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Hollywood Goes to Moscow

3 minute read

Manhattan audiences saw the première of a movie that was primarily a political event: the screen version of former Ambassador Joseph E. Davies’ best-selling Mission to Moscow. Considerable hubbub had preceded the picture’s release; Trotskyites had screamed even before they saw it. Last week critics decided that Mission to Moscow is as explosive as a blockbuster. For Hollywood, circumscribed for years by political timidity, the film was audacious in the extreme. It is also pro-Russian and pro-New Deal in the extreme: it takes the flat view that Joseph Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt are just about 100% all right.

The movie is a blunt, high-spot review of world power politics between 1936 and Pearl Harbor. For the most part a faithful translation of Joe Davies’ book, the picture departs from its text only to leave out Ambassador Davies’ occasional reservations about the Soviet Union. Without doubts or reservations of any kind, the film devotes itself unabashedly to endearing the Russians to U.S. audiences.

Paul Revere Rides Again. When Warner Bros, decided last year to make a movie of Davies’ book, Jack Warner cried ecstatically: “By gosh, we’ll put Russia on the map.” Mission to Moscow, a $2,000,000 picture, is gilded with Hollywood touches. Its Russians look like fur-coated Americans, and the Soviet Union is pictured as a land of magnificent food and drink, as it probably was in the circles in which the Davieses moved. As Mrs. Davies, the picture has sweet-faced Ann Harding, and as Hero Joe Davies, tall, forceful Actor Walter Huston.

Despite its Hollywood flourishes, Mission to Moscow has power. Even its most one-sided re-enactments of history, such as the Moscow “purge” trials (which uncompromisingly convict Trotsky of collaboration with Germany and Japan to destroy the U.S.S.R.), carry authority.

But Franklin Roosevelt and Joe Davies are the ones mainly glorified. Of President Roosevelt, even the Russians speak in hushed, reverent tones. And it is sometimes difficult to decide whether Mission to Moscow’s mission is to praise the Russians or elect Joe Davies U.S. President.

To cinemagoers uninterested in dialectics much of the picture may seem talky. But no one will be bored by the climax. Ambassador Davies returns from the U.S.S.R., makes a series of shouting stump speeches that should bring on an immediate Dies Committee investigation of Warner Bros. For Mr. Davies (in the film) rips into isolationist Congressmen.

Reactions. The anti-Soviet New York Sun sniffed: “A two-hour . . . editorial.” The arch-Republican Herald Tribune raved: “One of the most memorable documents of our time.”

Agitated down to its toes was the leftist U.S. intelligentsia. From Trotskyite and Socialist organs came loud cries of outrage at the movie version of the Moscow purge trials.

As yet only a few Washington politicos had seen Mission to Moscow. How Washington would react was forecast by the Washington correspondent of the London News-Chronicle: “It is certain that the film will make some Senators and Congressmen and many isolationists smart. .. . I think the protests will be less on the score that the film has perverted the truth than that it is a piece of political propaganda subtly designed by President Roosevelt to secure . . . [a] fourth term.”

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