The story of Soviet cypher-clerk Igor Gouzenko who was posted to the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa,Canada in 1943 and defected in 1945 to reveal the extent of Soviet espionage activities directed against Canada.
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Soviet soldier turned bureaucrat Igor Gouzenko is assigned to his first overseas posting in 1943 to Ottawa, Canada, as a cipher clerk for the military attaché, their offices in a secret wing of the Soviet embassy. Igor is not to tell anyone what he does for a living, he given a cover story which he is to recite even when questioned by his own people. He and his wife Anna Gouzenko are supposed to be cordial to their Canadian neighbors and associates, but not fraternize or befriend them, as they are still considered the enemy, despite both countries being on the same side in the war. Igor follows his instructions to a T, but it is more difficult for Anna, who does not have the distraction of work during the day, and who can see that their neighbors are not their enemies but good people much like themselves. Over the next few years, Igor sees that what is happening around him and the work in which he is involved will not result in a world in which he wants to raise his newborn son, ... Written by
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 »
There's a moment in William Wellman's Anti-Communist propaganda film that captured why The Iron Curtain is on the same level as another great Canadian film, The 49th Parallel. In short order, Soviet officer Dana Andrews, a military cypher for the USSR in Ottawa at the end of WWII, has seen a compatriot threatened with being sent back to Russia, and the fellow officer drunkenly comments on how awful it is to be threatened with returning to one's own country, has been informed by his wife, Gene Tierney, that she doesn't want their son to grow up in a world where everyone is afraid, and sees the aforementioned officer in the death throes of despair as he drinks himself into oblivion.
It's a powerful triple shot that convinces Andrews, playing a real- life member of the Russian Embassy staff, that his future lies with the free people of Canada.
The Iron Curtain is a spy thriller and an espionage thriller. Since spy and espionage are the same thing, the difference, the two-sidedness of the movie comes in the dual stories. We see the workings of the apparatchiks in the embassy (I loved the character actor, a man I grew up watching on TV in many roles, who runs the secret-decoder ring operations of the embassy--he has to drown out the sound of conversation with Soviet-approved music, and he HATES music!), but the movie takes great pains to show the subversives working for the Soviets in the Canadian government. It's a feverish, nauseating sight when the tentacles of the Communist octopus reach out, farther and farther, to further the Soviet's version of Marxist-Leninism. On a propaganda level, the baddies all look like pedophiles--humorless, colorless masses of skin you'd never suspect as traitors and subversives.
I greatly appreciated The Iron Curtain for its painstaking approach to reminding us that free speech and free assembly, that freedom itself breeds optimism. The average folks who come in contact with the Soviets and their sympathizers are a cheerful lot. Early in the movie, Andrews goes out dancing with Embassy Secretary and Bitch-Goddess, June Havoc (about as scary a beauty as Charlize Theron in one of those weird perfume commercials she does). You notice very quickly the folks in the night club are happy and relaxed. They know a war is on, but they aren't going to relent to the doom and gloom because their optimism won't allow it. Being a small-d democrat is antithetical to dreary, authoritarian pessimism.
The atmosphere in the dance hall is a heady elixir, and Havoc takes Andrews there to see how he reacts to the evil hedonism of foolish capitalists. She wants to see if Andrews is prone to being a blabbermouth. He confronts her with his knowledge of what she's up to, and he compares her beauty with that of his wife (Tierney), and it's not a nice comparison for Havoc.
When VJ Day is declared, Andrews and his wife listen to a radio broadcast from San Francisco wherein the announcer speaks of the allied soldiers who aren't going to have to fight their way onto the beaches of Japan, that theirs is a celebration of salvation. The announcer's voice almost cracks with emotion about blessed peace.
Democracy isn't always cheerful (sometimes hard decisions have to be made), but the thought that individuals hold the power to govern themselves, that an informed public is made up of informed individuals is a thing to put a smile on the viewer's face.
As the story unfolds, we begin to suspend our disbelief in what we are seeing, and not because the movie is introduced with a voice-over declaring the authenticity of the story. When Andrews finally decides to defect, to deliver stolen documentation of Soviet perfidy to the Canadian authorities, he's rebuffed repeatedly. Canadian apparatchiks, both in government and in the press think he's a nut, so the menace of execution for him and his wife and the guaranteed reprisals against family members at home is palpably real. Andrews takes his family back to their apartment (Was the real Igor Gouzenko that stupid?) where he is confronted by three members of the Russian thugocracy, and it's only when a pair of perplexed Ottawa constables arrive to find out what all the fuss and bother's about that the viewer stops holding the remote way too tightly.
Finally, if you know what "Program Music" is, then you will see it put to great use in The Iron Curtain. I think four Russian composers had their work used in the movie; Shostakovich is the one I recognized, and he was a master of what we would simply recognize as "movie music," background music designed to heighten emotion. Here, the composers' works are used to add both suspense and to be a plot device. Remember the room I mentioned with the guy who hates music? Shostakovich is blaring in the background, to the point where the viewer wants to yell, "Turn that stuff down, will ya!" It's jarring and unnerving and utterly effective.
The same way the movie is in reminding us why totalitarianism is designed to crush souls and democracy is designed to elevate them.
I would strongly recommend taking some time to see The Iron Curtain and The 49th Parallel, two great propaganda pieces that remind us why democracy is a good and noble thing.
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