An insane roller coaster of a movie. Directed by Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame, it is based on the book of the same name by Joseph E. Davies - The American ambassador to the Soviet Union from November 1936 to June 1938. In 1941, he edited into a book form his collection of his papers from the State Department.
Davies was commissioned this movie by president Roosevelt and held complete control over its production. The movie is part allied propaganda effort, part Davies' own project. Understandably, a movie based on what are effectively memoirs would show its protagonist as a greater than life character, but Davies' takes it to the next level in presenting himself as a down to earth man who didn't share the russophobia of his English or French counterparts and rightly saw the necessity of the world standing together against fascism.
>The career diplomat Charles Bohlen, who served under Davies in Moscow, later wrote:
>Ambassador Davies was not noted for an acute understanding of the Soviet system, and he had an unfortunate tendency to take what was presented at the trial as the honest and gospel truth. I still blush when I think of some of the telegrams he sent to the State Department about the trial.(p.51)
The movie itself is fantastic. The visuals are great. In cinematography, it's a masterpiece. It chronicles Davies' being personally selected for this very important mission, one in which the future of the free world depends on. Our unlikely ambassador who up until now was merely a lawyer finds himself handpicked by the president to go to Russia and report back everything he sees there. Upon entering Russia, he is received warmly. People are happy, he tours around factories - American industry and its role in serving as a model and teacher to Soviet Industry is praised. The country appears to be a technocratic revolutionary society, in which everyone seems to be above all else concerned with improving their fellow man's life. In one of the most macabre and accidentally humorous foreshadowing scenes, an American born factory director tells our ambassador that there's some sabotage going down in the factories.
The ambassador and his family enjoy Moscow high society and the various diplomatic entourages are shown in social gatherings. The movie becomes something of an mystery movie, but this is all resolved in the trial of the twenty one in which right deviationists categorically admit to working with the fascist powers to overthrow Stalin on Trotsky's orders, some dodge the questions but none are capable of actually lying and fall to the prosecutor's unwavering resolve. Stalin's peculiar view of the world around made manifest by a Warner Bros production. Mr Davies tells the British ambassador that "based on [his] 20 years of trial practice" the confessions of Yagoda, Radek, Tukhachevsky Bukharin were true confessions. The movie has Bukharin deliver his final address before being shot, stoically explaining why the opposition realizes they cannot defeat Stalin and that ultimately they are above everything ashamed to have committed such treasonous acts.
The movie reaches a great peak when Davies' finally meets Stalin as he's about to leave - but the dictator invites him to the Little Corner where Davies, extremely honored to meet him, tells him "I believe, sir, that history will record you as a great builder for the benefit of mankind.". Stalin then explains to the attentive Davies the inside scoop on the Hitler-Trotsky connection. Davies ends up running around Europe in the purpose of creating an anti-fascist bloc but meets varied types of resistance, from the British that "want to build up Germany" to the French who are too russophobic to see the truth. Churchill receives him at his home, and is extremely interested to hear what dipshit Davies has to say about the USSR.
In this self-serving production Davis is repeatedly proven right again, but the world doesn't listen. As American braces to enter the world war, he goes on an anti-isolationist tour around the country on the President's request - beating back hecklers who don't understand that the USSR is a force for peace.
The movie ends in an extremely well made montage of the great American Christian nation rising up to fight arm in arm with the other nations of free world against fascist tyranny. The element of this being a Hollywood movie justifying the opening episodes of the Great Terror and glorifying Stalin's USSR, gives the movie a very surreal edge. For bonus points, it also justifies the Soviet invasion of Finland. Still, with all the military might scenes and a style that at times feels very experimental - you can almost feel the socialism.