The main purpose behind this entry into the Backbrain archive is simply to note the existence of an old film I hadn’t known about — one that features a very cool monster.
Eye-Filling Spectacle! Man Against Monsters!
Ilya Muromets [aka The Sword and the Dragon] (Soviet Union-1956; dir. Aleksandr Ptushko)
Based on an ancient legend, this Russian film includes a wealth of fantasy elements, simply going on the images I’ve been able to track down. Not the least of them — and the one that sparked my interest in the film — is the one below, a classic moment straight out of what is probably the first major dragon-slaying film, Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924).
Ilya Muromets is a heroic warrior who succeeded in protecting the Russian land from evil enemies, defeating their thousands-strong army. He saved Russia from various monsters, such as Nightingale the Robber and Gorynych the Serpent. This was the first Soviet wide-screen motion picture. Participating in the shooting were 106, 000 soldiers-extras and 11, 000 horses – the record numbers in the history of world cinema (as documented in Patrick Robertson’s “The New Guinness Book of Movie Records”, published in 1993). (from Ruscico website)
Ilya Muromets was released in Japan during the Showa Period — on 10 March 1959 (according to the IMDb), about five years after the iconic giant monster film Gojira (aka Godzilla) made its box-office mark — and (apparently) by Toho, the production company that singlehanded invented the daikaiju eiga genre. Notice the logographic lettering in the lower left-hand side of the card (the picture of the dragon) above. We discovered this image on a Japanese blog, and the author of the article clearly considers that the film was released as part of the Showa-period development of the daikaiju eiga genre. It is certainly possible to see a potential influence on Godzilla’s greatest enemy, the three-headed Ghidrah [later King Ghidorah], who first appeared in the 1964 film San daikaijû: Chikyû saidai no kessen [aka Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster]. The author refers to the dragon (which is three-headed: see poster below) as the “incarnation of capitalism” — interpreted as such by the Soviet regime — and points out similarities with the Japanese “legend of the eight dragons”.
In its original undubbed, widescreen aspect (rather than the dubbed, pan-and-scanned and cut US version available online), Ilya Muromets looks as though it is a spectacular and inventive fantasy epic.
And here is the US trailer, though the poor quality of the print does not do justice to the original’s visual beauty:
- Ruscico website
- IMDb entry
- More details and images
- The legend
- View the entire film (US version) online; or watch the Russian version (widescreen but without subtitles) on YouTube.
- Source: Bobcat SwinginBlog. Thanks, Avery.
- Japanese dragon image is part of a ceiling painting at Tenryū-ji Temple 天龍寺, Kyoto, dating from 1899. Ref. Japanese Buddhist Sanctuary website. Other images.