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Mission to Moscow

Mission to Moscow(1943)

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Joseph E. Davies, a lawyer, was the first chairman and then vice-chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. From 1936-38, he was the United States ambassador to Russia, and from 1938-39, ambassador to Belgium. He was married to cereal heiress Majorie Post. His name appears above the title in the film's credits. News items in Hollywood Reporter add the following information about the production: The filmmakers made an effort to find actors who resembled the real-life characters they were portraying. Olivia De Havilland was tested for the role of "Marjorie Davies." Press releases announced that Pat O'Brien was to play "Father Leopold Braun," a Catholic priest, and Irene Manning was to portray a singer at the Moscow Opera House. Neither appeared in the completed film. According to modern sources, Davies wanted Fredric March to play the lead. Press releases included in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library note that Erskine Caldwell wrote the first draft of the screenplay. His contribution to the final film has not been determined, however. Some scenes were shot on location at Lasky Mesa, CA. After a warm initial reception, the film was promoted with a $500,000 advertising budget, which Hollywood Reporter claimed was unprecedented.
       Although Variety lauded the film calling it "Hollywood's initial effort at living history," Mission to Moscow was criticized by many anti-Stalinists who were disturbed by the favorable depiction of the Soviet Union in the film. The scenes depicting Stalin's purge trials were the subject of great controversy, despite Davies' claims to have studied an actual transcript of the trial. According to the Variety review, the actors spoke "exact words of the confessions of guilt made by the leaders later executed." In an open May 1943 letter, contained in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library, critics of the picture stated: "The current movie Mission to Moscow raises a most serious issue; it transplants to the American scene the kind of historical falsifications which have hitherto been characteristic of total propaganda...." The accompanying statement charges that the film "falsifies history and even distorts the very book on which it is based. One of the chief purposes of the film is to present the Moscow Trials of 1936-38 as the just punishment of proved traitors...[the film] glorifies Stalin's dictatorship and its methods...and has the most serious implications for American democracy." John Dewey, who had headed a commission of inquiry into the Moscow trials, published a letter in the May 9, 1943 issue of New York Times attacking the film as "the first instance in our country of totalitarian propaganda for mass consumption-a propaganda which falsifies history through distortion, omission or pure invention of facts." According to a June 1, 1943 Daily Variety news item, the Republican National Committee attacked the film as "New Deal propaganda" and hinted that the White House had shaped the picture. Others, including Herman Shumlin, in a June 1, 1943 letter to Walter White reprinted in a modern source, defended the film as "an instrument for understanding and friendship between the Allies." On November 12, 1943, U.S. Senator Sheridan Downey of California read a letter from Sergeant Phil Stern into the Congressional Record. Stern stated that a copy of a Nazi newspaper that he found on a dead German soldier contained charges against the film similar to those appearing in American newspapers. Stern objected to Americans attacking an ally whose soldiers "are stopping the same shrapnel, the same bullets, and the same booby traps used against Pvt. Johnny Smith in Italy."
       The film's favorable depiction of the U.S.S.R. attracted the attention of the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities during its 1947 hearings on Communist infiltration of Hollywood. It is possible that Howard Koch's participation in this film was a contributing factor to his subsequent Hollywood blacklisting. In his HUAC testimony on October 20, 1947, Jack L. Warner stated: "The picture was made when our country was fighting for its existence, with Russia as one of our allies. It was made to fulfill the same wartime purpose for which we made such other pictures as Air Force, This Is the Army...and a great many more. If making Mission to Moscow in 1942 was subversive activity, then the American Liberty ships which carried food and guns to Russian allies and the American naval vessels which convoyed them were likewise engaged in subversive activities. This picture was made only to help a desperate war effort and not for posterity...." For more information on the HUAC hearings, see entry above for Crossfire. Carl Weyl and George J. Hopkins were nominated for an Oscar for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration.