Sadko (1953) Film Review
Well I saw how the poll turned out, but that’s too damn bad! I’ve been feeling useless and out of sorts and while I can’t seem to make ANYONE feel better, I can goddamn fucking well review one of the best Russian movies I’ve ever seen. I know the serials won, but I don’t care. It’d take too long and I feel too crabby.
So let’s go…
Now, those of you who are fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 might recognize this movie as The Magic Voyage of Sinbad which is what it became when Roger Corman’s Filmgroup imported it. Mostly it’s just the singing that got cut, which is fine by me. I’m not much on people stopping everything to have a song. Personal preference. You can get the original at Amazon or you can get the dubbed version with the dubbed version of Sampo, which I would like to get the original of, but it’s not out.
Before we begin, I would like to address something I never knew about Russian movies. They don’t dub them in the way we do in America, but I understand they do it this way for all Russian and Polish movies. They don’t kill the sound, they just talk over it like you’d have on TV News in foreign lands. One guy reads all the male parts and one woman reads all the female parts, and they read them in a fairly flat tone without any emotion. However, as the movie has good subtitles and a good Russian language track, I don’t need the dub version. I just found it odd, but I was told it’s always like this by my friend Julia (who is both Russian and cute) and why should she lie? It’s interesting enough for me to share, but not much beyond that.
There isn’t much a joke here beyond one about matte lines and I feel I’m above those.
Let’s begin with the bear facts, this movie is gorgeous to look at. Even in the boring and mundane scenes without any special effects this movie really is great. Given time and inclination you could just make screen caps of every scene. The colors aren’t quite what you’d get with a western Techincolor movie, but it might just be that this movie needs a better restoration and it’d look as good as The Wizard of Oz does on DVD. Even without that, this is a great film to look at, the camera movements are glorious and the way Ptushko fills a frame is a wonder to behold.
Please stop standing like that, people are talking.
The movie is based on the opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which is itself based on the folk tale, which was based (and very few people know this) on the E.T. video game for the Atari 2600. So who says nothing good came from that game, right? Hmm, how? Oh, didn’t I say? Time traveling nuns. Yeah. Why would I lie about a thing like that? You people are seriously paranoid if you ask me.
The movie opens with Sadko returning to the town of Novgorod after being on the seas for twelve years. He comes back to find people selling themselves into slavery for the price of a loaf of bread and that the merchants have taken all the money leaving the working people poor and destitute. So poor are they, they can’t even afford happiness, because the merchants took it all from them. You know, typical merchants, I’ve got nothing and they’re taking that away too. Sadko informs them that happiness belongs to everyone and that they all deserve a share. But they can’t even afford to have hope because the merchants took all of that. He announces that there is supposed to be a bird of happiness somewhere across the sea and if they build ships they could go get it. They once again inform Sadko about the whole being totally flat broke thing because all their money was given to the banks and the auto companies in the last bail out and now the merchants have ALL the money. So Sadko decides that maybe something needs to be done to make the merchants see that helping the people is in their best interests and if they can’t see that to take their money and give it to the poor. Hmmm… You know, I think this movie might be pushing a slightly commie angle.
The town of Novgorod, circa… when does this movie take place anyway?
The Merchants, who are pretty much playing the villains today, are trading rich furs and living up the highlife while the poor live destitute and unhappy lives. The Merchants are shown in their first real appearance to be pretty unsympathetic fucktards who care not for people who have to make an honest living working and singing. They’re actually pretty proud of the fact that they’re bleeding the middle classes dry and one mentions how awesome it is that they have all the money since they got their retarded Czar to bail out the banks for them. When Sadko comes along and suggests that maybe it would be cool to not completely crush the working classes, they laugh and tell him to get lost. One even claims he hate white people, that he’s trying to take their guns away and that he’s bringing in an encroaching socialism. He tries for a moment to convince them to give up their evil, but one of them claims he’s not part of “Real Russia” and he just flips his shit and informs them that one say he’ll show them… he’ll show them all! No, really, he boasts that he’ll take their silks and use them to clothe the poor and use their carpets to line the streets. He inspires a young singer, who uses facebook and twitter to alert everyone to the fact that someone is bringing change.
Shake it like a Polaroid picture.
Trying to figure out how exactly he’s going to do all this, Sadko does what any musician would do, he goes to purify himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka so he can pass the initiation and join The Kid’s band. However, when he gets to the waterside, he realizes that it ain’t Lake Minnetonka and instead sits down to jam. Jamming, gets results as it attracts a super natural hottie. A babe comes up out of the water to listen to him play and throw her panties at the stage in a really great special effect. The real effect is how she comes out of the water dry and then returns to being wet right after hearing him play for a moment. And I promised myself I wouldn’t make that joke. Ah well, it’s already done now. So she tells him that she’s got the hots for him and he tells her that he’s got problems and tell her what they are. She’s so smitten with him though, that she tells him she’ll get him some money and gives him a kiss. Now since this is the 1950s I must assume that if it were done today that scene would be a 20 minute, fairly explicit sex scene and probably a three way with her hot friend at that. Well, maybe in the 90s, movies are too tame about nudity now. So this babe kisses him, tells him she’s the daughter of the king of the whole ocean and if he’d come with her it would be an eternity of Bow-chicka-bow-wow with her and her 26 hot friends and he’s just thinking about priceless golden fish… some guys and their priorities. I tell ya! He then proceeds to actually yell “Ha, ye merchants of Novgorod, I’ll show you!” and shakes his fist. The camera cuts before he can yell “I’ll show you all!” and votes for Obama, but I think it’s implied.
Why would you NOT just leave with her?
So where was I? Oh yeah! Next morning and the town in a state of excitement. Everyone leaves their work to see what’s going on as Sadko rings the big bell and beings everyone a runnin’ to see what’s up. After a brief scene where Kikuchiyo mocks them for not welcoming him when he first came and yet coming a runnin’ when the warning bell goes, Sadko explains to everyone in town that shit be on. He lays out the very simple idea that he tried to reason with the merchants, but the merchants were to busy being cockbites to listen to what he had to say so fuck them and their mommas. He informs everyone that he’s going to catch golden fish and see if he don’t. He wagers that he can catch the fish and if he can’t they can cut his head off. The problem is, they don’t think he’ll catch the golden fish so they offer up all their goods. Now… I’ve seen this sort of thing before. A guy comes into town, offers to do the impossible, and the rich bastards who have been screwing everyone over say he can’t do it. And then, what happens? Sadko recruits a team, for reasons I don’t really understand since he goes fishing on his own and only uses the crew later in the movie. He goes out on the lake, or possibly it’s a river, whatever, and he casts his nets. Now for a while it looks like he hasn’t managed, but he keeps casting, keep believing, reads a book of Marx and what did you think happens? Oh come on, you know what happens!
Stan Bush starts playing, and he opens the Autobot Matrix is what happens!
Sadko gets the fish, Obama becomes president, the Giants win the pennant! The merchants having lost the bet, loose all their goods to the common people. And then, as happens in these things, a dance scene commences and we loose a full minute and a half of movie time. Everyone is very happy, but the old man in Sadko’s crew points out that money and new clothes won’t make him any wiser and that there are probably more poor than even the redistributed wealth of the rich merchants can reasonably feed. Wait a second? You mean there’s more to this than just throwing open the coffers of the rich? Crap in a hat! And Sadko spent all the money and didn’t build the ships to go sailing to look for happiness. There is a girlfriend, but her storyline is so one note and pointless I feel like ignoring it out of spite. She does serve as someone for Sadko to pour his heart out to as he engages in self-recrimination over the fact that his stimulus package didn’t fix all the problems like he’d hoped it would. He realizing that lupins can’t make the poor happy and that this redistribution is trickier than he thought. He vows that if he can get the boats, he’ll go and find this happiness he’s been looking for. He doesn’t know how, he wonders briefly if maybe he should give up the whole thing and just move to Minneapolis like he thought of doing before.
You won’t understand until you’re older, but please stop saying you’re the Robin to my Batman.
AH! But then his ocean hottie comes through for him again and the fish expand into a boat load of gold. See guys? I always say you should be nice to weird hot babes with mystic powers. I’m always giving the time of day to cute goth chicks and I’m glad I do. So he hurls the gold around and announces that it’s time for a montage so they can build the best boats fast. He asks his dull old girlfriend to wait for him, which she agrees to do because she’s not going to get a guy with shoulders like that again any time soon. The Merchants, having learned to mend their ways, now wish Sadko well… without actually going with him or anything. They do send their sons and goods though, which is more than I can say for some people. The guys sail off in their three boats and everyone seems pretty happy with the way things are going for some time… UNTIL!
Yeah, they run into what are probably supposed to be the Vikings what with the horns on their helmets and the Wagner like music. Now, they come to the rocky shore all done up in their best death metal gear, with shield and swords and spears and all that. So what does Sadko do? Takes one look and decides they’re probably going to be best pals! Why he even takes off his sword and tosses it aside, guessing he won’t need it. Like a typical liberal, he reasons that all they’ve come looking for is the bird of happiness so it should be cool. The Vikings have other ideas though and tell him to get offa their lawn and get lost or there will be fighting. Sadko asks if they have the bird of happiness, and they claim Sadko is just here to steal their jobs and rape their women. They inform Sadko that their idea of happiness is killing people, drinking cheap beer and blaming immigrants for the bad economy. Sadko and company think that sucks and decide to leave. While their backs are turned the Vikings decide that he’s a wimpy liberal and try to attack him.
I said, GIT OFFA MAH LAHWN!!
This, of course, starts a fight where the Russians prove they are so badass they don’t even need swords or guns or tazers or any of that wimpy shit, they kick ass with buckets and furs! Not kidding! None of the Russians use swords except for Sadko, who gets his thrown to him by a kid. Right out of Sadko then proves to be so badass that he throws the head Viking off his horse and gets one of his homies to carry the horse away for him. And of course once their up against people who fight back, the Vikings run off claiming that the media was against them, that unbelievers in their midst made them loose and that if they had a bigger military budget they could have won. After chasing the Vikings away, and committing grand theft equine, Sadko decides that they bird of happiness can’t reside in such an angry place. They kick aside Budweiser cans and copies of Guns & Ammo as they walk back to their boats and despair. Oh, I forgot, the girlfriend then does the only other things that GIRLS are allowed to do in these movies, she marks the time. She tells us that it’s been almost three years and still no one has any happiness. That’s it, that’s the sole contribution she has to make. A shot of a calendar with dates falling off could have done the job.
I really hate being the girl in these movies.
Once back with the actual movie, instead of the girl just whining away because sexual equality hadn’t come into vogue yet and she just had to sit around and wait, we’re taken to what I think is supposed to be India. I could be wrong, but it looks like the India I’ve seen in other movies. Since the Sirin is supposed to come from the Islands of India, I’m going to go ahead and suggest that this is supposed to be India. An India made greatly of cutouts and redressed sets from earlier in the movie or other movies, but India nonetheless. Oh yeah, they find the sirin there… um… retroactive spoiler warning! Y’all know what a sirin is right? Sort of like a siren, only Russian and not so prone to screwing the insurance companies on boat policies. Also they call it a phoenix, just to confuse the matter. More of a happiness dispenser really, but a tricky one as we’ll see.
Cutout land! He best theme park ever.
See, before they can even find the bird of happiness, they’ve got to get to its hiding place, which is in a giant palace. The bird is in a golden tower, behind seven walls and a thousand guards, so we can guess that it’s a pretty well guarded bird. They can’t storm the palace, they’ll have to use cunning to get the bird. Fortunately, since they’re the proletariat and have been outsmarting fascist bourgeoisie merchants their whole lives, they’re quite used to outwitting rich imperious bastards. Now the local prince has a love for fine steeds, and they stole a fine steed from the Vikings, so if they’re clever they could bargain the horse for the bird. Or one would think, because the prince just wants to take the horse after seeing what a fine steed it is and doesn’t want to give the bird up. So he offers to kill Sadko and take the horse, but the horse laughs at the prince and they inform him that the horse is magic and who ever tries to steal it will die a horrible death. Hey, don’t look at me. This isn’t me forgetting to mention things again, this is honestly the first we’re hearing about it.
Isn’t it neat? I collected 80,000 box tops to get it.
Instead, they agree to play a game of chess. Now the prince is a champion chess player, he has two guys to help him pick his movies and a bevy of babes to dance around in skimpy outfits while Sadko thinks about his turn. I’ve heard of dick moves, but this guy must be on herbal Viagra for all the dicking he’s doing. In the end it doesn’t matter because through the power of… magic I guess, the prince sees the horse on the chess board, gets distracted and makes a bad move which causes him to loose. The prince lets him go into the treasure chamber, but locks the doors behind him. See? Dick moves allover the place. The crew, well four members of it, climb up to the place where the bird is kept and are neiter disturbed or surprised to find a woman’s head on an animatronic bird’s body. Personally, I’d be freaked out. The bird puts a trance on the guys, causing them to fall into a slumber. Only Sadko can fight, wipping out his guitar looking thing and jamming out a power cord to defeat the power of the bird’s song. You think I’m exaggerating again don’t you? I shit you not kids. He jams out a power cord and demands to know if the bird’s song can feed the hungry, clothe the poor or provide affordable health care for all. Even though they don’t want the bird anymore, they still decide to take off with it, because why not? No, really, that’s their reasoning. They seriously say “Yeah, what the hell, we’ve come all this way.”
I’m gonna rock your world!
The prince sends some guys up to the treasure room to kill Sadko and company, only to have them fly out the doors a moment later with our heroes at their heels. The prince then decides he’s been a total dick so far, might as well finish the job, and gets his whole army to stop our heroes from taking off with the bird. Figuring they have a bird that can knock people out, the yank out a couple of her feathers and make her sing. The army falls asleep and they go. Simple. Why our heroes don’t lay down for a nap I have no idea. And of course it’s up to the girl of the movie to play the part of the calendar and tell us how many years have gone by. Then we get another montage, but this time it’s them sailing past things they shouldn’t be able to sail past. Things like the Sphinx. Again, not joking. The Russians thought the Sphinx was in a desert that was right next to the ocean. Score one point for American Education.
The Sphinx ladies and gentlemen. It’s been moved to the coast for this engagement.
Well, Sadko hears part of a sad song and announces he’s had enough of this not being at home kissing his girl bullshit and it’s time to go home. They haven’t been heading home 30 seconds before a HUGE storm kicks up and nearly capsizes all the model boats. Sadko then remembers that his story is actually supposed to be about him being seduced by the princess of the sea, but not before the group has a serious “We’re all in this together comrade” moment where they each espouse the finer points of communism before letting Sadko go ahead and get on with it. At this point in the narrative, the actor playing Sadko is replaced with a small action figure for some reason that probably can be explained away as an effects shot, but that’s an action figure friends. You can’t trick me. AND then there is the girl again, sending a dove to find Sadko and bring him home. This will be semi important later.
Now we come to the coolest part of the whole movie, and by coolest I mean the most absolutely batshit. The under sea world is just… awesome. Everything is a puppet or on a string or a fish tank mounted in front of the camera or something like that. Sadko sings a song for the king, while the king is molested by a hand puppet. The a big dance number starts, half way though that though, that dove from earlier… flies onto Sadko’s shoulder. He’s 80 feet underwater and the dove flies down and lands on his shoulder. I can’t explain how radical that is, I can only hope you believe me when I tell you that this is going to get crazier before we’re done! The king wants Sadko to stay and asks him to marry one of his daughters and take over as king of the sea when he dies. Sadko evidently thinks that would be too decadent or something and tries to stall. The hottie from before tells him to say she’ll marry him and she’ll help him. He doesn’t want to marry her though, he wants to marry the calendar girl, but hottie McPrincess says she’ll help and he believes her.
Why aren’t you picking her again?
NOW! After offering any of his daughters, neigh demanding he pick one, the king doesn’t like that he picked the one he did and pitches a fit. Sadko appeals to the queen, who he figures is probably at least crazy in his favor. She agrees and the two not really love birds wander off. It’s then that princess of THE WHOLE DAMN SEA explains that she’s still pretty taken with Sadko and she’d like to have a mustache ride please. Here’s what bugs me, he doesn’t even mention that he’s got a girl… in Canada, you wouldn’t know her, instead he keeps harping on living on land and having to help the people and not do things for himself and glory to the party and all that horseshit. Well, the princes is so smitten with him, she decides to help him by giving him the fastest sea horse in all Mehico. I wish I could make shit like that up! The king hops on a shell carriage and gives chase. We’ve got a minstrel, being chased by the king of the sea, to get away from marrying the hottest thing on two legs, so he can get home to a girl who is just okay looking because that’s more humble and better for the community or something. I… I mean….
Run Run Rudolph!
Well, everyone makes it home, as you might expect. It seems that everyone is very happy now that everyone came home. And we actually get the Wizard of Oz ending where Sadko explains directly to the camera that happiness was in his home town all along. And yes, he does point at half the cast going “And you were there, and you were there, and you, and you, and you.” Which extends the ending a bit and brings what could have been a climax to a long drawn out litany of “And you, and you,” because we couldn’t leave one person out, not in a communist wonderland like this one. I make jokes, but actually the community thing isn’t over played in this movie. It’s just you know it when and where it was made, so it’s ALWAYS in your head while you watch. However, ignoring that, and it is pretty easy to ignore, this is a great movie with magnificent visual style. You could do a lot worse than watching something like this.
And they all live happily ever after until the fall of the Ruble and the collapse of their entire system of government.
These didn’t fit anywhere, but I had them uploaded already.
Oh, we are opulent bastards, aren’t we?
Dudes must practice that maneuver a lot.
Sing little birdie
See? Clearly a doll. That thing in the front of the frame. Yeah, a toy Sadko figure. $4.97 at K Mart.
Let’s just sit back and enjoy these shots, okay?
It’s really saying something when it has to get this crazy to be the nuttiest thing that’s happened to you this week.
Best! Trip! EVER!
Frankly, I feel nothing for you.
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