McKinley B. "Mac" Thompson, American reporter in Moscow, smuggles out uncensored news under the alias "Comrade X," but hotel valet Vanya discovers his secret. Vanya fears for the safety of his daughter Golubka ("Theodore") and blackmails Mac into helping her leave the country. Mac is happier about his task once he meets lovely Theodore, but can he convince her of his sincerity? The anti-communist humor becomes alternately grim and farcical. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Ernst Lubtisch's classic comic statement about Communist Russia, NINOTCHKA, came out in 1939. Whether it "influenced" the production (also by MGM) of COMRADE X or not I could not say. Certainly there are similarities between the comedies. Lubitsch set his comedy in Paris, where a Communist trade mission is living it up, being corrupted by an émigré Russian noble (Melvin Douglas) so he can try to retrieve jewelry that the trade mission is using as collateral. The Russian government does not trust the three men sent, so they send a fiercer ideologue (Greta Garbo in the title role) who starts straightening out the mission, until she falls for Douglas's charm. In the end she is lured back (with her three associates) to the west and away from the Soviet paradise.
NINOTCHKA had Felix Bressart and Sig Ruman in the cast as two of the members of the trade mission. Comments on this thread point out that in the 1930s "accents" were fairly interchangeable in Hollywood, so that the Swedish Garbo (and later the Austrian Lamarr) became Russian. So did German Ruman and German - Jewish Bressart (who would also play a Hungarian in THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER).
Unlike NINOTCHKA, COMRADE X is set inside that nightmare land, Stalinist Russia. Somebody is sending out unofficial (but thoroughly correct) news stories showing the crimes being committed in Russian by the government against the people (i.e. the purges), as well as the idiotic projects and waste mismanagement illustrative of how poorly the government is as effective government. This is being resented by the Presidium, who is represented by Oscar Homlolka (Commissar Vasiliev). Please note that Homolka's make-up makes him look a tremendous bit like one Joseph Stalin. At a public funeral covered by the press court, someone tries to shoot Vasiliev (who does all he can to hide the assassination plot). Mac Thompson (Clark Gable), the American reporter, manages to snap a photo of an odd site - a bearded man who a moment before the shooting opened up the lid of the coffin and popped out. This bearded gentlemen turns out to be one Michael Bastakoff (Vladimir Sokoloff), a rival of Vasiliev for power. He is made to look a tremendous bit like one Leon Trotsky.
Get the message from Hollywood here? Vasiliev's agents have been trying to pin down the news leaks, and has narrowed it to two figures: Thompson, and one Emil Von Hofer (Sig Ruman) who is the news representative from Nazi Germany. Ruman manages to demonstrate it ain't him, so (despite Gable's breezy denials) Vasiliev believes it is the American.
Gable has a close friend in Moscow, one Ygor Yahupitz (Felix Bressart) who is his sometimes valet. Ygor's daughter is Galubcha (Hedy Lamarr) who is a streetcar operator. Ygor wants Gable to try to smuggle Galubcha out of the Soviet Union into the U.S. And the film shows (among other things, including overcoming Galubcha's fierce belief in the Communist ideal) Gable eventually saving both the girl and her father.
The comedy is quite amusing, even if it lacks the style and grace of the Lubitsch touch of the first film. But it certainly comments on the atmosphere within Russia in a way that NINOTCHKA failed to do so. The centering of the comedy in Moscow, the suggestiveness of a Stalin - Trotsky rivalry clone, and the heavy control over information is certainly more realistic than Douglas' being elegant and eloquent about the beauties of Paris.
One more thing to keep in mind is a scandal which is on target with this film, and which (in 1940) finally began to raise eyebrows. In the early 1930s the New York Times had a reporter named Walter Duranty in Moscow. He turned out to be a fantastically well informed reporter in the Soviet Union, and came out with interviews and articles that were tremendously informative. In fact, he would win the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Moscow. But as time passed, Duranty's methods and sources were heavily questioned. He also tended to take an official line about the Purge Trials (i.e., that Bukhanin, Radek, Zinoviev, Tuchochevsky, and the other hundreds and thousands of victims were all actual traitors against the Stalinist regime). After the signing of the non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939, the Times became very suspicious of Duranty, and replaced him. The quality of the articles became very much more even handed. Duranty was later revealed to be a Stalinist agent. Interestingly enough, the Pulitzer Committee has repeatedly rejected requests to take back their award from Duranty's heirs as his work was pure propaganda. So the issue about the control over the news from Russia was very, very real.
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