Why didn’t more Soviet movies have American villains?

Plenty of American films had Soviet or Soviet-linked villains, but the opposite was not true.  Here is one excerpt from Ignatiy Vishnevetsky:

The Soviet and American mainstreams expressed themselves in radically different ways, with different fears. Being a single party state, the Soviet Union was always factionalist and unsustainable, and could only perpetuate itself through cycles of repression and repudiation. Its anxieties were mostly directed toward itself; as the Americans made fantasies of threat, the USSR made fantasies of stability and global standing. The Soviet Union was also dominated by Russian culture, and inherited its taste for oblique metaphor and indirect address. (It should be noted that the three greatest filmmakers to come out of the Soviet Union—Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Aleksei German—never completed a film set in the present day.)

Simply put, it wasn’t an environment that was primed to depict the Cold War directly. But it was also an environment with a Cold War mythos that was very different from that of the West. The Soviets did have a “worthy villain,” whom they beat year after year on the big screen: the Nazis. The Soviet Union was the hero who slew the dragon; defeating the Third Reich was a point of national pride. There would never be a more important opponent. The Soviets couldn’t reasonably elevate the Americans to the same status, or even to the status of the White Guard of the bloody Russian Civil War—the USSR’s origin-story villains, in a way.

…Americans couldn’t be expected to kill or die for their cause, because—as the 1965 spy film Game With No Rules, set in Berlin at the start of the Cold War, suggests—they didn’t have a cause to begin with. Instead, the rare American antagonists of popular Soviet film were portrayed as pawns of business interests, military-industrial collusion, or, of course, the Nazis. Portraying a monolithic United States of true believers, focused on the eradication of the USSR, would have gone against two essential aspects of the mythology of Soviet propaganda: the defeat of Nazism, which rid the world of an evil the likes of which it would never see, and the notion of communism as a self-evident ideal.

For decades, Soviet media attacked the United States—with varying degrees of subtlety—as a broken society, its failure obvious. Capitalism and Western democracy weren’t values that could inspire the same kind of commitment as communism, and the only reason anyone would fight for them was because they’d didn’t know better.

Here is the full piece, via someone in my Twitter feed sorry I can no longer find it.

Comments

"Plenty of American films had Soviet or Soviet-linked villains ..."

I hear people say that all the time, but how true is it? My impression is that Hollywood movies tended to be relatively conciliatory toward Soviets.

To pick a random example, my wife wanted to watch an Ingrid Bergman film, and the only one on Netflix was the 1958 drama Inn of the Sixth Happiness, a biopic about an Englishwoman who traveled to China to become a missionary. About 5 to 10 minutes of the movie take place en route to China on the Trans-Siberian Express during the early Soviet Union, and the film goes out of its way to offer a light-hearted look at the Soviet Union, with an implicit message that Soviets are people just like you and me. That strikes me as pretty much the standard Hollywood message about the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Finally during the Reagan years there started to be hit movies that were ferociously anti-Communist like Rambo and John Milius's Red Dawn, but those tended to be populist movies that weren't going to win a lot of Oscars.

Respectable movies tended to be much less anti-Communist. For example, "Dr. Zhivago" ends with a travelogue about all the impressive dams the Soviet government has been building and how much better life has been getting lately after, admittedly, some growing pains.

"Bridge of Spies" was actually reasonably anti-Communist. Though Spielberg had to put in some scenes for balance at the beginning ie. the ridiculing nuclear preparation programs and having Tom Hanks' house get shot at...

The original Rambo wasn't anti-communist at all. Mistreatment of a returned Vietnam vet at home.

Bridge of Spies made the Soviet spy a noble character while the American public was a raging mob....

"Bridge of Spies" was a throwback to typical Cold War era Hollywood movie, which tended to recommend moderation and perspective (and thus were kind of boring).

Has anyone else noticed how weird and out of place the frame story of "Dr. Zhivago" was?

Very interesting article, thank you,

http://goo.gl/at12Sx

Here's a really simple test of the absence of SOVIET villainy in American film. Type "gulag" into IMDB and see what you get. Compare that to "auschwitz", the name of one Nazi camp.

Have there been any Hollywood movies about the Stalin's Ukrainian Famine?

The only movie I remember about a bad Stalin (as opposed to the movie reels of Uncle Joe) off the top of my head made him out to be an autocratic movie critic whose projectionist was terrified of him.

Gosh. No wonder my students are so easy for my neo-Communist colleague to convince that Bernie is a stepping stone to the Revolution, and that would be a good thing.

Has Hollywood ever made a movie about Nazi atrocities committed in the Soviet Union? Not as far as I know. In fact, these atrocities, aside from one or two episodes connected to the Holocaust, are almost entirely unknown in the West. For example, every man, woman, and child in Russia and Belorussia knows what Khatyn was; but one in the West ever heard of it.

To use the economics lingo, the crimes of the Soviet regime are much better known in the West than the Nazi crimes -- if you correct for geography.

> For example, every man, woman, and child in Russia and Belorussia knows what Khatyn was…

Sorry, never heard of it.

GASP!!!!

Katyn was a Soviet massacre of Polish officers and soldiers. Most Russian "men women and children" think Katyn was a...German massacre.

So your example is the opposite. It's an example of the extreme propaganda and ignorance of Russian audiences.

Katyn != Khatyn

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khatyn_massacre

So Russian audiences have been brainwashed to the point where they know, by heart, the massacre of 147 civilians by the Germans, but not the 22,000 Poles the Soviets executed?

Brainwashing isn't quite the right word if it's a question of omitting one (major) fact and emphasizing another (smaller one). Definitely troublesome, but a very different sort of thing.

American history texts are full of such things as well, as is the daily media.

@ AIG.

So why is Anne Frank commemorated? She is just one person.

Obviously, it's because Anne Frank is a symbol. And so is Khatyn. It's a symbol of thousands of other settlements that received similar treatment and it's a commemoration of two million civilians who died during the occupation just in Belarus alone.

And speaking about Katyn. This is another good illustration of the point I made above, that Soviet crimes are much better known than the similar Nazi crimes committed in the same general area (again, aside from the Holocaust related events.) Katyn is very well known but how many people have heard about Sonderaktion Tannenberg, or Intelligenzaktion, or AB-Aktion? The Nazis had a plan for elimination of the Polish elites - officers, scholars, and so on. Shortly after the beginning of the occupation they started to methodically implement this in three stages named above. Well over 100,000 were executed as the result. So, here is something that Nazis did that was five times as deadly as Katyn, but not even 5% as well known outside of Poland. Or perhaps even inside Poland, too, judging by the volume of outrage I observe.

"American history texts are full of such things as well"

Citation

"So, here is something that Nazis did that was five times as deadly as Katyn, but not even 5% as well known outside of Poland. Or perhaps even inside Poland, too, judging by the volume of outrage I observe."

Maybe because no one has any sympathies to begin with for the Nazi occupation of Poland, whereas the Soviets...LIED...and perpetrated a con-job on the rest of the world at Katyn.

You know, it's called salience.

JWatts - I would bet good money that your high school history text expressed the precise number of American SOLDIERS who were casualties in D-day, may or may not have mentioned the number of non-American Allied casualties, but doesn't even mention the 400,000 CIVILIANS killed in a couple days of firebombing of Dresden.

Similarly, everyone knows that somewhere in the range of 3500 American soldiers died in the American invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, but it is deemed broadly irrelevant that nearly 1 million Iraqis died as a result of the war and the resulting famine, etc., or nearly 300 times the rate of casualties (like, if there's a war and people die due to famine in the war, the death is a result of the war, no?).

Similar for Vietnam.

If you watch American war documentaries, one of the most common phrases is "saved American lives", with the apparent view that it's OK to kill very large numbers of non-Americans to save even very few numbers of Americans.

Now be honest here. If you polled Americans with the following question, what distribution of answers do you think you'd get: "How many Muslims would it be OK to kill in order to save one American life?" - First off, consider the percentage that would answer "ALL OF THEM!" 5%? I hope not higher, but I fear it may be.

The 2001 movie "Enigma" features Katyn (not Khatyn) as a plot device. It could even be construed as sympathetic to the Nazis as compared to the monstrosity of Stalin.

The primary conceit of Hollywood is that it was the US and British, not the Soviets, defeated Hitler. Very few movies like "Enemy at the Gates" or "Stalingrad" (both European coproductions, IIRC) show the immense sacrifices the Russians endured.

And yes, I had never heard of Khatyn either.

Here's my review from "The American Conservative" of Wajda's 2007 film "Katyń:"

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/stalins-willing-executioners/

By the way, "Enigma" was adapted for the screen by Tom Stoppard. It was produced by Mick Jagger and Lorne Michaels (Jack Donaghy on "30 Rock") -- none of whom are terribly leftist.

In general, right-leaning creatives in the arts and entertainments have to stay kind of in the closet, which may help improve their art.

"The primary conceit of Hollywood is that it was the US and British, not the Soviets, defeated Hitler."

The primary conceit of the Soviets is in thinking that without the massive Western effort against the Nazis, and the massive western effort in propping up the Soviet war machine, the Soviets would not have been defeated by the Nazis. You know, destroying German industry and the capacity to wage war, kind of is a big deal. You know, providing about 50% of the Soviet material needs during the war, is king of a big deal.

I went to Khatyn, summer of 1988.

Like others I think that the location was selected to conceal the reality of what the Sovoks did at Katyn.

Actually it is pretty amazing the longevity of the "second front" movement from WW2. This was the Stalin sponsored effort by communist sympathisers in the west to get the west to open up the second front against the Nazi's to give some relief to the Soviets on the Eastern front. The main argument of this was that the Soviets were having to do all the fighting against the Nazi's. This propaganda was so effective that even today we see people pop up on the internet to claim that the West didn't do their part in WW2.

Of course the Russian did have a terrible time in WW2, how much of it though was due to their poor leadership by Stalin and how much of it was due to their moral courage in taking on the Nazi threat, is an interesting question.

The main argument of this was that the Soviets were having to do all the fighting against the Nazi’s. This propaganda was so effective that even today we see people pop up on the internet to claim that the West didn’t do their part in WW2.

More than 75% of dead Germans was in the Eastern front. Ergo, the West did its part but it was minor.

"More than 75% of dead Germans was in the Eastern front. Ergo, the West did its part but it was minor."

More than 90% of German industry was destroyed by the West. More than 50% of the material means of waging war for the Soviets were provided by the Western allies (the West provided some 50% of aluminium for aircraft production, majority of oil for running machines, majority of transport equipment to move things around, majority of chemicals to produce explosives, majority of food-stuff used to feed the army, majority of clothing to clothe the army, etc.)

Ergo, the East did its part, but it was minor.

Q: "Has Hollywood ever made a movie about Nazi atrocities committed in the Soviet Union?" A: Yes. During WW2 the US made a number of pro-Soviet films, when the two were allies, many of which followed the same narrative arc of Nazi invasion and atrocities followed by heroic resistance and an eventual turning of the tables. The North Star is perhaps the most famous. More here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:American_pro-Soviet_propaganda_films

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1034303/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_29

Someone said Stalin is a terrible movie villain. He kills tens of millions, the Americans help him out for a few years, then he gets away with it and dies in his sleep.

'Type “gulag” into IMDB and see what you get. Compare that to “auschwitz”, the name of one Nazi camp.'

That just means that in terms of historical villainy Americans weren't involved so Americans don't know anything about it and don't care.

Maybe because there are more Jews in Hollywood than Russian émigrés?

So you're saying that a Russian Jew isn't really a Russian?

In addition to what was mentioned ...

Soviets are/were more attuned to propaganda, and it would probably have had the opposite to desired effect (temporarily ignoring the explanation that it would also have planted the seed of though in some that some might have perceived legitimate cause to oppose the Soviet project). I haven't actually seen any Soviet films per se, but a priori I would guess that Americans portrayed in the films wouldn't be "villains" per se, but included in their character and situations would be much more subtle messaging to negatively portray America. For example, something like ... really humanizing the American, how he's caught up in something, not much choice, tries to do the right thing, ultimately does wrong things because of the system he's a part of ... may or may not come around to "right" thinking (depending on the movie).

Only certain groups are dumb enough (naive, rather) to buy the sort of anti-something propaganda where X group is practically frothing at the mouth, completely devoid of any legitimate cause to fight for and literally brainwashed into pure insanity, driven by pure bloodlust and love of killing, kind of thing. People who don't understand or are not aware of the extent of propaganda are more liable to be influenced by such things. Is there really much question as to which end of the political spectrum is more amenable to such portrayals these days in diverse forms of media? Not the end of the spectrum that tends to humanize people, to be sure.

James Bond movies, for example, seldom had Soviet villains.

The popular Bond knockoff TV series "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." explicitly featured an American and Russian spy teaming up to fight a shadowy SPECTRE-like menace:

"The series centered on a two-man troubleshooting team working for U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement): American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), and Soviet Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). ...

"U.N.C.L.E.'s adversary was T.H.R.U.S.H. (W.A.S.P. in the pilot movie). The original series never divulged what T.H.R.U.S.H. represented, but in several U.N.C.L.E. novels by David McDaniel, it is the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity,[6] described as founded by Col. Sebastian Moran after the death of Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls in the Sherlock Holmes story, "The Final Problem".

"T.H.R.U.S.H.'s aim was to conquer the world. ... T.H.R.U.S.H. was considered so dangerous an organization that even governments who were ideologically opposed to each other — such as the United States and the Soviet Union — had cooperated in forming and operating the U.N.C.L.E. organization. Similarly, when Solo and Kuryakin held opposing political views, the friction between them in the story was held to a minimum."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_from_U.N.C.L.E.

Similarly, Maxwell Smart fought KAOS, not the KGB.

KAOS being, of course, a Delaware corporation.

now that's funny

Bad examples. James Bond et al were comic book heroes, so they needed comic book adversaries. You cannot make a movie with Brezhnev as a villain that also features tanks of piranhas and volcano tropical island hideaways.

You cannot make a movie with Hitler as a villain that also features blow guns, giant rolling boulders, and the lost ark of the covenant.

Oh, wait, you actually can, and it turned out to be a pretty good movie.

Well, Hitler has been long ago elevated to a comic book villain.

Beria might make a pretty good comic book villain.

It's been tried once or twice: e.g., "Enigma" author Robert Harris's thriller novel "Archangel" has some flashbacks to Beria. It was made into a miniseries with Daniel Craig.

The interesting thing about Beria was that his actual politics, during his brief spell of supreme power after Stalin's death, were pretty mild. He wasn't a true believer in Communism. All those evil things he did for Stalin for all those years weren't done out of ideological conviction (he was too smart to believe in that stuff), he just did it for the power (and the women).

The two Georgians, Stalin and Beria, were close students of Persian history. There was something a little Near Eastern about their cruelty. Beria tended to see his role kind of like the Grand Vizier in Disney's "Aladdin."

"It was made into a miniseries with Daniel Craig."

A pretty good one too, BTW.

Netflix used to have it, but as usual with Netflix, it drops anything remotely interesting or good in exchange for the banal.

"James Bond movies, for example, seldom had Soviet villains"

Colonel Klebb, General Gogol, General Orlov, General Koskov, Alec Trevelyan. (It's not clear if Trevelyan was an officer in the *Soviet* army, since by the time he reappears the Soviet Union has dissolved and he is a Russian Army General.

Klebb was former SMERSH who defected to SPECTRE. Not everybody knew that she was no longer a Soviet colonel so she exploited it. General Gogol was never a villain, more like an adversary.

I think Steve Sailer's point holds up well, overall. Probably for the mirror image reason, that to portray too many true believers in communism contradicted the dogma that nobody really believed in it even in the USSR.

It's worth pointing out as well that Hollywood's attitude toward Nazi Germany from about 1950-1970 was relatively mild and conciliatory, with much emphasis on Germans as brave warriors misled by a minority of bad politicians. (Or in the case of "Hogan's Heroes," Germans as not brave, but humane.)

For example, there were numerous American and British war movies during this era featuring General Erwin Rommel, who was almost always portrayed as a Worthy Foe for Allied heroes like Patton and Montgomery.

In general, American movies and TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s strove to be "thoughtful" and "responsible" and not rile mobs up. There was much fear of irrational political emotions. "Star Trek" is a good example of the tenor of the times. The recent Spielberg movie "Bridge of Spies" about intelligent men on both sides of the Iron Curtain negotiating reasonable compromises is a real throwback to the spirit of the age in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s.

Meanwhile, rock and roll was unleashing new energies, but it took awhile for this to have much influence on Hollywood, because they don't let really young people make movies and TV shows. Slowly, movies became more rabble-rousing, with, for example, more comic bookish German villains than in the postwar era. Finally, in the mid-1980s there was even a brief spell of populist anti-communist movies with amazing stuff like Rocky IV.

My hunch is that the anti-Communist movies of the mid-1980s were related to the rise of steroids in Hollywood.

The role of steroids in rightwing Hollywood in the 1980s was a theme in "Casino Jack," the biopic about corrupt Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who produced an anti-Communist Dolph Lundgren movie:

http://takimag.com/article/casino_jack_homo_conman_politicus/print#axzz44eDPdUpm

The West has (or at least had) a long history of regarding opposing soldiers as essentially respectable and human, but, say, for national interest it was necessary to go to war and defeat foreign armies. For a period of some hundreds of years, much of European warfare primarily involved "chivalrous" conduct where, say, you would formally line up in preparation for the battle, not start the killing until the signals were given, etc. No doubt there are a great number of exceptions to the rule, but my understanding is that this was the general nature of things in basically all the main conflicts.

The foreign KING might have been regarded as very evil or something, but not the hired hands who fought the wars. It was a profession, and these professionals did their jobs. That might explain the observation of Nazi soldiers not being painted so evil in film (in addition to what you said about them being misled ... and/or them feeling like there was no choice).

Sci-fi movies of the Cold War era tended to emphasize how, if aliens attacked, we'd rapidly get over these petty capitalist v. communist disagreements. A close student of postwar sci-fi movies, Ronald Reagan, pointed out in an address to the U.N. in 1987:

"Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/flashback-reagans-vision-unifying

If only the CIA could come up with some fake evidence of an alien threat instead of WMDs. Oh, but we would insist on doing nothing until there was proof.

How many American movies had Communist villains?

Off the top of my head, the one that comes to mind is 1962's "The Manchurian Candidate," but, of course, that turns out to be a twist ending after much satire of McCarthyism. "The Manchurian Candidate" was an exceptionally brilliant film, so it's not very representative.

Not exactly "communist villains", but there are LOADS of gangster movies where there are ties between the KGB and Russian mafia and Russian plants are portrayed as being willing to kill with impunity, not the least hint of shredding a tear or caring about the people they had killed. It seems as though it was portrayed more as a feature of Russian and KGB stuff than a feature of being any old mafia. Sorry, I can't name one, but perhaps I've seen a half a dozen with such themes built in some way or another, and I don't even watch a lot of movies.

The number of Russian villains in Hollywood movies exploded as soon as the Cold War was over. You have to give the Hollywood screenwriters credit, however, for recognizing that Yeltsin's Russia was a gangster state a lot sooner than did the economics departments of MIT and Harvard.

Stanley Fischer, Larry Summers, Andrei Shleifer, Jeffrey Sachs etc. were all pretty clueless about what their advice was encouraging in Russia, or at least that's a generous interpretation of their role in the Rape of Russia.

Amy Chua pointed out the disparate impact of the Harvard/MIT advice on Russia in 2003:

https://www.vdare.com/articles/will-us-retain-its-market-dominant-majority

On the other hand, Russia is incomparably a better place now than in say 1989. Yes there are many people who came by their money by dubious means, but that doesn't mean that the population overall is not better off. And I don't think that liberal economist can be blamed for the police state that followed Yeltsin. It was entirely possible that Yeltsin could have been followed, like in Poland after Lech Walesa, by a standard Western European style democracy.

Russia is incomparably a better place now than in say 1989

Tens of millions of Russians who died in the 1990s probably think the price was not exactly right.

I don't think that the early deaths were due to liberal economics, rather the collapse of the Soviet Union, which unfortunately or fortunately was inevitable due to the way it operated.

"How many American movies had Communist villains?"

I'd consider "No Way Out" a height of the Cold War type movie. And the Communist spy is the hero.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093640/synopsis?ref_=ttpl_pl_syn

And of course, The Hunt for Red October, portrayed the Soviets pretty benignly.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099810/

https://nsarchive.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/project-artichoke-22-january-1954.pdf

Can't let a reference to the Manchurian Candidate pass without linking to my favorite crazy FOIA pull.

Why is there no mention of Semyonov who created the popular Russian spy Stierlitz? I believe that he had several novels that covered the Cold War with the CIA as enemy.

Here's a related question: since the death of George Orwell in 1950, how many major English-language literary authors repeatedly wrote anti-Communist works?

There have been a lot of literary geniuses who were more or less conservatives, such as Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, Evelyn Waugh, T.S. Eliot, Tom Wolfe, and V.S. Naipaul, but the only figure on that level I can think of who wrote numerous anti-Communist, anti-Soviet, anti-leftist works was Tom Stoppard, the English-raised playwright who identified with the place of his birth, Czechoslovakia.

Waugh and Nabokov wrote bits and pieces of anti-Communist satires. Updike's "The Coup" is an incredibly brilliant satire on Third World Marxism, Islam, and anti-whitism that is now almost forgotten, but Updike mostly stuck to suburban adultery for his themes.

Stoppard, however, is almost unique in repeatedly turning his genius to the worthy cause of anti-Communism.

I read The Coup at the beach in 1978 or '79 and laughed a lot. It was only years later that I met Nigerian people who convinced me that it was only too (shallowly) true.

Updike worked harder on The Coup than on most of his books. First he spent a month in Africa on a State Dept. cultural exchange junket. Then he came home and spent a year in the library studying up on Africa. Updike studying a subject for a year straight was like anybody else studying for a decade.

Granted, the book is insane -- an African Marxist Muslim dictator with the prose style of John Updike -- but it's great. It's considerably better than Waugh's "Black Mischief."

I think Orwell's works had anti-communist bent in that time in place, but I believe that he intended his implied warnings far more generally.

Strange the way the right has latched on to Orwell in recent years. Googling him gets you more right-wing sites than left ones. This is something even Jacobin has noticed (https://www.jacobinmag.com/2013/10/reclaiming-comrade-orwell/). Wonder what the reason for this could be…

Because the Left recognizes his views as a threat. Since the Vietnam War the Hard Left decided that the Stalinists were heroes. The Right thought him an irrelevance until they realized that the Left was winning and then they worshiped him as a prophet before his time.

You can see the problems the Left has with him. They usually get around it by claiming that by talking about socialism he was not actually talking about socialism but actually talking about Facebook or something.

Beyond absurd. Orwell's warnings are very much taken up by the left as well.

His works are a threat to any and every powerful interest group that seeks to manipulate the meanings of accepted values towards their opposite meaning.

In the present day, this may refer to "security" which effectively means the potential to spy on any and all citizens at all times in the absence of a warrant (far more so defended by the right) or "security" obtained by bombing foreign nations in a way that involves high civilian casualties and therefore significant blowback (far more so defended by the right these days).

The notion of forcing democracy on other nations in a top-down manner is also rather Orwellian, although I think both left and right are similarly guilty of delusions in this regard in recent decades.

A couple of Coen Bros. films -- "Barton Fink" and "Hail, Caesar!" -- are satires on Marxist screenwriters in Hollywood, who are usually more reverently portrayed as Red Scare martyrs.

Soviet mythology and propaganda was that the peoples of the West, if given a choice, would defect or support communism. Hence it would be hard to have Western villains. However, the background 'Western interests" as the enemies, were always there.

Also, it would be hard for the Soviets to have Westerners as villains, because it would often require that they set up their scenes in a Western society, or have interactions between Westerners and Soviets. Even Soviet propaganda couldn't portray...the West...in a bad light enough to convince their audiences (setting up a scene of a fictional West Berlin would be difficult, because even the most naive Soviet citizen knew that West Berlin was an infinitely better place to live than the Soviet Union)

Likewise, as has been pointed out by others above, most American movies didn't have Soviets as villains, either. Even during the most anti-Soviet movies produced during the Reagan times, the theme was that, given a choice, most citizens of these countries would side against communism (which happened to be true, as was evident). The theme of Rocky IV was not Rocky beating Drago. It was the scene where the Soviet audience started cheering for Rocky.

And then there's Iron Eagle II.

If anything, it seems Hollywood is making more anti-Soviet movies these days than it did even during the Reagan era.

The Company - a mini-series of Soviet spies in the CIA (extremely well done)
The Assets - similar thing (very good, and amazingly still on Netflix)
Archangel - mini-series of Stalin's brutality
Bridge of Spies
The Way Back

There are a lot of amazing stories left over from the Cold War.

Since the Cold War, Hollywood has made a few pro-Russian movies lauding the courage of Soviet personnel, such as Kathryn Bigelow's fine nuclear submarine movie "K-19," which I reviewed here in 2002:

http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2002/07/18/Film-of-the-Week-Harrison-Ford-in-K-19/34761027003417/

But they didn't do particularly well at the box office. So, it's up to the Russians to make their own movies.

Too bad not that many Russian movies cross-over to the US market. Actually, Night Watch is the only one I can think of having seen.

This makes sense. For anyone who has spent some time in the former USSR, you notice it's like WWII was just a few years ago. These guys are disappearing at a rapid pace now, but it's not uncommon to see WWII veterans wearing their war medals around on a daily basis.

I thought the Russians are still fighting WW2. Nazis Nazis everywhere, all around them :p

One interesting aspect of later 20th Century Hollywood history is the remarkably central role of the over-the-top rightwinger John Milius. He had some success as a director, such as "Red Dawn" and "Conan the Barbarian" in the 1980s. As a screenwriter, he wrote Coppola’s "Apocalypse Now," plus "Dirty Harry’s" 44 Magnum speech and "Jaws’" USS Indianapolis speech.

But he's more important as a friend of almost everybody important in Hollywood in 1970-2000 such as Spielberg (whom he introduced to clay-pigeon shooting, kicking off Spielberg's obsession with shotguns), Lucas, Coppola, the Coens (e.g., it's a matter of dispute how much Milius inspired John Goodman's Walter Sobchak in "The Big Lebowski," but there are reasons why the character reminded insiders of Milius), super-producer Kathleen Kennedy, etc. In anecdotal histories of the era in movies, Milius's name turns up over and over.

http://www.unz.com/isteve/the-secret-history-of-hollywood/

It strikes me as ludicrous that movies have become our reality (or as one critic put it, movies are the 21st century novel). Even that Hollywood left-winger Warren Beatty depicted the Soviet Union as a living Hell in his movie epic Reds (in which Maureen Stapleton, playing the part of Emma Goldman, the American communist and Soviet apologist, concludes that in the Soviet Union "nothing works, Jack"). Extremists are extremists, whether on the left or on the right; indeed, left-wing extremists and right-wing extremists have more in common with each other than with moderates. Both seek to destroy what (and who) they can't control. The author states that the defeat of the Nazis is part of Soviet mythology. Who does he think defeated the Nazis? Attempting to defeat the Russians in each of the world wars was the Germans' undoing in both; indeed, if Hitler hadn't invaded the Soviet Union, the Germans would not have been forced to choose between defending Germany on the eastern front or the western front, Hitler actually choosing to confront the advancing allied troops coming from the west and leaving the eastern flank relatively undefended so that the Soviet troops could move quickly into Germany, capturing vast territory along the way (the atrocities committed by the Soviet troops comparable to the atrocities committed by the Germans). They deserved each other.

"Hitler actually choosing to confront the advancing allied troops coming from the west and leaving the eastern flank relatively undefended so that the Soviet troops could move quickly into Germany, capturing vast territory along the way."

The bulk of German troops were committed to the Eastern front. Hitler didn't leave the Eastern front undefended, the Soviets destroyed the German army that was opposing them.

It should be noted that the three greatest filmmakers to come out of the Soviet Union—Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Aleksei German—never completed a film set in the present day

I hadn't actually ever heard of Aleksei German. Perhaps he's considered one of the great Soviet filmmakers in Russia, but definitely not in the West. Someone like Sergei Parajanov is a lot more liked.

The last two of Tarkovsky's films -- Nostalghia and The Sacrifice -- are set in the present day, although they were made after he had settled in Western Europe.

How does John Huston's "Kremlin Letter" fit in?

American propaganda highlights foreign threats because they are one of the main justifications for greater government power. Under communism and socialism, the greatest threats are internal: counter-revolutionaries, greedy capitalists, former property owners, etc. These internal obstacles justify more government power to bring about the socialist ideal.

For example, if you ask an American conservative today who our greatest enemy is, he or she will likely answer ISIS or perhaps radical Islamicists. If you ask the Left, they are more likely to answer Republicans or business people [http://www.cbsnews.com/news/democratic-debate-which-enemy-are-you-most-proud-of/].

There's a reason why the USSR fixated on the Nazis. Estimated WWII deaths and missing, including civilians and military, is between 10 (official number) and 25 million (historians) people. That is 10-15% of the USSR late 30's population. In contrast, US WWII casualties were 0.5% of population.

I dislike socialism, but qualifying the portrayal of Nazis in USSR movies as just the "mythology of propaganda" is shallow and ignorant.

So about half the number of Soviet citizens murdered by Communists.

And yet the Russians still don't seem too keen to talk about the Gulag.

It isn't the number of dead caused by Stalin's support for Hitler that makes them talk about the Nazis all the time. It is to distract attention from the *really* serious death toll in modern Russia.

You think Soviet censorship might have something to do with that?

Seconded! No idea how he manages to be interesting and interested in so many different topics.

Steve has been showing off quite a bit here, but he has made at least one error, a non-trivial one at that. Beria was never in a position of "supreme power." After the death of Stalin, he was given control over the regular police as well as the KGB, but Malenkov was certainly more powerful than he was. The irony is that he began pushing for a kind of deStalinization, and unhappiness over this as well as fear that he might try to seize supreme power led to his removal from office in June, 1953, about three months after the death of Stalin, with the ultimate de-Stalinizer, Khrushchev, being the leader of the move to remove him from power.. It is a matter of debate whether he was immediately executed or only in December after a closed show trial in which he supposedly begged for mercy, although with some saying a fake stand-in was used to make his execution seem more legal.

One movie that depicted the US as villains was "Dead Season," made in the late 1960s to glorify Rudolf Abel and the KGB. Americans were depicted as involved in developing chemical weapons, among other things, and were definitely the unequivocal bad guys. Curiously, this movie has been back on Russian TV a lot lately, perhaps stimulated by the success of "Bridge of Spies,," but also probably as part of Putin's campaign to glorify his old agency and as part of a renewed anti-US effort, this indeed being one film from the Soviet period that was clearly anti-US. An irony here is that Abel was probably more effective as an anti-Nazi agent during WW II than he was in the US after the war, with his activities and successes somewhat exaggerated by both the Americans and the Soviets. Here he was probably most effective in his first assignment that had him based in Santa Fe receiving secrets coming out of Los Alamos, although this was after the most important ones had already been transmitted. However, a great irony is that the most important name Julius Rosenberg could have given if he had decided to cooperate with the US government rather than refusing to snitch, thereby bringing death to his wife, would have been the identity of Abel.

I need to add some qualifiers to my description of "Dark Season.," In fact German Nazis played a role. Former Nazi scientists were the ultimate source of the chemical weapons. Also, it was officially fictional, with the main character not specifically Abel, although the actual Abel provided an introduction to the movie, and most watching it thought it was about him. In any case, the theme of Americans working with former Nazi scientists was very much the theme, with this reflecting some reality, although the important field was rockets (Wehrner von Braun et al), not chemical weapons.

It's pretty unlikely that no former Nazis worked in the USA on chemical weapons. It's only because chemical weapons are equal parts evil and failure that the public has never heard of them.

Barkley Rosser April 3, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Beria was never in a position of “supreme power.” After the death of Stalin, he was given control over the regular police as well as the KGB, but Malenkov was certainly more powerful than he was.

Well yes up to a point. Beria became the Deputy Chairman of the Soviet government. Malenkov being the Chairman. He held both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Security (what became the KGB). I would not say it was certain Malenkov was more powerful than him. Both of them, and Molotov, spoke at Stalin's funeral. He was powerful enough to scare the others into killing him.

Here he was probably most effective in his first assignment that had him based in Santa Fe receiving secrets coming out of Los Alamos, although this was after the most important ones had already been transmitted.

Even minor secrets from the Bomb project are pretty serious secrets. Keep in mind that the Soviets needed help for their bomb project. A lot of help. Sudoplatov's book has an appendix which gives a transcript of Neils Bohr's help to the Soviets. It was non-trivial and that was in 1945.

The top leader in the USSR was not the Chairman, but the General Secretary of the CPSU, which position Malenkov had as well as being Chairman. He clearly started out as first among near equals, but beginning losing power almost from the moment he got it. Without question Beria was removed because the others were afraid of him, but they were preventing him from getting supreme power. As it was the ultimate rival was Khrushchev, who led the charge against Beria, backed strongly by Molotov, and would replace Malenkov as General Secretary, although his supreme power took a few more years after that to confirm, with Molotov and Bulganin his eventual challengers, until, of course, he was replaced some years later by Brehzhnev.

On the nuclear secrets matter, I agree that important things were still coming out of Los Alamos in late 40s, which I indicated. I would warn about Sudoplatov as a source, with other Soviet sources disagreeing with him on quite a few things. No way to figure out who is right out of those arguments, but Sudoplatov out on a limb against others on several issues.

As far as I remember, fixation on Nazies came in 60s. Even Victory day in USSR became holiday only in 1965. It was holiday for postwar generations, not war gneration. That soviet people are already winners, so the rest of the wold will acknowledge it sooner or later. And my personal version is rather cynical: after Caribbean crisis Russian leaders understood that the final war (that's how Soviet state was built -preparing to the war) is impossible, thy couped against Khrutschv and created cult of winning nation. At the same time there was asit seemed a crisis in tne US - war in Vietnam, televised president murder...So it was useful. All hail to the new religion. We overcame nazis, we are to overcome capitalism.
And Soviet movies were fixating westernerns within the crony system, that greed and corruption is making people into enemies. Uhh, hat guy became hired gun for money, this guy betrayed his friends for power...
The only Soviet movie about 20th century (because of course they had staged Twain and O'Henry) America I remember is the Rafferty by Lionel White. About the corrupt trade-union leader, with cngress hearings and mafia wack.

Comments for this post are closed