THE ANNA CROSS
Director: Issidor Annensky
Production Co.: Gorky Film Studios
Screenplay: Issidor Annensky, from the story by Chekhov
Cinematography: G. Reishoff
Art Director: A. Dikhtar
Music: Lev Schwartz
Anna: A. Larionova
Modeste Alexeyevich: V. Vladislavsky
Artinov: M. Zharov
Pyotr Leontyevich: A. Sashin-Nikolsky
The Prince: A. Vertinsky
Bettya: B. Maltser
Black & White
Russian, with English subtitles
The beautiful Anna lives with her two young brothers and her drunken father, Pyotr Leontyevich, and out of pity for him she consents to marry Alexeyevich, a wealthy middle-aged official. Her new husband proves very irascible and only reluctantly consents to loan Anna's family money for their upkeep. Anna spends many sad and lonely hours at home, but one day her husband receives an official invitation to a fashionable ball and, thinking that his wife may help him in his plans for social advancement, dresses her in a beautiful gown and presents her to the admiring society. Anna immediately conquers all, including Artinov, a wealthy and flirtatious gentleman, and the noble Prince himself. Alexeyevich finds that he is in favour at last and the Prince personally decorates him with an award jokingly known as the "Anna" Cross. His wife, meanwhile, falls in love with the gay social world, spends her husband's money outrageously, and soon forgets all her past associations. Leontyevich, now destitute, is evicted from his house and, although he catches a glimpse of Anna riding past with Artinov, she shows no signs of recognition. For her there are no memories.
Chekhov's gentle satire on the bourgeoisie and effete aristocracy of nineteenth-century Russia, with its final stern moral indicating that wealth corrupts, is presented here with a greater attention to surface brilliance than is usual in the contemporary Soviet cinema... The period conventions, manners and dress convincingly reflect the background of the times... A. Larionova makes an attractive Anna, but she appears to be an actress of rather limited resources. The minor characters, on the other hand (notably Anna's admirers) are authentically Chekhovian in spirit: the wily and susceptible old Prince and the eccentric Artinov are beautifully observed and played. The colour, generally, is good and there is a pleasantly tuneful score by L. Schwartz (who worked with Donskoy on the Gorky films).
- Monthly Film Bulletin, 12/54
One of the main developments in the postwar Soviet cinema has been the emergence of what might be termed the 'record' film. Famous ballet and opera stars have been seen in numerous theatrically produced excerpts from well-known Russian productions, and a number of popular nineteenth century writers have been adapted (with varying degrees of success) for the screen. Into this category falls... The Anna Cross, a version of Chekhov's short story by a newcomer, I. Annensky... [It is] photographed in Agfacolour, and, incidentally, is the first of a group of Chekhov films produced during 1954, the fiftieth anniversary of his death...
Annensky... has inflated the Chekhov piece into a fairly lavish prestige production. This story of a young girl unhappily married to an elderly official, who suddenly finds herself precipitated into the fashionable world of high society and finally loses all contact with her poor father and brothers, is full of glittering ballroom scenes and picturesque country locations. The colour in these exterior scenes is attractive, and The Anna Cross is in general a tastefully decorated film... As with many Soviet costume films, an authentic period atmosphere is sustained and the minor characters, shrewdly observed, are played with enjoyable gusto. The toadying bourgeoisie of the times, and the foppish court, are gently satirised; if there is any bitterness, it is reserved for the climax when Anna rejects her family for her newly discovered life of leisure.
- John Gillett, Sight & Sound, January - March 1955
Produced in 1954, the fiftieth anniversary of Chekhov's death, The Anna Cross closely follows one of his early stories, written in a light ironical style. Twice in its counterpointed plot the biter is bit. For the sake of her impoverished family, Anna marries a wealthy but elderly official, only to find him too miserly and intimidating to be of any use. For the sake of advancement, he shows her off lavishly in society, only to find her dazzling success brings him more humiliation than honour. Simple, vivid and concise, this story, like everything Chekhov wrote, is rich in meaning.
It shows the power of money; how Anna's dread of this power gives way to delight in acquiring it; and how this in turn makes her forget those for whom she had originally wanted the money. It shows the degrading means by which promotion might be obtained in 19th-century Russia and, incidentally, the snobbery, idleness, amorality and ignorance of the ruling class. In short the story gives a description of the old order which coincides with the Soviet view of it. That is why it was chosen...
Many long sequences [of the film] evoke the period very successfully, as, for instance, the auction scenes in the shabby home of Anna's father, intercut with those of her carefree ride in an admirer's troika-drawn sleigh... As a whole, this picture has much more restraint and is better directed by Annensky than his film of Chekhov's Marriage made in 1944... The production is sumptuous and the photography excellent.
- Catherine de la Roche, commentary supplied to the Napier Film Society in 1967 by the author