A film about striking German shipbuilders drawing inspiration from the Soviet collective ideal would not have been possible much later than Vsevoled Pudovkin's documentary-like Deserter, released in 1933, just as Hitler was coming to power. Pudovkin's dynamic collection of images makes this a thrilling story for the first two-thirds of the film, but things bog down when its hero, Karl Renn (Boris Livanov) is packed off to the Soviet Union to take a break from battling police and strikebreakers and learn from his Soviet comrades. Pudovkin tries to inject some drama by having Renn's new co-workers put under the gun. Their factory is falling short of quotas and they're given almost impossible production goals to achieve in 36 days. There are a lot of shots of men looking at that number written on scraps of paper, and then everyone knuckles down, although we aren't shown the activity, just told about it in a title. The film uses sound in unusual ways, going for some stretches without even music, then offers a sequence with both sound effects and music reinforcing the imagery. There's a minimum of dialogue; one of the reasons the film slows down in the trip to the U.S.S.R. is that it turns from telling the story in images and resorts to political speeches. But what imagery -- on a large scale (masses of ship workers sitting on platforms awaiting word on a strike) and an intimate one (a clenched hand opening to reveal a policeman's button ripped off during a melee). Though the enemy of the workers is presented with little subtlety (either bullying cops or wealthy capitalists riding in expensive cars), there is some shading in the portrayal of the proletariat, especially when a gang of strikebreakers proves to be local workers who are just desperate enough to break the picket lines for a chance at a day's pay.
by Tom Wiener review