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Surrounded by a few party officials, Alexei Ivanov, a stakhanovist smelter, is decorated by Stalin. The "Little Father of the Peoples" takes this opportunity to invoke threats of war.... One day, war indeed breaks out. Bombs fall on the field where Alexei finds himself in the company of the schoolmistress Natacha, his fiancée. Alexei joins the Red Army and soon becomes a sergeant. Fighting rages and German troops advance. Natacha is arrested and deported. But the tide turns decisively with the German defeat at Stalingrad. Now the major offensive against Hitler can begin. Written by
I purchased a DVD of this film in order to see a Soviet-made WW II film made during the peak of the "Stalin cult" and during the early years of the cold war. I wanted to see the impact of Soviet propaganda on WW II films at this time and therefore found it very interesting in that regard, although the film itself is somewhat muddled. It awkwardly weaves a love story between a simple Stakhanovite (a big producer in the steel mills) and a schoolteacher with the ebb and flow of the war with Nazi Germany, and lo and behold they are reunited (she was sent to Germany as a slave laborer) at the bottom of the conquered Reichstag in the heart of Berlin at the end of the war. And Stalin arrives at the end of the battle for Berlin to receive a grateful kiss from the schoolteacher at the Reichstag and receive the adulation of both the Soviet armies and of the captives of all nations liberated by the Red Army in their various languages. In addition, there are the "stock" characters beloved in Soviet demonology: The scheming British capitalist who intends to get strategic metals to the Reich from Sweden, the Vatican emissary to the Reich in full bishop's regalia who praises Hitler, the Nazi officer who feigns surrender only to throw a grenade at his Soviet captors. Churchill at Yalta is portrayed as scheming and untrustworthy; he asks Stalin to toast George VI to which the proletarian Generalissimo refuses. Hitler is portrayed in equal parts buffoonish and crazy, so much so that we wonder, given this portrayal, how he was able to captivate and inspire, at least for much of the war, his generals and party comrades. Stalin, of course, is portrayed as calm and never fearful, and full of wisdom.
But it should be noted that much of the military history is accurate. Although the film (obviously) does not cover Stalin's decapitation of the Red Army in the great purge of 1937 and his refusal to listen to Soviet intelligence as well as warnings from Churchill that a Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union was imminent in the spring of 1941, which were both disastrous for the Soviets, it does show his decision to stay in Moscow in the fall of 1941, when the Germans launched their "final offensive" against Moscow and much of his government was panicking. It's fair to say that remaining in Moscow improved the morale of the Red Army fighting only 30-40 km from the Kremlin. To expedite the conquest of Berlin, Stalin sets the demarcation line between Marshall Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front and Marshall Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front right in the center of Berlin to foster a rivalry between the two commanders in capturing Berlin. We hear the denigration of the Reich's resistance against the Anglo-American armies while Nazi Germany fights fanatically against the invading Red Army (This was only true of the last weeks of the war when the Germans were desperate to surrender to the western allies and avoid the feared Russians.) The depiction of the fighting is very good in places, but looks stilted in others. An officer tells his fighting men that wherever we go: "Stalin is with us." The director had access to some five Soviet divisions. The massing of artillery at the April 16th offensive on Berlin (from the Oder River), complete with searchlights, looked impressive. I believe the 1st Belorussian Front had something like an artillery piece every 10 meters for miles! And the final assault on the Reichstag also looked very realistic. Even though the Reichstag hadn't been used since the fire of 1933, the Red Army viewed it as the ultimate symbol of Nazi Germany whose destruction meant the final extinction of the Reich.
It should be noted that Marshall Zhukov is not treated well in this film. One scene is titled "Zhukov's Error", and when Stalin makes his fictional visit to Berlin after the Reichstag's been taken, he meets three generals (Konev, Rokossovsky, and Chuikov) but not Marshall Zhukov, his most successful commander. Stalin feared Zhukov's popularity after the war, and he was subsequently demoted to minor postings by the time the film was made in 1949.
The film ends with Stalin "dropping out of the clouds" from his magnificent airplane (reminiscent of Hitler in Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will", as many have noted) and spreading his benevolence to the assembled masses in the heart of Berlin. Our "Engineer of Souls" pronounces his wish for "peace and happiness" for all mankind. In actuality, at the time of the events being depicted (1945) he was preparing another repressive crackdown on individual liberties, and at the time the film was made (1949) he was close to giving his approval to Kim II Sung to invade South Korea. Khrushchev always viewed the film's director, Mikheil Chiaureli, as a hack, and the film was withdrawn from circulation during the de-stalinization campaign beginning in 1953. But 38 million Soviet citizens watched it in upon its release in 1950 and it remains an excellent example of Soviet historiography.
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