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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

MISSION TO MOSCOW (1944)

This infamous title from Warner Bros., the most extreme, inaccurate & colossal of the Hollywood WWII propaganda pics, is little seen these days and only remembered for whitewashing Stalinist Russia. (And from its use at Red-baiting congressional hearings in the lead-up to the McCarthy blacklist era.*) That’s a shame, because it's quite a show, and in the context of world events in ‘43, its slanted attitudes are easily understood, though its recap of the Moscow political ‘purge trials’ can still cause gasps. (And shudders since we now know what Stalin had in store not only for the railroaded ‘guilty’ defendants, but also, down the line, for the prosecutors, judges, witnesses & spectators!) But the film does reflect much of the realpolitik of its time, as well as the leaping naivete of the book’s author, Ambassador Joseph Davies. Viewed with a bit of historical perspective, it's both fascinating as a ‘found object’ and, not incidentally, quite exceptional as sheer moviemaking. No big Warners stars here, but what a cast of character actors! Just spotting favorites like Gene Lockhart as Molotov, Henry Daniels as Ribbentrop & Oscar Homolka as Litvinov make it worth a look; as does the skill & technical assurance that runs all thru the pic. Why not with Michael Curtiz helming, Howard Koch on the script & Max Steiner composing the score? Their last collaboration was CASABLANCA/’42. Even at its most appalling, the film is unmissable, and with its mix of real footage & studio recreations, a lesson in state-of-the-art production methods of the time.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Make it Commie-Pinko Night in Hollywood with Sam Goldwyn's THE NORTH STAR/'43; and learn how today's ally can become tomorrow's deadly rival.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: After his first meeting with Putin, George Bush famously said, ‘I looked the man in the eye and was able to get a sense of his soul.’ so, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge the much maligned Ambassador Davies.

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