"Mission to Moscow" was made at the behest of F.D.R. in order to garner more support for the Soviet Union during WWII. It was from the book by Joseph E. Davies, former U.S. Ambassador To Russia. The movie covers the political machinations in Moscow just before the start of the war and presents Stalin's Russia in a very favorable light. So much so, that the movie was cited years later by the House Un-American Activities Commission and was largely responsible for the screenwriter, Howard Koch being Blacklisted.Written by
E. Barry Bruyea <email@example.com>
Because of its notoriety, this film did not make its U.S. TV debut until November 21, 1977, airing as part of part of a PBS series on "Films of Persuasion'' curated by Richard Schickel. See more »
Aside from the issue of the fairness of the Moscow purge trials, or the truthfulness of the alleged confessions of the accused, the people shown standing trial together in the film in fact did not all stand trial at the same time. There were two such major show trials, one in 1937, the second in 1938, and the real life characters depicted in the film as being tried simultaneously were actually tried in separate groups at one of the two trials. See more »
Opens with a card reading: We have the honor to present the former Ambassador from the United States to the Soviet Union, the Honorable Joseph E. Davies, who will address you prior to the showing of the film made from his important book, "Mission to Moscow". In the picture itself, Mr. Walter Huston portrays Mr. Davies during those vital years encompassed in his now significant report to this nation. And now, Mr. Davies: [Mr. Davies gives a presentation on the actual events leading up to these events, and to this film.] See more »
L'amour, toujours, l'amour
Music by Rudolf Friml
[Played as dance music at the ball given for Davies] See more »
An Astonishing Film
This is one of the most astonishing films I've ever seen, not because of the content, but because of what it reveals about its subject. That would be one Joseph E. Davies, chosen by President Franklin Roosevelt before World War II as one of his personal ambassadors to the Soviet Union. FDR believed in the personal touch when dealing with other countries, so he would send his untrained cronies overseas for little fact-finding missions. Wendell Wilkie, for instance, went on one such mission at the height of the war. This film shows how well this tactic worked out.
This film records Davies' grand tour of Europe in the crucial 1937-1939 period. It opens with the real Davies giving a heartfelt (and very long) speech in which he describes himself as God-fearing and so forth (i.e., not a Communist). Then we segue to the actor playing Davies, Walter Huston, and follow his increasingly odd journey in which he talks to all the movers and shakers in Europe at the time (with the notable exception of Hitler, who refused to see him because he was "so busy," presumably planning his next invasion).
Now, this film was intended as a pure documentary of what Davies saw and learned. Davies himself obviously approved every single scene and every piece of dialog. That is what makes this film so astonishing.
Astonishing because Davies is revealed to be an absolute bumbler and inept fool who had no business touring Europe, much less representing the United States or having his opinions used to any purpose by the United States government. There are so many jaw-dropping moments that one almost begins to think this was a parody. But, alas, it was no parody, this is the actual sort of information that the US had about Europe on the eve of a war in which more than 20 million people died.
Davies laps up whatever fiction is served to him, and uses each morsel to regurgitate wrongheaded pronouncements about the state of the world. Virtually every conclusion he utters is based on information spoon-fed to him by people purposefully deceiving him. The truth about what was going on around him was discoverable, but he never bothers. As such, this film documents just how taken in Davies was by the Soviets, or put another way, how successful the Soviets were in snookering the naive American.
Let's give a few examples. Davies makes a big deal about "finding out" that Soviet factories were being sabotaged by opponents to Stalin (generically referred to as Trotskyites). Conveniently, these "saboteurs" were rounded up during his stay and put on trial. When some of his associates start questioning what is really going on, Davies piously opines, "We'd all just better wait for the trial so we can learn the real facts." Ha! Innocent abroad indeed. Indoctrinated in the US legal system, which was actually designed to get at the truth of a matter, Davies obviously had no idea what a Soviet show trial was all about. Obviously, as proved later, it was all an elaborate set-up. Soviet Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky had become too big for his britches, and Stalin wanted him dead, so he concocted the whole story about sabotage for Davies' (and everyone else's) benefit. Davies sits there, lapping up every lying word of it, unquestioning and practically inert intellectually.
At another moment, Davies' security people worry that their quarters may be bugged. They want to check the place out. But no, Davies will have none of it. "Let's give them the benefit of the doubt," he decides. One physically gasps when seeing this. Yes, this is the guy I want representing American interests abroad.
There are all sorts of propaganda moments that are delightful in their naiveté. The Soviets obviously put on a real show of their military might for the stupid American, with some particularly nice flourishes. A big deal is made in the film of the fact that there are women soldiers, women paratroopers, women this and that. This must have been to give an appearance of some kind of monolithic quality to Soviet forces. Yet students of the war will search in vain for the exploits of these hordes of Amazon warriors. It was all a show, kind of like those given at the Bolshoi. Hermann Goering bragged about doing the same thing to foreign visitors, it was a fairly common tactic among sophisticated diplomats. Somebody with a penetrating mind might have seen through such shenanigans, but that was asking too much of Davies.
Anyway, the film is such a farce that it's fascinating. Stalin looks so pleased with himself after feeding Davies more lies, lighting his pipe and smirking. Now we realize he wasn't happy because he had found such a fine fellow. Instead, he would have been smirking because he realized he had found the ultimate sucker. FDR himself caused the West endless grief at Yalta because he acted similarly to Davies, just "giving them the benefit of the doubt" and so forth. Stalin is said to have thought little of this film, and it is painfully clear why. He must have been embarrassed at the sheer ridiculousness of it, his choreographed charade immortalized on celluloid. It's possible that observing the sheer stupidity of the West may have contributed to his thinking he had more in common with the decidedly not-naive Hitler, leading to the Nazi-Soviet pact mentioned in the film (and explained away by Davies as Stalin just protecting his country, yeah, I'll buy that for $100, Alex).
Worth watching for a hoot, and to see how a reputation can be gutted by a person's own hand. I enjoyed it, but it also is agonizing seeing how much a fool it makes Davies look.
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