Mission to Moscow
|Mission to Moscow, The Movie|
|Directed by||Michael Curtiz|
|Produced by||Robert Buckner|
|Written by||Howard Koch|
|Based on||Mission to Moscow
by Joseph E. Davies
|Music by||Max Steiner|
|Distributed by||Warner Brothers|
|Running time||124 minutes|
The movie, starring Walter Huston, was made in response to a request by Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was one of the movies famously targeted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. It chronicles the experiences of the second American ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph E. Davies.
Joseph E. Davies wrote a memoir about his stint as ambassador in 1941. While the storylines of both the book and movie are practically identical, the movie uses cinematic techniques and dialogue changes to overstate or change some controversial points in the book—changes that were made with Davies' approval.
Film production 
The screenplay adaptation of was by Howard Koch. Its musical score was penned by Max Steiner, with cinematography by Bert Glennon. The extensive montage sequences, which draw on footage from Soviet archives were supervised by Don Siegel. The picture was produced and distributed by Warner Brothers. Ambassador Davies introduces the film; his part is played by Walter Huston. Ann Harding plays Marjorie Davies, Gene Lockhart is Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, Henry Daniell his German counterpart, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Dudley Field Malone plays British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Most parts, bar those of Davies' family, are taken by character actors who look like the famous politicians they are representing.
The film chronicles Ambassador Davies' impressions of the Soviet Union, his meetings with Stalin, and his overall opinion of the Soviet Union and its ties with the United States. It is made in faux-documentary style, beginning with Davies meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to discuss his new appointment as United States ambassador to the Soviet Union. It continues to show the Davies' family's trip by boat to Moscow, with stops in Europe.
While in Moscow, the movie alternates between Davies' interpretations of Russian politics and communism and his family's impressions of Russian life. It includes a memorable scene with Mrs. Davies at a Russian department store. The movie gives Davies' perspective on various points in Soviet history. It begins with the real Ambassador Davies stating, while seated in an armchair, “No leaders of a nation have been so misrepresented and misunderstood as those in the Soviet government during those critical years between the two world wars.” The film then cuts to the film Davies and begins its narrative.
The voice-overs continue throughout the film, interspersing storyline with Davies' opinions. The basis of the film's narrative focuses on the journey of Davies and his family. First, their physical journey from the United States to the Soviet Union. And, second, their less tangible journey from skeptics of communism and the Soviet Union into converts and enthusiasts. The narrative of the movie and the book are almost identical.
Production notes 
The film was the first pro-Soviet Hollywood film of its time and was followed by others, including Samuel Goldwyn's The North Star (1943), MGM’s Song of Russia (1944), United Artists’ Three Russian Girls (1943), Columbia’s The Boy from Stalingrad (1943) and Counter-Attack (1945).
It was Roosevelt himself who approved the creation of the film, even meeting with Davies several times (July, October, and November 1942 and March 1943) during the film's production and discussing its progress.
As part of his contract with Warner Brothers, Davies had absolute right of control over the script, and could veto any dialogue not to his liking.
During production, Office of War Information officials reviewed screenplay revisions and prints of the film and commented on them. By reviewing the scripts and prints, OWI officials exercised authority over Mission to Moscow, ensuring that it promoted the "United Nations" theme. An administration official advised the film's producers to offer explanations for the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the Red Army's invasion of Finland. After reading the final script, in November 1942 the OWI expressed its hope that Mission to Moscow would "make one of the most remarkable pictures of this war" and "a very great contribution to the war information program."
The OWI report on Mission to Moscow concluded that it would
be a most convincing means of helping Americans to understand their Russian allies. Every effort has been made to show that Russians and Americans are not so very different after all. The Russians are shown to eat well and live comfortably, which will be a surprise to many Americans. The leaders of both countries desire peace and both possess a blunt honesty of address and purpose ... One of the best services performed by this picture is the presentation of Russian leaders, not as wild-eyed madmen, but as far-seeing, earnest, responsible statesmen. They have proved very good neighbors, and this picture will help to explain why, as well as to encourage faith in the feasibility of post-war cooperation.
Government information specialists were equally enthusiastic about the completed print. Judging it "a magnificent contribution" to wartime propaganda, the OWI believed the picture would "do much to bring understanding of Soviet international policy in the past years and dispel the fears which many honest persons have felt with regard to our alliance with Russia." That was particularly so since "the possibility for the friendly alliance of the Capitalist United States and the Socialist Russia is shown to be firmly rooted in the mutual desire for peace of the two great countries."
Historical accuracy 
The film, made during World War II, showed the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin in an extremely positive light. Completed in late April 1943, the film was, in the words of Robert Buckner, the film's producer, "an expedient lie for political purposes, glossily covering up important facts with full or partial knowledge of their false presentation." It whitewashed the Moscow trials, rationalized Moscow's participation in the Nazi-Soviet Pact and its unprovoked invasion of Finland, and portrayed the Soviet Union as a non-totalitarian state that was moving towards the American democratic model, a Soviet Union committed to internationalism. The book was vague on the guilt or innocence of defendants in the Moscow trials, but the final screenplay portrayed the defendants as undeniably guilty. It also showed the purges as an attempt by Stalin to rid his country of pro-German fifth columnists. The fifth columnists are described in the film as acting on behalf of Germany and Japan. The film even contains "a quarter-hour dedicated to arguing that Leon Trotsky was a Nazi agent."
In the film, Davies proclaims at the end of the trial scene: “Based on twenty years’ trial practice, I’d be inclined to believe these confessions.”
Also, there are many anachronisms. For example, the trial with Nikolai Bukharin and Mikhail Tukhachevsky are depicted as occurring at the same time, but in reality the trial with Bukharin was two years after the execution of Tukhachevsky. Tukhachevsky and Tymoshenko are marshals at the same time, but Tukhachevsky was executed in 1937 and Tymoshenko became marshal of the USSR in 1940.
Some reviewers despised the film. However, there have been notable exceptions. The critic for the New York Times, future McCarthy opponent Bosley Crowther, found the film's attempts to rehabilitate Stalin believable:
Based entirely on the personal observations reported by Mr. Davies in his book, it will obviously prove offensive to those elements which have challenged his views. Particularly will it anger the so-called Trotskyites with its visual re-enactment of the famous "Moscow trials"...For it puts into the record for millions of moviegoers to grasp an admission that the many "purged" generals and other leaders were conspirators in a plot.
Mission to Moscow was not a commercial success. Although Warner Brothers spent $250,000 advertising the film before its release on April 30, 1943, the company lost around $600,000 overall at the final accounting. Mission to Moscow's numerous factual inaccuracies and outright false portrayals of Soviet leaders and events resulted in criticism from those on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. According to Jesse Walker of Reason Magazine, "[i]t 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."
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration in a Black-and-White film (Carl Jules Weyl, George James Hopkins).
Postwar controversy 
The House Committee on Un-American Activities would later cite Mission to Moscow as one of the three noted examples of pro-Soviet films made by Hollywood, the other two being The North Star and Song of Russia. It's been called "unquestionably the most blatant piece of pro-Stalinist propaganda ever offered by the American mass media".
In 1950, the film became an object of attention by members of Congress, who saw it as pro-Soviet propaganda. Davies was largely silent on his role in the film, though he did submit a letter to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947. Called to testify under oath before Congress, Jack Warner at first claimed that the film was made at the request of Davies, who with the approval of FDR had asked Warner Brothers to make the film (this version of the facts was confirmed by Davies' letter as well). Warner later recanted this version, stating that Harry Warner first read Mission to Moscow and then contacted Davies to discuss movie rights.
Mission to Moscow was one of hundreds of pre-1948 Warner Bros. movies sold for television screenings, but was never included in domestic syndication packages put together by its then-owner, United Artists. It had its U.S. TV debut on PBS in the 1970s and has been shown sporadically on Turner Classic Movies, most recently as the centerpiece of the January 2010 series "Shadows of Russia." The film's ownership has returned to Warner Bros. via its purchase of Turner Entertainment and the title made its DVD debut in October, 2009 as part of the Warner Archive Collection.
- As cited in Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black, Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 190.
- Mission to Moscow, produced by Robert Buckner, 123 minutes, Warner Brothers, screenplay by Howard Koch.
- Bennett, p. 10-11.
- Culbert, p. 17
- Bennett, p. 18
- Barmine, Alexander, One Who Survived, New York: G.P. Putnam (1945), p. 208: In reality, during Davies' stay in the Soviet Union, as well as during the war years, the average Soviet worker spent 90% of his income on food, mostly black bread, potatoes, buckwheat, and cabbage. 94% of them lived in one-room apartments, often constructed without electrical sockets. In the winter, many went without adequate heat as well.
- Bennett, p.18
- Bennett, p.19
- Bennett, p.20
- Piers Brendon, The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s, p498 ISBN 0-375-40881-9
- Bennett, p.21
- Walker, Jesse (2004-04-05) Set Your VCRs, Reason
- Crowther, Bosley, Mission to Moscow, Based on Ex-Ambassador Davies' Book, Stars Walter Huston, Ann Harding At Hollywood, New York Times, 30 April 1943
- Bennett, p. 28.
- Bennett, pp. 13-15
- "NY Times: Mission to Moscow". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-16.
- Goodman, Walter How to Learn from the Blacklist, The New York Times, 25 Feb. 1996.
- You Must Remember This: the Warner Brothers story, Richard Schickel and George Perry, pg. 125
- Culbert, p. 16
- Barmine, Alexander, One Who Survived: The Life Story of a Russian Under the Soviets, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons (1945), reprinted Read Books (2007), ISBN 1-4067-4207-4, ISBN 978-1-4067-4207-7
- Bennett, Todd, Culture, Power, and Mission to Moscow: Film and Soviet-American Relations during World War II, The Journal of American History, Vol. 88, No. 2. (Sept., 2001)
- Culbert, David H., Mission to Moscow, University of Wisconsin Press (1980), ISBN 0-299-08384-5, ISBN 978-0-299-08384-7.
- Mission to Moscow at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Mission to Moscow at the Internet Movie Database