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Mission to Moscow ()

directed by
featuring Walter Huston, Ann Harding, Oscar Homolka, Gene Lockhart, George Tobias, Eleanor Parker

More so than most wartime films, Mission to Moscow must be viewed within the context of its times. Requested by President Roosevelt to make a film supportive of America's Russian allies, Warner Bros. turned to the memoirs of Ambassador Joseph H. Davies, who spent several years prior to WWII in the Soviet Union. As played by Walter Huston, Davies is a pillar of incorruptable integrity, reporting the facts "as I saw them" (only in later years was Davies revealed to be something less than a paragon of virtue who was willing to alter opinions for political, personal and financial expedience). Sent to Moscow by FDR as a means of finding out if Russia is a potentially trustworthy ally in case of war, Davies and his family are given the royal treatment by the Commissars, who display the social, technological, agricultural and artistic advances made under the Stalin regime. Invariably, the Russian citizens are shown to be singing, smiling, freedom-loving rugged individuals-in contrast to the Nazis, who are depicted as humorless automatons. In its efforts to present the USSR in the best possible light, the film glosses over the notorious Purge Trials of 1937, presenting the trials as scrupulously fair and the defendants as unabashed traitors to the Soviet cause. At one point, Russia's annexation of Finland in 1939 is "justified" by Davies' explanation that the Soviets merely wanted to protect their tiny neighbor from Nazi domination! It is unfair to label Mission to Moscow as Communistic or even left-wing, since it was merely parroting the official party line vis-a-vis US/Soviet relations in 1943. Even so, screenwriter Howard Koch found it very difficult to get film work after the war because of his contributions to this "Pinko" project (conversely, Jack Warner pulled a Pontius Pilate, washing his hands of the matter by insisting that he was strongarmed into making the film). Seen objectively, Mission to Moscow is top-rank entertainment, superbly and excitingly assembled in the manner typical of Warners and director Michael Curtiz. The huge cast includes Gene Lockhart as Molotov, attorney Dudley Field Malone as Winston Churchill, Maynart Kippen as a benign, pipe-smoking Stalin, Charles Trowbridge as Secretary Cordell Hull, Leigh Whipper as Hailie Selassie, Georges Renavent as Anthony Eden and Alex Chirva as Pierre Laval, along with the more familiar faces of Ann Harding (as Mrs. Davies), George Tobias, Eleanor Parker, Moroni Olsen, Minor Watson, Jerome Cowan, Duncan Renaldo, Mike Mazurki, Frank Faylen, Edward van Sloan, Louis-Jean Heydt, Monte Blue, Robert Shayne and even Sid (sic) Charisse. Original prints of Mission to Moscow include a 6-minute prologue delivered by the real Joseph Davies. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi Hide synopsis

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  • 1. DVD, Warner Brothers, 2009

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