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 Innokentiy Smoktunovsky

Born:   28 March 1925
Deceased:   03 August 1994



Innokentiy Smoktunovsky who excelled in the extraordinarily subtle play of Hamlet and Prince Myshkin enjoyed utmost popularity among the viewers and praises of critics. Few people could boast such loud fame that fell to the actor’s lot in the 1960s.

Innokentiy Mikhailovich Smoktunovsky (his real surname was Smoktunovich, of Polish origin) was born on March 28, 1925 into the family of workers living in the village of Tatianovka of the Tomsk Region. In 1929 the family moved to Krasnoyarsk. After finishing secondary school Innokentiy studied at Projectionists’ School.

During the Great Patriotic War he was summoned up to the army; the young soldier was trained at Kiev Infantry School and in 1943 was sent to the front, participating in battles at the Kursk Arc and forced crossing of Dnepr. In December 1943 Innokentiy was taken prisoner, but soon managed to flee and joined partisan troops and later the Soviet front-line forces, reaching Berlin after all.

 Innokentiy Smoktunovsky In 1945-1946 he studied at the Krasnoyark Theatre Studio. It is common knowledge that Soviet authorities were far from being favorable towards all the soldiers who once happened to be captives. Smoktunovich got his full share of this attitude when he returned upon demobilization to Krasnoyarsk and faced with rudeness, distrust and contempt at the local military enlistment office –despite the fact that he had been kept prisoner only for a month and then had successfully fought till the end of the war and had been awarded. When the beginning actor was dismissed from Krasnoyarsk Theatre he decided to leave for Norilsk.

“I went there because they could not exile me, a former prisoner of war, any further, unless to the Northern Pole… So I decided to get lost in Norilsk, in the ninth circle of the Stalin’s hell, among the exiled and repression camps. After all, I just had nowhere to go – according to the special passport regime regulations I was forbidden to live in thirty nine cities of the country. They had let me into Krasnoyarsk only because it was my birthplace” – recalled the famous actor later.

 Innokentiy Smoktunovsky At the same time Innokentiy Mikhailovich changed his real surname Smoktunovich that sounded somewhat like Jewish, into the more euphonic Smoktunovsky.

In the godforsaken town of Norilsk Smoktunovsky joined the troupe of the Second Transpolar Drama and Musical Comedy Theatre. His talent was immediately caught sight of in the company, making the roles to come in showers for him.

From 1955 the actor showed up in many theatres of Moscow, but was unmistakably rejected everywhere. However, in the late 1950s he was fortunate to play Prince Myshkin (after Dostoevsky’s The Idiot) on stage of the Bolshoi Drama Theatre where he was invited by the outstanding stage producer Georgiy Tovstonogov. Innokentiy Smoktunovsky The role of Myshkin made a whole epoch in the actor’s creation and actually started the real actor’s biography of Innokentiy Smoktunovsky.

Innokentiy Smoktunovsky’s rise to the heights of cinema fame started with Mikhail Romm’s film 9 dney odnogo goda (Nine Days in One Year) (1962). Still a greater success fell on the actor in 1964 with the release of Hamlet directed by Grigory Kozintsev. Many English critics even ranked the Hamlet of Smoktunovsky above the one played by Laurence Olivier. Smoktunovsky’s Hamlet, just like Prince Myshkin, also became a whole epoch. The actor created an integral heroic portrait, which blended together what seemed incompatible before: manly simplicity and exquisite aristocratism, kindness and caustic sarcasm, a derisive mindset and self-sacrifice.

 Innokentiy Smoktunovsky Further on the actor expanded the scopes of stage character shaping and revealed immense ingenuity in the subtle psychological analyses if his personages. Among his roles there were “evil” or reputed as such characters, like for example the investigator Porfiry Petrovitch from Prestuplenie i nakazanie (Crime and Punishment) (1969) directed by Lev Kulidzhanov after another famous Dostoevsky’s novel.

An exceptional comic gift of the actor showed itself in the role of Detochkin in Eldar Ryazanov’s popular comedy Beregis avtomobilya (Beware of the Car) (1966).

 Innokentiy Smoktunovsky Almost each work of Smoktunovsky became an event: Pal Palytch in Nochnoy gost (The Night Guest) (1958), Voinitsky in Dyadya Vanya (Uncle Vanya) (1970), Moisei Moiseyevich in Step (The Steppe) (1977), Saglieri; Old Baron in Malenkie tragedii (Little Tragedies) (1979), and Plushkin in Myortvye dushi (Dead Souls) (1984), to name but a few.

From the early 1990s Smoktunovsky had to agree more and more to play “second-rate” roles for quite a commonplace reason – he had to earn his bread somehow in the critical period of prevailing mediocrity in Russian cinema world also. The actor confessed: “I used to be stricter in the choice of roles…while now – I am ashamed to say it – I am guided by different things. I ask: how much will you pay me for this deformity?”

 Innokentiy Smoktunovsky Still some works of that period are also worthy of attention, like for example the role of tailor Isaac in Damskiy portnoy (Ladies Tailor) (1990).

By the mid 1990s the outstanding actor’s service record had already more than 80 roles in cinema and on TV screen and over 50 roles on theatre stage.

Innokentiy Smoktunovsky passed away on August 3, 1994 and was laid to rest at Novodevichye Cemetery (Moscow). One of the minor planets, Planet 4926 has been registered under the name of Smoktunovsky in the worldwide catalogue of planets.



Tags: Russian theatre Russian cinema Russian actors Innokentiy Smoktunovsky  

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