The New York Post’s Lou Lumenick and film blogger Farran Smith Nehme (known to readers the Self Styled Siren) have curated Shadows of Russia, a monthlong series for Turner Classic Movies, currently airing every Wednesday. “This look at how Hollywood depicted Russia and its effect on the U.S. — in everything from comedies to romantic dramas, spanning the last years of the Tsars to the end of the Cold War — started out as strictly a fantasy project,” explains Lumenick. “It turned out they loved our little fantasy. TCM sifted through our lists and made their selections based on availability and scheduling.”
In conjunction with the series, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is screening Michael Curtiz’s “Mission to Moscow” tonight which Smith Nehme describes as “one of the purest pieces of propaganda ever made in this country…a journey through the looking glass into a place where Stalin’s Russia is full of happy people dancing, perfume-shopping, and fighting off the fascist menace.” Smith Nehme, Lumenick and guests will participate in a panel discussion following the film.
The New York Times’ Dave Kehr: “During World War II several propaganda films were made in support of America’s wartime alliance with the Soviet Union, but few went as far as this Warner Brothers feature from 1943, directed by Michael Curtiz (who made at least one propaganda film for the Hungarian Communist Party back in the old country) and starring Walter Huston as Joseph E. Davies, the United States ambassador to Russia from 1936 to 1938.”
“All that’s missing from the director Michael Curtiz’s simplistic and sentimental propaganda pageant (complete with caviar and Kazatsky) is speech bubbles and Ben-Day dots,” writes Richard Brody in the New Yorker, “but the story of Davies’s increasingly frantic diplomatic exertions to forge a British and French alliance with the U.S.S.R. in the face of rising German threats builds to a searing real-time climax—Nazi Germany’s then-unchallenged dominion over Europe.”
Lou Lumenick in Moving Image Source: “Mission to Moscow reaches its nadir of deception in its depiction of Stalin’s notorious Soviet purge trials, in which scores of current and former Soviet officials were sent off to the firing squad. Not surprisingly, the trials are compressed into a single proceeding in which half a dozen defendants—whose guilt is cued by Bert Glennon’s ominous photography—are depicted as part of a Trotskyite plot to soften up the Stalin regime for the impending Nazi invasion.”
“I must red-facedly (no pun intended) admit that I’ve never seen ‘Mission to Moscow,’ the 1942 pro-Soviet melodrama that got Warner Bros. in trouble when — within a matter of a few years — Russia, the anti-Nazi Savior, became Russia, the Satanic Empire,” writes Andrew Soares at Alternative Film Guide. “Something tells me that ‘Mission to Moscow; will either be very funny or very dull. It all depends on how star Walter Huston (as a US ambassador), director Michael Curtiz, and screenwriter Howard Koch handle the melodrama’s Praise Ally intentions. But hey, whether good or bad, Mission to Moscow is a must-see, and not only for historical reasons. After all, this $2 million production co-stars the unjustly forgotten Ann Harding, one of the most striking performers of the ’30s and ’40s. As a plus, the gorgeous and talented Eleanor Parker has a supporting role in it.
Watch the trailer for “Mission to Moscow” on TCM.com.
More on Shadows of Russia at Monsters and Critics.