This week's movie is a famous, or infamous, work of WWII propaganda, Mission to Moscow, from 1943. It's a movie about how wonderful the Soviet Union is, and what a great ally Stalin makes.
It's entirely shocking. Now, it's only to be expected that Hollywood would portray the Soviet Union favorably during the middle of the war. But a lot of choices were available. For example, the Why We Fight movies that I discussed last month certainly treated the Soviets generously, but the focus there was whenever possible on the wonderful Russian people. In Why We Fight, Germans and Japanese people are ethnically destined for fascism, while the Russians, Chinese, and other allies are just salt-of-the-earth terrific folk. Not so in Mission to Moscow. Sure, the Russian people are fine, but they have their Fifth Columnists too -- in fact, the movie is fairly obsessed with Fifth Columnists in Russia, France, Britain, the smaller nations of Europe, and, yup, the U.S.A.
It seems to me that if it's 1942-1944 and you want to convince the American people that the Soviets are a great ally, you have two main things in your way: the non-aggression pact, and the inconvenient fact of Soviet Totalitarianism, in particular the purge and the show trials. Now, I have no idea how well informed ordinary Americans were of the latter...I'd think you could just ignore it. But not Mission to Moscow, which reveals the trials as just as good as American justice, and the purges as a necessary defense against Trotsky's plot to overthrow the government by plotting for the Soviets to lose to Hitler. Which only makes sense, because the British government was also perfectly happy to lose to Hitler -- appeasement wasn't a foolish mistake, but a deliberate plot. And, so, in that atmosphere, there was just nothing a guy like Stalin, with only peaceful intentions and not a dream of any conquest of his own, could do but to craftily trick Hitler into delaying invasion for a couple of years with the non-aggression pact.
Oh, and as a movie...well, if you have no interest in the politics, there's really no reason to watch it. Walter Huston stars, as the American ambassador who learns what swell people the Soviets are, and he's given speech after speech to make. Straight propaganda. He gets to have a wife and a daughter, but they mostly fade out of the movie...for the first half hour or so, there's a pretense that we're going to be interested in them as a family, but by the sixty minute mark all of that disappears. As a movie, this one stinks.
Mission to Moscow became a famous symbol for those who believed that the Red Menace was infiltrating Hollywood, which was locally important to lots of people in the creative community, and nationally important because one of those people became President of the United States. I had always assumed that the anti-communists were exaggerating. They were not. Mission to Moscow really does have to be seen to be believed.