The music in the film became the subject of a minor but telling episode in the Cold War. Alfred Newman, the illustrious head of the 20th Century-Fox music department, scored this picture. It's not readily known who decided to incorporate genuine Soviet music into the film, but Newman's score featured compositions by the USSR's finest: Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturyan and Dominik Miskovský. All four composers signed (or were ordered to sign) a letter of protest that claimed their music was appropriated via a "swindle" in order to accompany this "outrageous picture". No individuals were named, except "the agents of the American Twentieth Century-Fox Corporation". None of the composers would have had the opportunity to have seen the movie, thus it is to be assumed that they were put up to this protestation by the Stalin regime. Interestingly, the four "protesting" Soviet composers were at that same time under severe scrutiny themselves for composing music that was construed as subversive to the Soviet state, and for a time their heads were on the chopping block. So it's also to be assumed that the four filed this protest as a gesture of their loyalty to Joseph Stalin (or, more likely, to save themselves from being executed). In any case, these composers were often obliged to make "statements" that they personally had nothing to do with. Coincidentally, Hollywood at this same time was beginning to be scrutinized by the House Un-American Activities Committee for signs of "subversion" of the American state, resulting its its own blacklist. See Slonimsky, Nicolas "Music Since 1900" 5th Ed. p.1066-7 See more »
The invitation shown from the "Associated Friends of Soviet Russia" requests the "honor" of the recipient's company, and later a newspaper headline reads, "Rumor M.P. To Be Arrested In Spy Probe". As the film takes place in Canada, where British spellings are used, the words should have been spelled "honour" and "rumour". See more »
...done in the "documentary" style then used by Fox, even using the same narrator used in other, similar pictures, such as "The House on 92nd Street" from a few years earlier.
This picture shows much effort and talent, but somehow it doesn't quite come off, perhaps because it was clearly approached as a propaganda film, almost shrill in its pro-Western slant, just as the Cold War was beginning.
What I noticed most about the picture was its artful and effective use of music by Soviet composers, without crediting them except in the dialogue. As a musician I am shocked and appalled to learn that these composers' music was used without their permission. The Fifth Symphony of Prokofiev, which is quoted extensively, had only been given its Western premiere a few years before this picture was released, and was then given a landmark 1945 recording, by Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony, for Victor Records. Using the music of these composers without their knowledge or permission is like stealing!
I don't understand how a serious musician like Alfred Newman could have been party to this. Perhaps he thought he was making a patriotic, pro-Western statement, but as an artist he should have known how these composers would feel.
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