During the Revolution Princess Vera, though betrothed to Prince Dimitri, is attracted to the peasant Feodor.During the Revolution Princess Vera, though betrothed to Prince Dimitri, is attracted to the peasant Feodor.During the Revolution Princess Vera, though betrothed to Prince Dimitri, is attracted to the peasant Feodor.
The imagery in this movie is DeMille at his most visually expressive: the Volga boatmen, the human mules of Russia, in their rags contrasting with the richly dressed aristocrats, particularly Princess Vera whose gowns were designed by Adrian; the clock in the background inexorably ticking away the minutes of Vera's life as she plays the brave aristocrat, defying Feodor, the steely-eyed boatman/Bolshevik leader, not to love her; and the grand ballroom scene where the cream of Russian society dances while Mother Russia convulses in political upheaval.
Imagery conveys meaning in silent movies more so than the dialog, however, the dialog in The Volga Boatman is studded with acerbic lines emphasizing the disparity between classes and adding to the overall atmosphere of cultural inequality. Unfortunately, we only read one of the best lines of dialog ever written. Despite the fact that Bill Boyd's (Feodor's) rich baritone voice was a generous mixture of northern Oklahoma and north Hollywood accents, I enjoy imagining what he could have done with the line: "We've waited 500 years for freedom, you can wait five minutes to die."
As a devoted fan of the movies, particularly movies having some historical content, The Volga Boatman remains a highly appealing and "watchable" film for me because it focuses on timeless human relationships and not the stale political tracts which can be supplanted. In addition, DeMille's technical craftsmanship is most ably demonstrated in the beautiful composition of each scene. Mr. DeMille went on to direct Technicolor extravaganza's but this hand-tinted, silent classic is one that stands out as an example of DeMille at his cinematic best.
- Aug 6, 2000