13 September 2018

Michel Strogoff (1926)

Ivan Mozzhukhin and Nathalie Kovanko were the stars of the French-German silent film Michel Strogoff (Victor Tourjansky, 1926), based on Jules Verne's classic novel. In many European countries, postcards were published for this classic adventure film.

Ivan Mozzhukhin and Nathalie Kovanko in Michel Strogoff (1926)
French postcard by Europe, no. 180. Photo: Société des Cinéromans. Ivan Mozzhukhin, Nathalie Kovanko and Acho Chakatouny in Michel Strogoff (Victor Tourjansky, 1926).

Ivan Mozzhukhin and Nathalie Kovanko in Michel Strogoff
French postcard by Europe, no. 181. Photo: Société des Cinéromans. Ivan Mozzhukhin and Nathalie Kovanko in Michel Strogoff (Viktor Tourjansky, 1926).

Ivan Mozzhukhin
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1510/3, 1927-1928. Photo: Deulig. Ivan Mozzhukhin in Michel Strogoff (Victor Tourjansky, 1926).

Nathalie Kovanko and Ivan Mozzhukhin in Michel Strogoff (1926)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1512/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Deulig. Postcard for Michel Strogoff (Viktor Tourjansky, 1926). Nadia Fedor (Nathalie Kovanko) consoles Michel Strogoff (Ivan Mozzhukhin) after he is blinded.

Ivan Mozzhukhin and Nathalie Kovanko in Michel Strogoff (1926)
Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag no. 574. Photo: Micheluzzi-Film. Ivan Mozzhukhin and Nathalie Kovanko in Michel Strogoff (Viktor Tourjansky, 1926).

A magnetic hold on our attention


Jules Verne wrote Michel Strogoff/Michael Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar in 1876, and it is considered one of his best books. The book was later adapted to a play, by Verne himself and Adolphe d'Ennery. Incidental music to the play was written by Alexandre Artus in 1880. The book has been adapted several times for films, television and even cartoon series.

One of the best versions is this French-German silent film, made by exiles from the Russian Revolution of 1917 under direction of Victor Tourjansky, shortly before his emigration to Hollywood. The film's art direction was by Eduardo Gosch, César Lacca, Alexandre Lochakoff, Vladimir Meingard and Pierre Schild who recreated the atmosphere of the mid-nineteenth century Russian Empire.

Tourjansky's screenplay follows the Jules Verne novel to the letter. In 1860s Russia, invading Tartars cut off all telecommunications between the border cities and the capital. The czar (Vladimir Gajdarov) sends the young captain Michael Strogoff (Ivan Mozzhukhin) to deliver a vital message to the last line of defence. Along the way he finds love with the practical Nadia (Nathalie Kovanko), a woman trying to visit her exiled father in Siberia, and danger from the traitorous Ivan Ogareff (Acho Chakatouny), who wants to stop him at all costs. Hal Erickson at AllMovie: "Strogoff is captured by The Grand Khan (Boris de Fas), who prepares to shove hot pokers in the hero's eyes while Strogoff's mother (Jeanne Brindeau) looks on helplessly. Despite these and other perils, Strogoff completes his mission and wins the hand of the beautiful Nadia."

Michel Strogoff (Viktor Tourjansky, 1926) was a co-production by Ciné France, Deulig Europa-Produktion and Films de France. A huge production, easily rivalling Hollywood's biggest, it represents the European film industry at it's most accomplished. 4,000 soldiers, including cavalrymen, were loaned by the Latvian army to portray the Russian and Tartar armies, and the battles were filmed outside Riga on large plains, which simulated the Siberian steppes.

The result is a wonderfully exciting historical adventure, full of epic sweep, pulsating action, intrigue, romance and even a little comedy relief. The silent film was a big hit in it's time. Despite a 3 hour length, the pace never lags and the story is compelling throughout. Technically the film was cutting edge 1926-style, with it's use of colour and tinting and some dazzling editing of the type associated with Abel Gance and Sergei Eisenstein.

Another strong asset of the film is the charismatic performance of Ivan Mozhukhin, who according to reviewer Hamilton65 at IMDb "draws us effortlessly into Strogoff's mission to reach the Tsar in time to save the empire from the Tartars. From his first appearance Mozhukhin exerts a magnetic hold on our attention. He never overplays, yet conveys a wide range of emotions and thoughts with the subtlest of movements."

With the coming of sound, Michel Strogoff (Viktor Tourjansky, 1926) got virtually forgotten. Renée Lichtig made for the Cinémathèque française a superb restoration which returned the film to it's proper state.

Nathalie Kovanko and Ivan Mozzhukhin in Michel Strogoff (1926)
Romanian postcard by Editura Librariei SOCEC & Co. S.A., Bucuresti, no. 53. Photo: Monopol "Lux-Film". Ivan Mozzhukhin and Nathalie Kovanko in Michel Strogoff (Viktor Tourjansky, 1926).

Ivan Mozzhukhin in Michel Strogoff (1926)
Romanian postcard by Editura Librariei SOCEC & Co. S.A., Bucuresti. Photo: Monopol "Lux-Film". Ivan Mozzhukhin in Michel Strogoff (Victor Tourjansky, 1926).

Ivan Mozzhukhin in Michel Strogoff (1926)
Romanian postcard by Editura Librariei SOCEC & Co. S.A., Bucuresti. Photo: Monopol "Lux-Film". Ivan Mozzhukhin in Michel Strogoff (Victor Tourjansky, 1926).

Ivan Mozzhukhin in Michel Strogoff (1926)
Romanian postcard by Editura Librariei SOCEC & Co. S.A., Bucuresti. Photo: Monopol "Lux-Film". Ivan Mozzhukhin in Michel Strogoff (Victor Tourjansky, 1926).

Ivan Mozzhukhin in Michel Strogoff
Romanian postcard by Editura Librariei SOCEC & Co. S.A., Bucuresti. Photo: Monopol "Lux-Film". Ivan Mozzhukhin in Michel Strogoff (Victor Tourjansky, 1926).


The restored version of Michel Strogoff (1926). Source: Peliculas Mudas/Silent Films (YouTube).


A rough transfer of the ballroom scene from Michel Strogoff (1926) from a 9.5m print, including a section missing from the restoration. The score is Glinka's Valse Fantasie. Source: Christopher Bird (YouTube).

Sources: Hamilton65 (IMDb), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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