The Nail in the Boot (1931)

This film currently has two IMDB reviews, and their respective titles sum it up brilliantly: “Technical masterpiece imbued with Stalinist hysteria, boggles the mind” and “Weird, angry propaganda”. Story: a Red Army armoured train—apparently mostly crewed by a gang of shoe factory workers—is attacked by White Army forces. Unable to contact their superiors any other way, one of the Red soldiers is sent to report to them and get backup; en route, though, he’s crippled by an errant nail in one of his boots finding its way into his heel and doesn’t actually get that far, whereupon the train is lost. Hauled before a tribunal for dereliction of duty, he turns it around by accusing the shoemakers of making shit footwear. The overall message the film’s supposed to communicate is rather bluntly put: slacking off at work is as bad as fucking up at war. However, the Soviet authorities banned it for formalism, that handy catch-all damnation for anything they didn’t like, so the shoemakers of the Soviet Union were saved from this finger-waving admonition… The authorities were right, of course; director Mikhail Kalatozov was clearly far more interested in the possibilities of filming the battle (which occupies most of this 50-something minute film) than the propagandistic message he was presumably meant to be focusing on. Like the first IMDB comment indicates, the battle business is absolutely amazing and tremendously exciting stuff, and it’s clearly where Kalatozov’s heart really lay. The trial business in the last reel or so unfortunately can’t match it, Kalatozov obviously cared less about making it terribly interesting or even believable; instead it’s riddled with ludicrous melodrama like the battalion of children with the banner proclaiming the soldier’s unfitness to be a father. And then of course there’s the man himself pointing the finger, it’s like he’s decided if he’s going down then he’s taking as many of them as possible with him. Weird and angry all right. Obviously it’s not a fully satisfying experience, but the actual combat material is still fantastic. Watch it on the Tube of You here.

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