Martin Scorsese (who cameos), an acolyte of Michael Powell, originally convinced both Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson to star in the movie. The legendary pairing was vetoed by the Russian Ministry of Cinema, as De Niro's The Deer Hunter (1978) was seen as anti-Communist, and Nicholson had made disparaging remarks about the Soviet Union in interviews. Nicholson's role was eventually played by James Fox.
Originally to be directed by legendary filmmaker Michael Powell, the movie was taken from him by the Russian Ministry of Cinema, and directed by Russian filmmaker Emil Loteanu as a matter of national prestige.
Originally conceive and filmed as a 5-hour miniseries, Paramount ultimately decided that they wanted a two hour film. Thelma Schoonmaker (famed editor and wife of Michael Powell) managed to salvage a 160 minute theatrical version. Paramount, however, ultimately cut the film down further to its 133 minute state. After a terrible post-production session, including a poor dubbing and syncing of the English version, the compromised version was released with the Loteanu credit. Producer Frixos Constantine called it "artistically a disaster".