Mission to Moscow (1943): Warner’s Agit-Prop, Starring Walter Huston

Requested by President Roosevelt to make a film supportive of America’s Russian allies, Warner’s Bros complies (as most studios did) by making the propaganda piece, Mission to Moscow.

The film adapted to the screen the Memoir of US Ambassador Joseph H. Davies, who served in the Soviet Union from November 1936 to June 1938 Published in 1941, the book was a critical and commercial success (700,000 copies sold), translated into 13 languages.

Walter Huston plays Davies, a pillar of incorruptable integrity, reporting the facts “as I saw them.”

Sent to Moscow to find out if Russia is a trustworthy ally, Davies and his family are given the royal treatment by the Commissars.

The Russian citizens are shown to be singing, smiling, freedom-loving individuals, in contrast to the Nazis, who are depicted as humorless and soulless.

Present the Soviet Union in a possible light, the film glosses over the notorious Purge Trials of 1937, presenting the trials as scrupulously fair and the defendants as traitors.

Even Russia’s annexation of Finland in 1939 is “justified” by Davies’ explanation that the Soviets wished to protect their tiny neighbor from Nazi domination

Screenwriter Howard Koch would be blacklisted, unable to get film work after the war because of his contributions to this “Pinko” project, while Jack Warner insisted that he was strongarmed into making the film.

Despite being agit-prop, Mission to Moscow is passably entertaining due to direction of vet Michael Curtiz, but it’s ludicrous as history due to distortion of basic facts.

The 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.

The original print of Mission to Moscow, which was released on April 30, 1943, included a 6-minute prologue delivered by the real-life Joseph Davies.

Ironically, the text’s factual inaccuracies and outright false portrayals of Soviet leaders and events resulted in criticism from both the left and the right wings of the political spectrum.

When the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich saw it, he noted that “no Soviet propaganda agency would dare to present such outrageous lies.”

Robert Buckner, the film’s producer,  later said: “it was an expedient lie for political purposes, glossily covering up important facts with full or partial knowledge of their false presentation.”

Contrary to popular notion, the film was not a success at the box-office, despite extensive and expensive advertising campaign.

According to Warner records, the film earned $1 million domestically and about $630,000 internationally, thus incurring a lost of at least half a million dollars.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Interior Decoration (black and white): Carl Weyl; George J. Hopkins

Oscar Awards: No

Oscar Context:

The Art Direction Oscar went to “The Song of Bernadette.”

Running time: 123 minutes.