Cast & Crew
William A. Wellman
Early in 1943, three new additions to the staff of the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa arrive from Russia. They are Col. Trigorin, military attaché; Maj. Kulin, Trigorin's aide and secretary, and Igor Gouzenko, cypher clerk and decoding expert. Igor is interviewed by the head of the embassy's secret police, Ranev, and is told that no one, not even members of the embassy staff, must know his real identity and mission. Ranev assigns agent Karanova to test Igor's obedience, but Igor resists her charms. The first message from Moscow that Igor decodes instructs Trigorin and Ranev to meet with John Grubb, an agent and the founder of the Canadian communist party, who receives his orders directly from Moscow. As part of his attempt to infiltrate branches of the Canadian government, Grubb meets with Leonard Leitz, the Member of Parliament from Montreal. Calling themselves "The Associated Friends of Soviet Russia," Grubb and Leitz invite a number of potential members to a dinner in honor of Trigorin. Specifically, Grubb is trying to recruit Capt. Donald Class of the Canadian Air Force. Class volunteers to provide information and becomes an active agent, recruiting several Canadians with access to top secret materials. Igor's wife Anna then arrives from Russia and, once settled in their small apartment, tells him that she is going to have a child. Months pass quickly and the Gouzenkos explore Ottawa. One evening Anna introduces a neighbor, Mrs. Foster, to Igor, who treats her very coldly and later reminds Anna that they are forbidden to fraternize. In the middle of a snowy night, Igor is summoned to the embassy to prepare a coded message about a uranium plant being built. While he is working, Anna gives birth to a son. As Moscow is particularly interested in the uranium project, Grubb visits Dr. Harold Norman, a former Soviet ally who is working in the National Research Council laboratory on an atomic energy project. Grubb wants detailed notes on the project as well as samples of the uranium. He suggests to Norman that it would be his contribution to the safety of mankind to give him the information so that all can have it and thus ensure that the U.S. and Canada will not dare use it. Plans for the production of an atomic bomb and a sample of uranium 233 are hand-carried to Moscow by Trigorin. The first atomic bomb is dropped on Japan and the war ends, but the Soviets maintain their network of agents. Anna is beginning to have doubts about their roles and the future of their son. Due to his criticisms of the Moscow regime, Maj. Kulin, whose disillusioned father was one of the heroes of the Revolution, learns that he may be sent back to Russia. Kulin's and Anna's doubts increase Igor's own confusion, and he tells Anna that, because he will have to answer to his son as Kulin's father has had to do, they will not return to Russia. Igor formulates a plan and selects key documents from his files at the embassy, but is suddenly informed that he is being replaced and returned to Russia. Unable to reach officials in the Canadian government, Igor gives Anna the documents to give to the police in the event that anything happens to him and sends her to a neighbor's apartment. Soon after, Ranev and Trigorin come to tell Igor that unless he returns the papers, his family in Russia will be killed. Just then Anna suddenly arrives with two Canadian policemen, and although he realizes that his and Anna's families will eventually pay the ultimate price for his action, Igor tells Anna to give the documents to the police. The Russians protest and demand the return of the papers, which they say were stolen from the embassy. The policeman informs Ranev that the law requires that stolen property be identified and claimed at police headquarters. After Igor, Anna and their son are put in protective custody, newspaper headlines announce that a major Member of Parliament is to be arrested in a spy probe. The major Russian officials are recalled to Moscow, and Grubb, Leitz, Class and the other Canadian agents are put on trial and found guilty. Igor and his family are granted residency in Canada but must live under protection of the Canadian police.
William A. Wellman
Christopher Robin Olsen
Michael J. Dugan
Charles G. Clarke
Harry M. Leonard
Sol C. Siegel
Darryl F. Zanuck
The Iron Curtain
Tagline for The Iron Curtain
As Hollywood fell under suspicion of Communist infiltration in the late '40s, some of the studios sought to clean up their images with a series of Cold War films depicting the Communist menace to American life and liberty. This 1948 drama was the first of those, and thanks to low-key directing by William A. Wellman, sensitive performances by stars Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney and the leavening influence of studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, the picture is one of the most level-headed and intelligent depictions of post-war politics. It's certainly a far cry from such later, more hysterical films as The Red Menace and The Woman on Pier 13 (both 1949).
It helped greatly that The Iron Curtain was based on a true story. In 1945, Igor Gouzenko, a decoder at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, defected, handing over 109 pages of documents that revealed a network of Soviet spies out to steal information about the U.S.' development of the atomic bomb. The result was a series of highly publicized trials leading to ten convictions. Among those implicated were a Member of Parliament and one of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project. Historians have also linked the investigation following Gouzenko's defection to the Rosenbergs in the U.S. and the Cambridge Five in England. The incident is often credited as the official start of the Cold War because of its revelations that former World War II ally the Soviet Union was secretly spying on the U.S.
Twentieth Century-Fox picked up the rights to Gouzenko's articles about his experiences along with two historical books on Soviet espionage, George Moorad's Behind the Iron Curtain and Richard Hirsch's The Soviet Spies: The Story of Russian Espionage in North America, though no material from the two books was actually used in the film. Gouzenko would compile his articles for the book The Iron Curtain: Inside Stalin's Spy Ring, published in conjunction with the film's release.
As a sign of the film's importance, Zanuck turned the direction over to Wellman, one of the studio's top directors, and cast Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney as the Gouzenkos. Lee J. Cobb was the first choice to play John Grubb, the Embassy's link to the Soviet spy cells, but the role ended up going to Berry Kroeger, in his first credited feature role. The popular radio and stage actor would go on to a long career of playing villains on TV and in the movies.
Wellman had always had a talent for demonstrating the impact of world-shattering events on the individual, particularly in the more intimate scenes in Wings (1927), the World War I aviation drama that won the first Oscar® for Best Picture, Wild Boys of the Road (1933), an amazing portrait of the effects of the Depression on American youth, and Heroes for Sale (1933), which chronicles one veteran's odyssey through post-war problems and the depths of the Depression. His look at Cold War politics in The Iron Curtain focuses primarily on Gouzenko's family life, detailing how being stationed in Canada during World War II, a reunion with his wife and the arrival of his first child led him to realize that the Soviet Union under Stalin lacks the liberties he's come to appreciate in the West. As a result, The Iron Curtain is more low-key and credible than most of the later Cold War movies. In place of hysterical ranting against "the red menace," Wellman draws a series of personal portraits. The film moves beyond its depiction of Gouzenko's family to capture the torment of a friend (Eduard Franz) whose disenchantment with Soviet life has driven him to alcoholism and the plight of one of the embassy's female employees (June Havoc), forced to seduce new workers to test their loyalty.
According to news reports at the time, Soviet sympathizers attempted unsuccessfully to disrupt location shooting in Ottawa, where Fox captured exteriors during a cold Canadian winter. Pickets also turned up at the Roxy Theatre in New York to protest the film's preview. Soviet sympathizers, liberals, conservatives and members of the Catholic War Veterans mobbed the streets until dispersed by the police. In truth, there was no preview for them to protest. The Roxy had canceled it six weeks earlier, but word had not reached any of the concerned parties.
Oddly, one of the most controversial aspects of the film was its score. At one point, an official at the embassy explains that loud music is played in the decoding room to prevent people from eavesdropping on their work. Composer Alfred Newman, the head of the 20th Century-Fox music department, pulled that music from the works of Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturyan and Dominik Miskovsky, all of whom had been censured by the Soviet government for "formalism," the charge leveled at artists whose work was not seen as supporting the Soviet state. Although they could not have seen the film, the four signed a letter complaining that their music had been stolen for what they called an "outrageous picture." Historians have theorized that the Stalinist government forced them to sign the letter.
The Iron Curtain was not universally acclaimed by critics at the time. Although he praised the picture for alerting the pubic to the dangers of Communism, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave it a largely negative review, calling it "blunt" and prejudiced against Russians. He also derided the fact that Andrews' character did not have a Russian accent, although his superiors at the Embassy did. In response to the review, Zanuck wrote the Times to defend the picture, pointing out that the paper's front-page coverage of Gouzenko's defection years earlier validated the subject's importance.
The Gouzenko case inspired a second film in 1954, Operation Manhunt. The United Artists release followed the family's later life and the Soviet government's attempts to hunt Gouzenko down and assassinate him. Harry Townes played the lead, and the real Gouzenko appeared briefly at the film's end. For that appearance, he wore a hood to conceal his features, a practice he used for the rest of his life whenever his work as a writer (and complaints that the Canadian government was not supporting him as well as promised) forced him to appear in public.
By Frank Miller
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Director: William A. Wellman
Screenplay: Milton Krims
Adapted from the personal story of Igor Gouzenko
Cinematography: Charles G. Clarke
Score: Alfred Newman
Cast: Dana Andrews (Igor Gouzenko), Gene Tierney (Anna Gouzenko), June Havoc (Nina Karanova), Berry Kroeger (John Grubb), Edna Best (Mrs. Albert Foster), Stefan Schnabel (Col. Ilya Ranov), Eduard Franz (Maj. Semyon Kulin), Reed Hadley (Narrator)
The Iron Curtain
An opening title states that "This story is based on the Report of the Royal Commission June 27, 1946 and evidence presented in Canadian Courts that resulted in the conviction of ten secret agents of the Soviet government." In addition to court transcripts, the screenplay was also based on published articles by Igor Gouzenko (1919-1983) about his 1945 defection, as well as conversations between Gouzenko and screenplay writer Milton Krims. Documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library indicate that the studio also bought the rights to Behind the Iron Curtain by George Moorad and The Soviet Spies-The Story of Russian Espionage in North America by Richard Hirsch, but used no material from these books for the film. A book version of Gouzenko's articles was published to coincide with the film's release. With the exception of the Gouzenkos, all names of Canadian and Russian agents were fictionalized. A title at the beginning of the film states that all exterior scenes were photographed in Canada in the original locales.
According to news items, a scheduled preview at the Roxy Theatre in New York was picketed by approximately a thousand "right wingers" as well as communists and liberals. An article in Time stated: "Their advent was not unexpected. For four hours a group of Catholic War Veterans had been trickling up with signs of their own, to picket the pickets. In strength they about equaled the opposition. Thousands of expectant bystanders choked the streets." The article noted that over 100 policemen broke up the mob with nightsticks and horses, and that six weeks before, the Roxy management had decided not to hold the preview, but had neglected to tell anybody about it. The picture opened uneventfully the next morning.
New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther not only gave the film an unfavorable review but also devoted a feature column to it and questioned whether it contributed "in any way to a clarification of present problems" or merely aroused "more ire and hate?" Studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck responded to Crowther's column with a "Letter to the Editor" in which he wrote, "My answer is that the picture is calculated to, and does, arouse the public to vigilance against a menace....The Communists and their ideological companions in this country did not picket the newspapers which printed accounts of the trials, the Cosmopolitan magazine, Reader's Digest, or the publishing house which printed Gouzenko's book. But they did picket the Roxy Theatre...they were more afraid of the printed picture than the printed word....Our picture does not preach hatred of the Russians, but of the hatred they have for our democratic way of life."
In May 1948, New York Times reported that the Russian composers whose works were used in the film had written a letter to the Soviet newspaper Izvestia in which they described the picture as "loathsome" and accused Twentieth Century-Fox of stealing their music. Time reported that they had "begged a New York court to cut their music from the sound track; it might make them look like traitors at home, their lawyers argued." Alfred Newman, head of the studio's music department, stated to the New York Times that although the composers' works were in the public domain in the United States, his studio had an agreement with the Leeds Music Co. and its subsidiary AM RUSS, giving the studio the right to draw from the Leeds editions of the four composers at will. A flat sum and a further price per composition had been agreed upon in advance, and between $10,000 and $15,000 would be paid to Leeds upon release of the picture. On June 8, 1948, Los Angeles Times reported that New York State Supreme Court Justice Edward Koch had ruled that the music in question was in public domain and enjoyed no copyright whatsoever.
According to studio documents, the role of "Grubb" was originally intended for Lee J. Cobb, and scenes featuring actors Dennis Hoey, Eric Noonan and Eula Morgan were eliminated before the film's opening. In 1954, the MPTV Corp. produced Operation Manhunt for United Artists release. This film, starring Harry Townes and Irja Jensen, continued the story of the Gouzenko family in Canada and the Soviet Embassy's attempt to locate and liquidate them. Gouzenko, himself, appeared in a brief epilogue, but his face was hidden behind a hood.