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10 Soviet Movies About The Russian Civil War

Screenshot from the movie White Sun of the Desert

Screenshot from the movie White Sun of the Desert


The Russian Revolution and the Civil War were among the fundamental topics for the film production of the Soviet Union at all stages of its history. Among films about the Russian Civil War, so-called Osterns occupy a special place. Ostern or Red Western was the film genre in the cinema of the socialist countries, which drew inspiration from westerns.

Proper Red Westerns were set in America's Wild West but involved radically different themes and interpretations than US westerns. These were mainly produced in Eastern European countries like East Germany and Czechoslovakia rather than USSR. Osterns (Easterns) were usually set on the steppes or Asian parts of the USSR, especially during the Russian Revolution or the following Civil War, but presented a la American western films.

The article presents some of Osterns and films of other genres, united by the topic of the Russian Civil War.

The Thirteen (1937) movie poster

The Thirteen (1937) movie poster

The Thirteen

The Thirteen (Russian: Тринадцать; Trinadtsat) is a 1937 Soviet action movie directed by Mikhail Romm. The film is the first full-length work by Romm and can be called one of the first Osterns.

There were rumors that Joseph Stalin himself initiated the movie creation. He had liked The Lost Patrol by John Ford and had wished to have a Soviet version of the movie.

The film takes place in Central Asia. Ten demobilized Red Army soldiers were riding across the desert to the railroad, where they were to receive their leave papers and go home. There were three more with them: frontier post commander Zhuravlev (Ivan Novoseltsev) with his wife Marya Nikolaevna (Elena Kuzmina) and geologist Postnikov (Alexander Chistyakov). Their transition was not close, several days of travel under the scorching sun of the desert. Finally, they found a life-saving well and a small shelter where they could wait out the sandstorm. However, there was almost no water in the well, but machine guns and ammunition were hidden instead. Soon a gang of Basmachi led by Shirmat Khan appears nearby, whom the Red Army had been unsuccessfully trying to neutralize for a whole year. There were about two hundred bandits, they did not drink for three days, and their goal was the well, which was almost dry, but they did not know about it. The Reds sent one man for help. The rest remained to defend the well until reinforcements arrived.

Even today, the movie, combining the unity of place and time with a large cast, makes a good impression. And at that time, it inspired not only Soviet viewers but also the American Zoltan Korda, who shot a 1943 film Sahara featuring Humphrey Bogart.

The Elusive Avengers (1967) movie poster

The Elusive Avengers (1967) movie poster

The Elusive Avengers

The Elusive Avengers (Russian: Неуловимые мстители; Neulovimye mstiteli) is a 1967 Soviet adventure movie directed by Edmond Keosayan.

In 1962, the management of the Mosfilm put forward the idea of shooting an adventure film similar to the American western The Magnificent Seven, which was a success in the Soviet film distribution in the early 1960s. Ultimately they decided to make a movie loosely based on the novel Red Devils by Pavel Blyakhin.

The movie tells about the adventures of four teenagers fighting against armed gangs in the south of Ukraine in 1919.

In one of the villages, Sidor Lyuty, a thug from the gang of ataman Gnat Burnash, killed the local communist Shchus. His orphaned children — son Danka and daughter Ksanka — vowed to avenge their father. Together with their friends — former high school student Valerka Meshcheryakov and Yashka the Gypsy — they began a guerrilla war against the bandits, leaving behind notes with the signature Avengers after each of their actions.

The movie became one of the leaders of the box office in 1967. It gathered more than 54 million viewers, yielding only to the comedies of Leonid Gaidai's Kidnapping, Caucasian Style (76.5 million viewers), and Andrey Tutyshkin's Wedding in Malinovka (74 .6 million viewers).

Also, two sequels were subsequently released, The New Adventures of the Elusive Avengers (1968) and The Crown of the Russian Empire, or Once Again the Elusive Avengers (1971).

White Sun of the Desert (1970) movie poster

White Sun of the Desert (1970) movie poster

White Sun of The Desert

In the wake of the success of The Elusive Avengers, another undisputed hit of the Soviet box office appeared. White Sun of the Desert (Russian: Белое солнце пустыни; Beloye solntse pustyni) is a 1970 Ostern film directed by Vladimir Motyl.

The movie takes place in the early 1920s on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea (Transcaspian region of the Russian Empire). The Russian Civil War was over, but bands of Basmachi still roamed Central Asia.

The demobilized Red Army soldier Fyodor Sukhov returned home through the Caspian desert. On the way, he met a detachment of the red commander Rakhimov, who was pursuing the bandit Black Abdullah and his gang. Earlier, Abdullah had fled the fortress, leaving his wives there. A mortal threat hung over them because the laws of Muslims say that the husband, not being able to take all the wives with him, must kill them. Abdullah has already killed two of his wives. Rakhimov persuaded Sukhov to stay behind, to guard Abdullah's harem while he followed him in pursuit. And the young Red Army soldier Petrukha was seconded to Sukhov as an assistant. For weapons and support, Sukhov turned to the former tsarist customs officer, Pavel Artemyevich Vereshchagin.

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The movie became one of the most famous in the history of Soviet cinema, and the phrases of the characters entered the colloquial Russian language.

White Sun of the Desert also became one of the mascots of Soviet (and Russian) cosmonauts. Before each launch, they watch the movie. There is even a cassette with it aboard the International Space Station.

A friend among foes, a foe among friends (1974) movie poster

A friend among foes, a foe among friends (1974) movie poster

A Friend Among Foes, a Foe Among Friends

A friend among foes, a foe among friends (Russian: Свой среди чужих, чужой среди своих; Svoy sredi chuzhikh, chuzhoy sredi svoikh), is a 1974 Soviet Ostern movie. The debut director work of Nikita Mikhalkov, based on his with Eduard Volodarsky story Red Gold, derived from an article in the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. The script's rough title was Half a Million in Gold, Swimming, Walking, and Dragging. The source of inspiration for the director was the movies of Sergio Leone with Clint Eastwood.

The film takes place in one of the southern provinces of Russia in the second half of the 1920s. The young Soviet state needed money to buy food for the starving Volga region, so the gold collected in the province for more than five hundred thousand rubles should be urgently sent to Moscow, ensuring its safety along the way.

However, a group of former White officers raided a train, which was carrying valuable cargo, and, having shot the guards, fled with gold. Upon learning this, the Chekists had understood that it was possible to plan such a robbery only by having an informant in the Cheka. Suspicion fell on Gleb Shilov, but he managed to escape from arrest. He needs to find out the truth and return the stolen Soviet gold and his good name.

The film was released in November 1974. Critics argued that there was too much action in it, and the characters resembled American cowboys. Some critics felt that it was not an adventure film but rather a detective story within an adventure movie. In turn, director Alexei German considered the film innovative. The movie took only twenty-second place at the box office but is recognized as a classic nowadays.

Two Comrades Were Serving (1968) movie poster

Two Comrades Were Serving (1968) movie poster

Two Comrades Were Serving

Two Comrades Were Serving (Russian: Служили два товарища; Sluzhili dva tovarishcha) is a 1968 drama film directed by Yevgeny Karelov, based on a script by Yuly Dunsky and Valery Frid. It tells about the events of the Civil War in Russia, in particular, the battle for the Crimean peninsula.

The film has two parallel storylines that eventually intersect. The first tells about two Red Army comrades, whom the command ordered to film the location of enemy troops in the Perekop area from an airplane. The intelligent and laconic former photographer Andrey Nekrasov was the only person in the regiment who had experience in such work. The command gave him a captured French-made movie camera, and impulsive, hot-headed Ivan Karyakin, a former company commander demoted to the rank and file for lynching, was appointed as his assistant. The second storyline runs parallel to the first and covers events from the point of view of the White Guard officer Alexander Brusentsov. After he mistakenly shot his friend in a hotel in Sevastopol, Sasha, a sister of mercy, came to the victim. Brusentsov, who was under house arrest, found a twin soul in her. Soon after that, he got an appointment to go to the defense of Perekop.

The assault on Perekop was the decisive, final battle of the Civil War. It was an event for which characters on both sides were preparing, which they were waiting and afraid. There, the two storylines finally crossed.

The film contains emotional dialogues and impressive battle scenes, a bit of drama and comedy, and shows the tragedy of the Russian nation, cruelly divided into the Reds and the Whites.

The Flight (1970) movie poster

The Flight (1970) movie poster

The Flight

The Flight (Russian: Бег; Beg) is a 1970 Soviet two-part historical drama film, written and directed by Aleksandr Alov and Vladimir Naumov, based on the works of Mikhail Bulgakov: Flight, The White Guard, and the Black Sea. The Flight is one of the first adaptations of Bulgakov's works.

The movie took place in the South of Russia in 1920. The offensive of the Red Army in Crimea caused the massive emigration of those who sought salvation from the revolution. The film shows tragic scenes from the everyday life of onetime representatives of high society leaving their homeland.

At this time of confusion and despair, many different people happened to be nearby, including the wife of Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Serafima Korzukhina, the gallant General Charnota, his marching wife Lyuska, the intelligent Privatdozent Golubkov, and the gloomy, gradually losing his mind General Khludov.

In 1971, The Flight participated in the main competition of the Cannes Film Festival, but the Palme d'Or then went to the British drama romance film The Go-Between.

The Viper (1965) movie poster

The Viper (1965) movie poster

The Viper

The Viper (Russian: Гадюка; Gaduka) is a Soviet historical drama movie directed by Viktor Ivchenko in 1965, based on the eponymous story by Alexei Nikolayevich Tolstoy.

The movie tells about the fate of Olga Zotova, the merchant's daughter, who, as a very young girl, stepped into the Civil War. She went through many cruel trials and became a brave and experienced fighter of the Red Army. But the war ended, and the most arduous test for Olga was a peaceful life in which she could not find her place.

The Viper is one of the first Soviet films dedicated to the problem of PTSD.

Commissar (1967) movie poster

Commissar (1967) movie poster


Commissar (Russian: Комиссар; Komissar) is a 1967 Soviet film directed by Alexander Askoldov based on the story by Vasily Grossman, In the Town of Berdichev. The movie was banned and shelved by the KGB for twenty years. Commissar has remained Askoldov's only feature film.

The film takes place during the Civil War. The Red Army entered a small Ukrainian town. During a short respite after a tedious march, the commissar of one of the cavalry battalions, Klavdiya Vavilova, admitted to the regiment commander Kozyrev that she was expecting a child. The commander, of course, was not happy with such a surprise but decided to leave the woman in the city so that she could give birth. The command settled Klavdiya in the house of a poor Jew tinsmith Yefim Magazannik, where, in addition to himself, his wife Maria, mother, and six children lived. At first, both the Magazannik family and Vavilova were not enthusiastic about living under one roof, but everything began to change when Yefim's wife found out about the guest's pregnancy. Following his wife, Yefim also changed his attitude towards Klavdiya and sincerely rejoiced when she gave birth to a healthy son.

However, the frontline advanced closer to the town, and Vavilova learned that their unit had to retreat, and soon the Whites would be here. After some hesitation, Klavdiya left her newborn son in the Magazannik family and went to catch up with her regiment.

The film, created in the year of the 50th anniversary of Soviet power, was recognized as ideologically harmful and was not released. After that, Askoldov lost his job, was expelled from the Communist Party, charged with social parasitism, exiled from Moscow, and banned from working on feature films for life.

Commissar was finally released on July 11, 1987, out of competition at the Moscow International Film Festival, after which it triumphantly passed through the screens of many countries and collected a whole collection of awards.

The Wedding in Malinovka (1967) movie poster

The Wedding in Malinovka (1967) movie poster

The Wedding in Malinovka

The Wedding in Malinovka (Russian: Свадьба в Малиновке; Svadba v Malinovke) is a Soviet musical comedy directed by Andrei Tutyshkin and an adaptation of the operetta of the same name by Boris Alexandrov. The movie took 2nd place in the distribution in 1967 and 5th place in the general list of leaders of Soviet film distribution (74.6 million viewers).

The village of Malinovka during the years of the Civil War lives from one change of power to another. The hardships of the war do not interfere with the love of the shepherd Andreika and a local girl Yarinka. But in a peaceful village came a gang of the local ataman Gritsian Tavrichesky. According to the custom of that time, ataman conceived to establish an independent power in Malinovka. State-building began, of course, with robbery and violence. Yarinka caught the eye of Gritsian, and he tried to convince her to marry him with threats.

Frightened, Yarinka runs away into the forest, where she meets a small mounted detachment of the Red scouts. She asked for help, and the squad leader Nazar Duma devised a plan to defeat the outnumbered enemy. But for this, the girl must agree to a wedding with the ataman.

Shine, Shine, My Star (1970) movie poster

Shine, Shine, My Star (1970) movie poster

Shine, Shine, My Star

Shine, Shine, My Star (Russian: Гори, гори, моя звезда; Gori, gori moya zvezda) is a 1970 Soviet comedy-drama film directed by Alexander Mitta. The movie was dedicated to the artist Marc Chagall and inspired by reflections on what would have happened to him if he had stayed in Soviet Russia. However, the attitude towards Chagall in the USSR was pretty negative, so the director did not even tell for many years about it and revealed this secret only over time.

Alexander Mitta, who developed the plot generally, did not dare write the script singly. He went for help to the famous duet of Julius Dunsky and Valery Frid.

The events of the film take place in Russia during the Civil War. The Reds, the Whites, or the Greens alternately came to power in a small provincial town.

Initially, there was assumed to be one significant volumetric character at the center of the plot. But it quickly became clear that the central character would be too dominant. Then one hero turned into three. As a result of this approach, the picture acquired a slightly more grotesque vibe.

The three characters represented the three facets of a creative person. Those facets were the wish to popularize art, the desire for continuous creativity, and the intention to profit from work. The theater director Vladimir Iskremas (a pseudonym that means Art for the revolutionary masses [Iskusstvo — revoljucionnym massam]) was obsessed with the theater and the ideas of its transformation in the new revolutionary art. Fedor, a silent self-taught artist, put his whole soul into his paintings. Pashka, the owner of the movie house, showed a silent film, which he voiced by himself, depending on the power in the town at the moment.

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