The Elusive Avengers

[Неуловимые мстители]

USSR, Mosfilm 1966
Color, 78 min.
Russian with English subtitles

Director: Edmond Keosaian

Screenplay: Edmond Keosaian and Sergei Ermolinskii

Cinematography: Fedor Dobronravov

Music: Boris Mokrousov

Cast: Viktor Kosykh, Mikhail Metelkin, Vasilii Vasil'ev, Valentina Kurdiukova, Efim Kopelian, Inna Churikova, Gleb Strizhenov

Overshadowed by Soviet art cinema of the 1960s, Edmond Keosaian's Elusive Avengers tends to get lost in critical discussions of the cinema of the period.  Yet this color remake of Ivan Perestiani's 1923 blockbuster Red Imps plays an important role in the history of the Soviet film industry.  The film revived the 1920s tradition of genre cinema, paying lip service to communist ideology and promoted Keosaian to the status of a major celebrity.  A perfect example of the red Western, The Elusive Avengers is Keosaian's "cult classic"—celebrated by the director's fans and appreciated for its aesthetics of the Western.

In order to defamiliarize the official historico-revolutionary film's topoi, Keosaian incorporates Russian Civil War themes into the iconography of a traditional Western plot.  Four teenage friends, "the magnificent four," get together to protect a village that is being harassed by a gang of bandits led by villainous Boornush.  He has killed the father of one of the friends, a Red Army commander, providing the only instance of ideological motivation in the film.  The rest of the film follows the logic of a Western action-adventure without paying much attention to the ideological motivation of the narrative.  The young friends almost succeed in defeating the bandits in their first battle.  However, the major villain escapes while one of the friends gets captured and sentenced to death by the bandits.  In the final battle, the remaining "magnificent three" defeat Boornush and save their doomed friend.

The filmmaker draws deeply from the silent cinema tradition.  Endless stunts, long chase scenes, and sight gags filmed against the backdrop of Western-style locales account for much of Elusive Avengers' visual appeal.  Dialogue is at a minimum, while the memorable musical score amplifies the effect of fast-paced montage in chase and fight scenes.  After the success of The Elusive Avengers, Keosaian made two sequels: New Adventures of the Elusives (1968) and Crown of the Russian Empire, or the Elusives Again (1971).  The Crown of the Russian Empire was filmed at Grigorii Chukhrai's Experimental Creative Unit, which attempted to combine state ownership of the film industry with the profit-driven practices of commercial film production.

Alexander Prokhorov

Edmond Keosaian

Edmond Keosaian (1936-1994) was born in Leninakan, Armenia.  He graduated from the directing department of the State Filmmaking Institute (VGIK) in 1964 (Efim Dzigan's Workshop).  His Avenger films made him one of the most profitable filmmakers in the history of Soviet cinema.  In the 1970s Keosaian worked at Armenfilm Studio in Erevan and shot films dealing with issues of national identity.  Keosaian worked at Mosfilm Studio from 1982 until his death in Moscow in 1994.

Filmography

1962    The Staircase
1963    Three Hours on the Road
1965    The Cook
1966    The Elusive Avengers
1968    New Adventures of the Elusives
1971    Crown of the Russian Empire, or the Elusives Again
1973    Men
1975    When September Comes
1975    The Canyon of Deserted Tales
1978    Star of Hope
1980    The Legend of the Clown
1982    An Oriole is Crying Somewhere
1988    The Ascent

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