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Max Otto von Stierlitz
The Stierlitz novels character
Max otto von stierlitz 1.jpg
Vyacheslav Tikhonov portraying Stierlitz
First appearanceNo Password Required, 1966 novel
Last appearanceIsaev, 2009 television series
Created byYulian Semyonov
Portrayed byRodion Nakhapetov (1967)
Vladimir Zamansky (1968)
Vyacheslav Tikhonov (1973)
Vladimir Ivashov (1975)
Vsevolod Safonov (1976)
Uldis Dumpis (1980)
Vasily Antonov (2001)
Daniil Strakhov (2009)
Voiced byVyacheslav Tikhonov (1984)
AliasBruno, Bolsen, Max, Massimo etc.
TitlePolkovnik (USSR)
SS-Standartenführer (Germany)
OccupationSecret agent
AffiliationPeople's Commissariat for State Security
FamilyVladimir Vladimirov (father)
Olesia Prokopchuk (mother)
SpouseAlexandra Gavrilina
ChildrenAlexander Vladimirov

Max Otto von Stierlitz (Russian: Шти́рлиц, IPA: [ˈʂtʲirlʲɪts]) is the lead character in a popular Russian book series written in the 1960s by novelist Yulian Semyonov and of the television adaptation Seventeen Moments of Spring, starring Vyacheslav Tikhonov, as well as in feature films, produced in the Soviet era, and in a number of sequels and prequels. Other actors portrayed Stierlitz in several other films. Stierlitz has become a stereotypical spy in Soviet and post-Soviet culture, similar to James Bond in Western culture.


In the universe of the Seventeen Moments of Spring, Stierlitz is the cover name for a Soviet super-spy Colonel Maxim Maximovich Isaуev (Макси́м Макси́мович Иса́ев), whose "real" name is Vsevolod Vladimirovich Vladimirov (Все́волод Влади́мирович Владимиров).[1]

Stierlitz takes a key role in SS Reich Main Security Office in Berlin during World War II, infiltrating Ausland-SD (foreign intelligence) headed by Walter Schellenberg. Working deep undercover, Stierlitz tries to collect intelligence about the Germans' war plans and communicate it to Moscow. He receives instructions from Moscow on how to proceed, on one occasion traveling to Switzerland on a secret mission.[2] He diverts the German nuclear "Vengeance Weapon" research program into a fruitless dead-end, thwarts separate peace talks between Nazi Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, engages in intellectual games with members of the Nazi high command and sacrifices his own happiness for the good of his motherland. Despite being wracked with desire to return home to his wife he subordinates his feelings to his duty, thus embodying an idealised Soviet vision of patriotism.[3]

Stierlitz is quite an opposite of the action-oriented James Bond; most of the time he gains his knowledge without any Bond-style stunts and gadgets, while in the film adaptation of the stories the action is presented through a narrative voice-over by Yefim Kopelyan.[4] He is presented in a deeply patriotic but non-ideological light, fighting to defend the Soviet motherland against external enemies rather than just defending the Communist government against its ideological opponents.[5]

Influences in Russian culture[edit]

Although Stierlitz was a much-loved character, he was also the butt of a common genre of Russian jokes, often satirising his deductive trains of thought, with unexpected twists, delivered in the deadpan style of the voice-overs in the film adaptations; for example:

Stierlitz approaches Berlin. The city is veiled in smoke from the fires. "Forgot to switch off the iron again," thought Stierlitz with slight irritation.[6]

Stierlitz continues to be a popular character in modern Russia. Despite the fact that references and Stierlitz jokes still penetrate contemporary speech, Seventeen Moments of Spring is very popular mainly because it is quite patriotic. It is repeated annually on Russian television, usually around Victory Day.[4] Stierlitz also continues to have a political significance. When his portrayer Vyacheslav Tikhonov died in December 2009, the Foreign Intelligence Service—one of the successor organisations of the former Soviet KGB—sent its condolences to his family.[7] Ivan Zassoursky notes that Russian Prime Minister (and former and current President) Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, has been portrayed as "embod[ying] the image—very important for the Russian television audience—of Standartenführer von Stierlitz... If anyone missed the connection between Putin, who served in Germany, and von Stierlitz, articles in the press reminded them of the resemblance and helped create the association."[3] The connection went both ways; Putin was strongly influenced by the novels, commenting: "What amazed me most of all was how one man's effort could achieve what whole armies could not."[5]

Stierlitz movies contributed a number of catchphrases, such as "Character: nordic, robust" (Характер — нордический, выдержанный, a personal characteristic, usually mocking or ironic).[8]

Novels with Stierlitz[edit]

Work Years portrayed Years of writing
Бриллианты для диктатуры пролетариата (Diamonds for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat) 1921 1974
Пароль не нужен (No Password Required) 1921—1922 1966
Нежность (Tenderness) 1927 1975
Испанский вариант (Spanish Variant) 1938 1973
Альтернатива (Alternative) 1941 1978
Третья карта (Third Card) 1941 1973
Майор «Вихрь» (Major "Whirlwind") 1944—1945 1968
Семнадцать мгновений весны (Seventeen Moments of Spring) 1945 1969
Приказано выжить (The Order is to Survive) 1945 1982
Экспансия — I (Expansion – Part I) 1946 1984
Экспансия — II (Expansion – Part II) 1946 1987
Экспансия — III (Expansion – Part III) 1947 1987
Отчаяние (Despair) 1947-1953 1990
Бомба для председателя (A Bomb for the Chairman) 1967 1970

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ According to the first novel about him, "Diamonds for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat"
  2. ^ Beumers, Birgit (2005). Pop culture Russia!: media, arts, and lifestyle. ABC-CLIO. p. 196. ISBN 978-1-85109-459-2.
  3. ^ a b Zassoursky, Ivan (2004). Media and power in post-Soviet Russia. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 132–134. ISBN 978-0-7656-0864-2.
  4. ^ a b Beumers, p. 180
  5. ^ a b Sakwa, Richard (2009). Putin: Russia's choice. Routledge. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-415-40765-6.
  6. ^ Beumers, p. 181
  7. ^ "Soviet Union's favorite 'spy' dies aged 81". RIA Novosti. 2009-12-04.
  8. ^ "Large Dictionary: Catch Phrases of the National Cinema" (Большой словарь: Крылатые фразы отечественного кино) 2001, ISBN 5-7654-1735-3, p. 321