To immortalize one of the Soviet heroes of the military conquest just after the World War, Amkino has turned out a thoroughly competent piece entitled "Chapayev, the Red Commander." It is a workmanlike and worthy memorial, yet it falls short of the brilliance intended by its makers. The reason for this lapse is rather difficult to find, for the picture suffers from no definitely low spots. Perhaps it can best be laid at the door of its more than average length, which results in occasional drag.
It is true, however, that an inclusively cut characterization of the strange Chapayev is achieved, mostly through delicate direction. This Garibaldi of the Soviets is probably the best remembered of the heroes who sprang from the people to rid the new Russia of the White armies. A born leader of men, a man of magnificent courage and character, yet uneducated and scarcely lettered, Chapayev was thought to need direction by the high Soviet command. Thus, Commissar Furmanov is detailed to consolidate the army's gains for the Bolsheviks. Making fine use of the delightful Russian sense of humor, the director has told much in the clashes between the quiet Furmanov and the fiery, jealous, and naively conceited Chapayev. But in contrast to his simple peasant mind is Chapayev's ability as a military strategist, of which we have just a glimpse as he tersely explains a military problem with the help of a few potatoes, cigarettes, and a pipe.
"Chapayev" avoids the usual evil of Soviet films, excessive propaganda; it glorifies the man rather than the movement. It's treatment of the White commanders is likewise sympathetic and fair. But it does succumb to an incredibility in its battle scenes which some of the better American films have been able to surmount.