A fourth movie of contemporary life was Grigorii Roshal’s THE SALAMANDER (SALAMANDRA), script by Commissar of Enlightenment A.V, Lunacharskii and his sometime collaborator Grigorii Grebner. The film is a fictionalized version of the tragedy of the Austrian Lamarckian biologist Paul Kammerer, and was co-produced by Mezhrabpom-fil’m and the German studio Prometheusfilm. THE SALAMANDER was better than Roshal’s very bad previous effort, THE SKOTININS, but like THE SKOTININS it abounds with clichés, such as aristocratic men wearing lipstick. Yet the reworking of the Kammerer story is revealing, considering later Soviet developments.
Kammerer hoped to prove through his experimentson salamanders that, contrary to accepted biological theory, acquired characteristics could be inherited. In a highly publicized scandal, it was revealed that the salamanders had been injected with ink to produce spots, and Kammerer committed suicide. The case has continued to stir interest, some orthodox scientists believing that Kammerer was honest, that his results could be explained by mutation, and that the undeniably fraudulent experiment was the work of a saboteur.
THE SALAMANDER adheres to the sabotage theory, offering a conspiracy of the Catholic Church and noblemen against both scientific innovation and communism. (The scientist at one point in the film is accused of being a Bolshevik.) He becomes destitute, loses his beautiful wife to the decadent baron leading the cabal, and attempts to commit suicide in a ridiculously unbelievable scene. He does not die and is taken by a Russian student to the land where scientific achievement is really appreciated, the Soviet Union (so read the titles). Commissar Lunacharskii appears as himself, an instrument in bringing the scientist to sanctuary.
THE SALAMANDER was regarded as being one more “soft" treatment of a revolutionary theme, because it did not properly reveal the inner workings of bourgeois society. From the point of view of the audience, a more significant (and justifiable) charge was that the movie was slow. THE SALAMANDER was yet another failure of a Lunacharskii script, joining his disgraced films THE BEAR’S WEDDING and POISON.
Denise J. Youngblood, Soviet Cinema in the Silent Era, 1918–1935, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991, p. 185