer and raves about reading the political reformer and writer Grigory Simonson. He tells of being inspired to enter the civil service and improve the life of the serfs. After their innocent summer romance, Dmitri returns to the army and promises to visit next summer. However two years pass without a visit, as Dmitri enjoys the aristocratic military life that calls for superficial games of riding, drinking and womanizing. Returning on Easter, he gets hot watching Katusha during a midnight mass celebration in the Russian Orthodox Church as Katusha is pleased he still likes her. That night they make it in the greenhouse, but by the next morning he’s gone back to the army without a word to her. She’s further insulted that he left in an envelope one hundred rubles, but no note explaining his actions. Katusha throws away the money and becomes embittered with Dmitri. When the aunts discover she’s pregnant, they fire her suspecting Dmitri is the father–something she never reveals. The downtrodden Katusha buries her unbaptized infant son when she’s unable to reach Dmitri and tell him he’s the father and she needs his help. Katusha then goes to Moscow and to survive becomes a prostitute. After seven years of not hearing from Dmitri, who is now engaged to Missy (Jane Baxter), the wealthy daughter of the influential judge, Prince Kortchagin (C. Aubrey Smith), he’s asked to serve on a jury in his court. Dmitri’s shocked to find that the innocent Katusha is being implicated in the murder of a merchant. On the stand she tells how the real killers fooled her into thinking she was giving the victim a powder instead of poison. The judge sentences her to five years hard labor in Siberia. This causes Dmitri to have a change of heart about how he’s lived his life, as he prays to God and asks forgiveness for all the wrongs he committed and vows to turn his life around to make amends. He gives away all his land to the serfs and joins Katusha as she’s being processed to enter Siberia, and tells her he wants to “live again” with her forgiveness, help and love; that he’s willing to stay with her for the entire five years in Siberia, saying he will never leave her again. Our hero takes a pro-Communist stand, something almost unheard of in Hollywood films and for that alone the film deserves props for its daring stand even though it was handled clumsily and seemed like cornball hogwash.

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