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The Thirteen

Mikhail Romm
USSR 1936 / 87’
USSR: Early Days

A Red Army commander accompanies ten honourably discharged soldiers through the Karakum desert, where they stumble upon new weapons belonging to anti-Bolshevik insurgents. Zhuravlev orders them to lie in wait and fight the enemy until reinforcements arrive.

The Thirteen is one of the most remarkable Civil War thrillers in Soviet cinema. Though it is dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Red Army, its story was inspired by John Ford’s The Lost Patrol (1934). Neither the director nor screenwriter Iosif Prut had seen Ford’s epic – their boss, the man in charge of the Soviet film industry, related the story verbally.

The film’s well paced adventure plot, narrative stringency, overall economy and psychological plausibility meet the highest international standards. From the very first scene, there is suspense and human interest. The heroism in Romm’s picture is of an unspectacular kind – there is no blood or cries. Moreover, there are no political sermons, and the instructions and orders of the commander are calm, pragmatic and to the point. This understated pathos is unusual for Soviet cinema in the 1930s and has secured the film freshness and enduring appeal.

Peter Rollberg / Rotterdam IFF

Mikhail Romm

Born in 1901, died in 1971. In 1918–1921, he served in the Red Army during the Russian civil war. After the end of his military career, Romm received a scholarship from the Soviet government. In 1925, he graduated as a sculptor and worked as a sculptor and translator. In 1928–1930, he conducted research on cinematic theory. Beginning 1931, he worked for Mosfilm and subsequently became it ‘art director’. In 1942–1947, he directed a movie actors studio. From 1948, he headed and lectured at the actor-producer department of the VGIK, where he brought up an entire galaxy of brilliant film directors, including Andrei Tarkovsky, Grigori Chukhrai, Vasily Shukshin, Nikita Mikhalkov, Georgi Daneliya, Aleksandr Mitta, Igor Talakin, Rezo Chkheidze, Vladimir Basov, and Tengiz Abuładze.

Selected filmography

1934 Baryłeczka / Pyshka / Boule de Suif

1936 Bohaterowie pustyni / Trinadtsat / The Thirteen

1937 Lenin w październiku / Lenin v oktyabre / Lenin in October (co-dir.)

1943 Marzenie / Mechta / Dream

1953 Okręty szturmują bastiony / Korabli shturmuyut bastiony / Attack from the Sea

1962 Dziewięć dni jednego roku / 9 dney odnogo goda / Nine Days in One Year

1966 Zwyczajny faszyzm / Obyknovennyy fashizm / Ordinary Fascism (doc.)

1976 A jednak wierzę… / I vsyo-taki ya veryu… / And Still I Believe… (doc.)

Cast & Crew

director Mikhail Romm
screenplay Iosif Prut, Mikhail Romm
cinematography Boris Volchek
editing Tatyana Likhachyova
music Anatoli Aleksandrov
cast Ivan Kuznetsov, Andrei Dolinin, Ivan Novoseltsev, Elena Kuzmina, Andrei Fajt
production Mosfilm
sales Mosfilm
source of print Filmoteka Narodowa
language Russian
colouration b&w