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The First Screen Version of the Novel “Virgin Soil Upturned”

31.05.2019

80 years ago, in 1939, at the film studio “Mosfilm”, the first screen version “Virgin Soil Upturned” based on the title work by M.A.Sholokhov was completed. The film was made by the director Y.Raizman on the first book of the novel telling about collectivization in the Don country. The premiere took place on May 5, 1940.

Earlier, in May 1933, the film director Nikolay Shengelaya made a proposition of filming the novel to the writer. Sholokhov agreed, and in autumn they began working. The cameraman Anton Polikevich made pictures of the villages and stanitsas, Cossacks outwardly similar to the heroes of the novel. However the Moscow film studio executives decided to stop the film production, for the scenes of Cossacks dispossession were shown too tragic, and Sholokhov refused to make them softer.

In 1939, when the film director Yury Raizman started working on the film, the film crew was also put in a rigid ideological framework. The screenwriter Sergey Yermolinsky came to Vyoshenskaya and jointly with M.A.Sholokhov wrote the script. The writer included many fragments made jointly with N.Shengelaya into that script variant, particularly, the opening episodes and the end. The script conveyed not only the theme and main features of the content, but also the spirit of the book as a whole.

S.A.Yermolinsky remembered: “The fact that the script plan expounded the most significant things of the novel, took from it the most important links, not the secondary ones, favoured Sholokhov for filming his novel, and he joined the work… We would meet to clarify this or that scene, and some 15 minutes later we see our talk skips to another subject. Sholokhov began remembering something and no one could turn him back to the script that night. But those talks added much to our understanding of the life we were going to tell about from the screen”.

The roles were played by gifted actors: Boris Dobronravov (Davydov), Mikhail Bolduman (Nagulnov), Nikolay Khryashchikov (Razmyotnov), Vladimir Dorofeyev (Shchukar), Lyubov Kalyuzhnaya (Lushka).

The shooting took place in the pavilion and took less than a year. In 1939, the film was fully completed. The film sounds music by Georgy Sviridov, for whom it was the first cinema experience.

The viewers watched the film with great interest. Following the premiere the press came out with commendable responses. However the picture was not widely acclaimed and pretty quickly it came off the screens. Unfortunately, the crew, under the strict censorship, failed to convey the characters of the main personages, their relationship and the tragedy of breaking their farm life. And yet, the first filming of the novel “Virgin Soil Upturned” left its mark in the Soviet cinema. It was contributed by director's findings, the strong cast and Sholokhov’s novel itself.

 

Larisa Bukina