Director: Alexander Ptushko
Production Co.: Sovexportfilm
Screenplay: K. Isayer, from the opera by Rimsky-Korsakov
Cinematography: F. Provorov
Set Design: E. Kumankow & E. Svidetelev
Music Arranged and Supplemented by: V. Shebalin
Sadko: S. Stolyarov
Lynbava: A. Larionova
Trifon: N. Troyanovsky
Vyshata: B. Surovtsev
Kuzman: Y. Leonidov
Maharajah: M. Astangov
Tsar of the Ocean: S. Kayukow
Tsarina of the Ocean: O. Vikland
Princess Ilmen: E. Myshknova
The Phoenix: L. Vertmikaya
Colour NB B&W print
Russian, with English subtitles
Silver Lion, Venice 1953
an exotic film for the Western eye
- Neya Zorkaya, The Illustrated History of the Soviet Cinema
I have striven in my films to portray the theme I love best - mankind's dream of a better life, of happiness for people in general.
- Alexander Ptushko
An old Russian legend forms the basis of this medieval fairy tale plot. Sadko is a wandering minstrel who, during his travels, arrives at the great port of Novgorod. He becomes enamoured of the city, but is appalled at the poverty-stricken conditions of the people, compared with the well-being of the prosperous merchants. He promises the citizens that he will take a selected company and journey round the world in search of the bird of happiness. In his quest for ships and money, Sadko is helped by the underwater Princess, whose father is the powerful Tsar of the Ocean. Eventually he sets off and over many years visits many countries. When he thinks he has found the bird of happiness in India, it turns out to be a lazy, beautiful Phoenix who lulls people to sleep to forget their worries. He spurns the Phoenix and at last decides to return to Novgorod. En route they encounter a great storm and Sadko sacrifices himself to the ocean for the sake of the others. But the Ocean Princess sets him free. He comes back to Russia and the girl who has waited so patiently for him. Here, he tells the citizens, is happiness - in one's native land.
The pleasant little morality tale is threaded through with propaganda by implication, but so slight and reasonable that it does not detract from the charm of the piece. Filmed in Sovietcolor, it contrives some scenes of enchanting imagery. The dreamy underwater episodes, seen through a grey-blue-green haze, and the sojourn in India, all lavishness and burning colour; these sequences contrast vividly with the vigorous down-to-earth quality of the Russian scenes, to which the Rimsky-Korsakov music and the fast Russian dances add an exhilaration of their own...
The booming Sadko, played by S. Stolyarov, is heroically in style. And the fairy tale creatures come out of it impressively: the exquisitely imagined Phoenix of L. Vertmikaya and E. Myshknova's breathtakingly beautiful Ocean Princess. Sadko is an ingenious, attractive fable.
- Monthly Film Bulletin, 8/53
Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Sadko is a lyrical legend based mainly on the songs of the Minstrel Sadko collected by Danilov, Rybnikov and others. The original songs, as well as the opera, have the distinctive ballad form known as bilina. The opera tells how Sadko lured the river Volhova to Novgorod and opened a way to the sea, through Dimev Lake, for his far-famed city. The part that deals with the Ocean Czar's Undersea Kingdom is based on the folktales of Afanasiev.
Considered in this light, little of Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko remains in this film... If, however, one forgets the opera and disregards the paucity of music, the film emerges in another and more favourable light. Many of the undersea sequences are imaginative and amusing. The Princess is lovely, as is the Phoenix (a bird with a woman's features), and neither is beefy. Sadko and Lynbava - who is handsome and as beefy as she should be - are well cast. So are the other characters. The muted colour, though not quite 'true', is agreeable to the eye.
And despite over-deliberate speech and action, this film does create an illusion. The quality of the original legend seeps through, and so do intimations of roistering old Novgorod.
- Tatyana Balkov-Drowne, Films in Review, August - September, 1953
Tonight the Russian film adaptation of Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko was greatly admired in the presence of its director Alexander Ptushko. It is very spectacular and colourful, the Sovcolor in this instance is superior to Technicolor, and the music is impressive. After the final applause, somebody is supposed to have said: "Really, this Cecil B. DeMille never changes!"
- Francis Koval, 'Venice 1953', Films in Review, 10/53