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The Volga Boatman
video review by Gary Johnson

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With The Volga Boatman, Cecil B. DeMille kicks into his extravagant mode--but with a difference. This is a big-scaled epic, but it is also a surprisingly fast moving and exciting romantic melodrama. It's more than a little silly, but that's part of the fun.

William Boyd leads a revolt in The Volga Boatman.

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The Volga Boatman was influenced by the Russian Revolution. And what was DeMille, a conservative Republican, doing making a movie about the overthrow of the Czar? Well, the situation was ripe with extravagant dramatics. DeMille didn't attempt to politicize the drama; the aristocracy comes off worse, but no one looks particularly good in this movie. The Volga Boatman stars William Boyd of Hopalong Cassidy fame. Brawny and charismatic, he is forced to pull barges up and down the Volga River. With a dozen or more companions, all yoked as they lunge forward, he sings loudly and strongly, so that a Russian princess (Elinor Fair) hears him and begins to secretly yearn for him. She's been dallying with a Russian prince, and she's toying with the idea of marrying him, but then the Russian Revolution kicks into high gear and her castle is stormed. Feodor (Boyd) leads the assault and after one member of the Red Army is killed, the Red Army calls for the princess's death. But when Feodor is locked in a room with her, promising to kill her in five minutes, he sees her strength of spirit and becomes attracted to her. Instead of killing her, they run away together. The preposterousness of the scenario--what leader of a revolutionary army would allow himself to compromise his beliefs and give up his cause after just five minutes with a woman?--gives this movie a delightfully goofy premise. One of the most interesting aspects of the movie is the way that DeMille avoids giving us any completely good or bad characters. Instead, DeMille gives us a variety of men and women who can be alternately petty and noble. For a director who was usually considered to be more interested in creating extravagant scenarios than full-blooded human characters, The Volga Boatman contains a fascinating mix of characters. And the movie also contains several shocking scenes, such as when the White Army captures Feodor and the princess is turned over to the officers, who--not recognizing she is the fiancée of a White Army officer--strip her and begin a gang rape. And when the Red Army storms into the last bastion of White Army power, the camera watches as a Red Army solider forces several ladies in evening gowns to stand still while he paints caricatures on their naked backs. Ultimately, however, the movie isn't about revolution as much as it's about the power of love. As such, it's a ludicrous but wonderfully entertaining fantasy.

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Joan The Woman

The Whispering Chorus

Male and Female

The Volga Boatman

King of Kings


"Cecil B. DeMille: The Visionary Years, 1915-1927": The six videos comprising this set are available from Kino on Video. Suggested retail price: $29.95 each. For more information, we suggest you check out the Kino Web site:



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