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Reader Mark Bonacquisti informs me that tomorrow afternoon at 3, eastern time, Turner Classic Movies will be airing Mission to Moscow. No, not the Police Academy sequel: This is a World War 2-era picture aimed at showing Americans just how wonderful the USSR is. Directed by Michael Curtiz and written by Howard Koch—the director and co-writer of Casablanca—it's one of the few universally despised movies that's even worse than its reputation. The film doesn't just laud the Soviet economy and glorify Stalin; it defends the purges, complete with a quarter-hour dedicated to arguing that Leon Trotsky was a Nazi agent.

It would be a terrible movie even if its politics weren't so repulsive: It's stiffly acted, poorly plotted, padded with stock footage, and just generally clumsy. But it's a must for fans of propaganda kitsch.

(Did I say it was universally despised? My mistake: Leonard Maltin gives it three and a half stars.)

NEXT: The NY Times Covers Reason's Cover

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  1. Saw some films from the “Why We Fight” series a couple years ago. Interesting viewing, from the same file as this.

    Did you know that Germans may seem quaint and friendly, but are actually genetically and culturally predisposed to murder and genocide?

    1. There was a National Film Board of Canada short that said the USSR invaded Poland to stop the Nazis.

  2. I once had a brother-in-law who defended Stalin’s purges. Said things would have been even worse otherwise.

  3. The NYT treatment of Mission to Moscow.

    Hmmm…you could be the first reader to review the film.

  4. On a related note, here’s Ayn Rand’s testimony before the HUAC. She discusses another Soviet apologist movie, “Song of Russia.”

    http://namingfacts.aynrand.org/HUAC.shtml

  5. Song of Russia was on TCM last week. It’s obnoxious propaganda (as is The North Star, written by Lillian Hellman), but I prefer Mission to Moscow for pure Commie toxicity. Both Song of Russia and Mission to Moscow contain sequences with actors portraying Stalin, but the one in M2M is truly jaw dropping.

  6. Jesse Walker,

    Its not any worse as far as propaganda, acting, etc. than many WWII films that came out of the U.S. (or Germany or any of the belligerant nations in the war – films made in Vichy France during the period awful (on multiple levels) too). Take for examples WWII films that praised the U.S. military. While U.S. fighting personnel certainly were praiseworthy, their commanders were in many cases inept, foolish, etc. To be specific, see Mark Clark’s (or his British counterpart) murderous stupidity in Italy, which wasted the lives of Americans, Poles, Frenchmen, New Zealanders, etc. alike. None of this “reality” was portrayed to viewing audiences in the homeland.

  7. Thanks for the link, D.

    I don’t think I’ve seen the film, but it must be great if the NYT says this about it: “Seen objectively, Mission to Moscow is top-rank entertainment, superbly and excitingly assembled in the manner typical of Warners and director Michael Curtiz.”

    This is the same Times whose Moscow Bureau Chief, Walter Duranty, covered up much of what he new about Soviet atrocities during his time there.

  8. So the “C” in TCM means Communist?
    Heh heh. It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

  9. That NY Times review is taken straight from the All Movie Guide website, so I don’t know if it could be said to be the NYT’s opinion. Unless Hal Erickson works for the NYT, but I bet he was writing strictly for the All Movie Guide. BTW, AMG also gives it only one and a half stars. I’ve noticed especially in the All Movie Guide that reviewers often like the work better than whoever’s giving the “star” rating. Maybe they allow fans of a particular work to write the review.

  10. It would be a terrible movie even if its politics weren’t so repulsive: It’s stiffly acted, poorly plotted, padded with stock footage, and just generally clumsy. But it’s a must for fans of propaganda kitsch.

    I can’t agree more! I’ll just stick to Fox News, thank you very much.

  11. Such propaganda was in support of a nation
    carrying the burden of the war with Germany,
    a nation who had millions dying.
    That doesn’t make it right, but makes it make some sense.

  12. Sense? Only if it had been produced by the Soviets. Since it was produced by Hollywood, it’s that much more disgusting.

  13. Proof of the moral and pragmatic bankruptcy of the “with us or against us” mindset.

  14. Trotsky was a competant military commander. He probably would have made a better defense than Stalin.

    Pretty tame response, but I wouldn’t peek your head out yet.

  15. “Plus, according to what I’ve heard, he managed to squeeze out a few potatoes for most Russians.”

    What can I say? If you’ve really read Conquest but can actually write this with a straight face than you can’t be convinced. Still, if you ever have a chance to learn about what Russia was really like in 1880-1914 you might be surprised. Stalin made life worse for average Russians in almost every conceivable way. Even the vaunted industrialization was mostly a fraud, Russia was already heavily industrializing before WWI and in a much more rational way. The more you study supposedly efficient totalitarian systems such as Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China,etc. the more it becomes apparent that those systems restricted real economic growth rather than promoting it.

  16. Trotsky was very much a military man. That’s partially what scared me about him. Trotsky was consumed by discipline, instituting it to great extremes everywhere he could. Also, having once been obsessed with the man, I can honestly tell you he had some of the most wack theories I’ve ever been foolish enough to believe in (my younger days). His modern followers, as you may know, are even worse!

  17. Its not any worse as far as propaganda, acting, etc. than many WWII films that came out of the U.S. (or Germany or any of the belligerant nations in the war – films made in Vichy France during the period awful (on multiple levels) too). Take for examples WWII films that praised the U.S. military. While U.S. fighting personnel certainly were praiseworthy, their commanders were in many cases inept, foolish, etc. To be specific, see Mark Clark’s (or his British counterpart) murderous stupidity in Italy,

    I thank you for pounding another nail in the coffin of the incompetent butcher Mark Clark (recently praised as a “great captain of the time” by the always clueless Victor Davis Hanson).

    However, M2M is every bit as bad as Jesse says. As wartime Hollywood propaganda goes, it’s not even on a level with Bataan, The Purple Heart, or even Song of Russia, let alone really great movies like Casablanca and Mrs. Miniver. It’s pushy, bombastic, headache-inducing, and very hard to watch. The last scene, in which Joe Davies outfaces hecklers at a speech, really made me hate Walter Huston as an actor-and that’s not based on the content but on the shrill, grinding deliver; that he’s actually arguing that Finland deserved to get invaded by the USSR is just an extra treat. What happened to Curtiz on this one is a mystery: Maybe he sabotaged it on purpose.

    I highly recommend Jack Warner’s autobiography My First Hundred Years In Hollywood, where he says FDR leaned on him to make a picture that would sell Americans on Stalin.

  18. JB,

    Consider the American wartime movie “Wake Island”. It is actually quite accurate initially. Where it fails most significantly is during the last half–not surprising since we didn’t know what happened after our last plane escaped the island.

    What isn’t shown in the movie is how much hurt our Marines inflicted on the Japanese. The Marines actually defeated the first Japanese landing attempt, and the Japanese had to launch a second landing. The Japanese were very disappointed by the casualty ratio. It may be the only propaganda film in history to underestimate the fighting effectivness of the protagonists.

    Several interesting points on the movie: The Japanese were played by Phillipinos, all of whom insisted on “dying” on-screen. Since the Japanese won the battle, not all of them could die, so a deal was worked out: all would be filmed dying, but only half of the death scenes would make it into the film. The movie was filmed by the Salton Sea in Southern Califronia. Lots of sand; the real Wake was coral. But the movie had the same 10″ coast guns of the type the Marines used with good effect on the Japanese invasion fleet.

  19. “Mission to Moscow” is worth watching just because it is so faithful to the Communist Party line. Many people today are not aware of the total fabrication of reality that Stalin’s propaganda machine was capable of.

    The movie clearly portrays Russia as much more prosperous and clean than it was. And the scene of the Moscow Trial of Nikolai Bukharin is priceless. If you have read about the trials, seeing the US ambassador tell people he thought the proceeding met all the standards of fairness has to be chilling.

    It is also astounding to see Ambassador Davies defend the Hitler-Stalin Pact after making the case that Russia alone was willing to fight the Nazis.

    Most astounding is watching Comrade Stalin talk with the Ambassador in English!

    TCM is providing a service to historians of the Communist menace, in showing just how close to the Soviet regime President Roosevelt was willing to take America.

  20. Tim and Gene,

    I suppose I have a difficult time seperating the various forms of propaganda films during WWII; having watched US, German and Vichy French films of the period, they all appear to have a pollyanish vision of warfare, and support the “party line.” Though it is a modern film, I think of the reaction of the “boys” at the Nazi youth institute to the disaster at Stalingrad in the film “Europa! Europa!” (as you might recall they begin to cry and scream). Not that I equate the varying goals of these regimes as the same; but their propaganda methods appear often to be similar. Which makes me wonder whether any state – democratic or not – can prosecute war without some form of propaganda?

    Tim,

    Regarding Clark, I know what de Tassigny was appreciative that when the French army was pulled out of Italy in prepartion for the August 1944 landings of southern France he had his own equal command with Clark, as opposed to being under the command of Clark throughout Italy. The poor Poles were never so fortunate (Poland is always someone’s kick toy).

    One of Clarke’s biggest problems was that he was too dependent on mechanized transport; which kept his tactical and strategic notions close to roads, which in mountainous Italy, were easy to defend and slaughter the allies with (especially regarding the German penchant to give some ground, then mount ferocious counter-attacks against the advancing allied line). French forces, and Poles, were much more used to using mules for transport, independent small-unit tactics, etc. that allowed them to forgo the use of roads, and they were successful when allowed to succeed by Clarke.

  21. Three and a half stars? Hey, better than Laserblast!

  22. Howard Koch was also the author of the Orson Welles’ famous (and infamous) WAR OF THE WORLDS radio play staged by Welles’ Mercurty Theater on the Air.

    There’s probably some witty comparison to make, but I haven’t had my coffee yet!

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