The Iron Curtain (1948)

87 mins | Drama | May 1948

Director:

William A. Wellman

Writer:

Milton Krims

Producer:

Sol C. Siegel

Cinematographer:

Charles G. Clarke

Editor:

Louis Loeffler

Production Designers:

Lyle Wheeler, Mark-Lee Kirk

Production Company:

Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
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HISTORY

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 ... More Less

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.
       NYT 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, NYT 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 NYT 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 8 Jun 1948, LAT 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. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
LOCATION
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
15 May 1948.
---
Daily Variety
7 May 48
p. 3, 12
Film Daily
7 May 48
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Nov 47
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jan 48
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
7 May 48
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
17 May 48
p. 22, 45
Los Angeles Times
8 Jun 1948.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
17 Apr 48
p. 4127.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
15 May 48
p. 4163.
New York Times
18 Apr 1948.
---
New York Times
13 May 48
p. 31.
New York Times
16 May 1948.
---
New York Times
30 May 1948.
---
Time
24 May 48
p. 27
Variety
12 May 48
p. 8.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Stills
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward dir
Cost des
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Tech adv
Scr supv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the articles I Was Inside Stalin's Spy Ring by Igor Gouzenko in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan (Feb--May 1947).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
Selections from: Symphony No. 5 (Third and Fourth movements), Opus 47
Symphony No. 6 (First movement), Opus 53 and Symphony No. 1 (Third movement), Opus 10 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Selections from Symphony No. 5 (Third movement), Opus 100 by Sergei Prokofiev
+
MUSIC
Selections from: Symphony No. 5 (Third and Fourth movements), Opus 47
Symphony No. 6 (First movement), Opus 53 and Symphony No. 1 (Third movement), Opus 10 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Selections from Symphony No. 5 (Third movement), Opus 100 by Sergei Prokofiev
Lullaby from The Gaynne Suite by Aram Khachaturian and Symphony No. 21, Opus 51 by Nicolas Miaskovsky.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
May 1948
Premiere Information:
New York and Los Angeles openings: 12 May 1948
Production Date:
27 November 1947--13 January 1948
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
11 May 1948
Copyright Number:
LP1767
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
87
Length(in feet):
7,810
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
PCA No:
12810
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

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 ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.