One of the little-recognized deficiencies of spy movies is that 'action'--chases, shootings, explosions, etc.--is dominant content. Of course, the trend caters to modern audiences that are addicted to sound and special effects. However, action-driven spy movies (e.g., James Bond) suffer from 3 major defects: 1)They are not believable 2)They contain little or no acting performances to speak of 3)As such, they are easily forgettable. This is not the case with "17 moments of spring" (hereafter SMOS)
The 12 episodes of the series have been specifically shot in Black and White, in fairly simple studio sets, with no special visual effects. What makes SMOS the favorite of audiences, is a gamut of absolutely incredible acting. Each role, even a minor one, casts an "all-star" Soviet actor, and they deliver deep psychological performances. Tikhonov is an obvious star as Stierlitz, but consider Leonid Bronevoy as Mueller, the friendly, always suspicious and incredibly cruel inside Gestapo chief. Or Oleg Tabakov, as cheerful Schellenberg of the German intelligence. Or Plyatt as very vulnerable and very human Pastor Schlag who nevertheless embodies the power of the Church.
So essentially SMOS is not a spy movie, but a tight psychological drama. But we must not forget the subject, and it is an important one, based on a major real life event: in early 1945, trying to finish off the Nazi Germany, the Russians found out that SS-gruppenfuehrer Karl Wolff (essentially a representative of the odious Himmler) attempted to negotiate a separate piece with the Americans in Italy. The talks were top-secret (OSS star Allen Dulles was the US negotiator) and essentially meant a betrayal of Russia by its anti-Nazi allies. SMOS is about how the Russians discovered the secret and forced the end to negotiations.
In short, this is one of the greatest all-time spy thrillers. Just as "Rosemary's Baby" is arguably the best horror movie because of its acting and directing, so does SMOS shine through the mediocrity we are fed today. I wish it were shown to the wide Western audiences, so that they can see for themselves!
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