Days of Glory
Film history pop quiz for Russians: What movie was made in 1944, directed by Jacques Tourneur (“Cat People” and “Berlin Express”) and starring screen legend Gregory Peck?
Hint: Two Russians had important roles, namely Tamara Toumanova and Igor Dolgoruki.
It was “Days of Glory.” And shame on you, Russian, if you’ve never heard of it.
What was it about? Here’s what:
This tribute to Russian resistance in World War II gave Gregory Peck his opportunity for a starring film screen debut. Now that the Cold War is over we can appreciate the Russian contribution to defeating Nazism without getting hung up over Communism. The Russians took a quick study in what defeated Napoleon and applied those lessons to World War II. Where you see the German Army in the Ukraine in Days of Glory is roughly how far they advanced into the Soviet Union. Those partisans that Peck heads are on the cutting edge as factories are being transported and rebuilt in the Urals and east of same and the Red Army is being reorganized. Joe Stalin is also looking a military leadership team to beat the Nazis. The Russian people took a tremendous toll and it was the great worry of both Roosevelt and Churchill up to the Allied invasion of Normandy that Stalin might just make a separate peace. If he had the world would be very different. Peck’s love interest was dancer Tamara Toumanova who plays a dancer caught up in the partisan movement. As an actress she’s a great dancer, she’s seen to better advantage in Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain where she concentrates on dancing.
Now we ask you a second question: Has Russia made a similar film about the bravery and accomplisments of Americans, starring a major figure from the Russian screen playing a heroic American? Does it tout the selfless courage of the Americans who stormed the beaches at Normandy, or slogged though Africa against Rommel? And it hasn’t, why not? How is it possible that Americans have paid Russia this compliment, and Russians have not returned it? Is it really fair, given that, to suggest that Americans are somehow at fault for poisoning the relationship between the two countries? What other insults has Russia offered America, and what othe rdark clouds of ignorance do Russians labor under?
It’s rather poignant, of course, to see the above review discuss the cold war in the past tense. It was written many years ago, and the writer could not foresee that today we would see the cold war very much alive and well, with Russian tanks rolling into Georgia without any consultation with the United States whatsoever.
Russia simply does as it pleases, heedless of the facts, recklessly indifferent to fairness. It does exactly what the USSR used to do, in other words. And so, of course, it must meet the same fate.
Meanwhile, Russians labor in total apelike ignorance. They simply don’t know that Americans have all kinds of access to real information about the USSR, while in return the USSR eradicated all information about the real U.S.A., a condition of blindness that persists today in modern Russia. The unabated stream of crude propaganda fed to Russians as if they were chimps leaves them totally unable to perceive the real world, and Russians have done nothing whatsoever to change that situation. One could be forgiven for concluding that they enjoy it.
I have occasionally felt the same frustration – particularly about the Battle of Britain which still appears in very few Russian history books because it showed that the Soviet Union was not the first to check the Nazi advance and also that this happened in 1940 whilst the USSR was effectively in alliance with Nazi Germany and instructing Commuist parties in Britain and France to oppose the ‘imperialist war’. There is similar reluctance to recognise the significance of the Spanish/British defeat of the French in the Peninsula war because this might detract from the Russians view of 1812 as Napoleon’s first defeat. Having said that, international consensus on history textbooks in unusual (look at a French view of Waterloo for example, to say nothing of the Japanese).
About the film, I can’t agree. Yes in 1944 the US would be prepared to make a film like that, and Stalin’s USSR would not. But would the US have made a film like that in 1950, 1960 1970 or 1980, or 2008 for that matter? The nearest we got was Enemy at the Gate, a lot of which was about the barbaric methods the NKVD employed at the front. Come on, it’s hard enough to get Hollywood to accept that the Brits were in the war inany significant way, let alone the Reds. Postwar British war films (with an eye to sales) usually included at least one American character, even if the original character was not in fact from the US (as in the case of the Steve McQueen character in the Great Escape). I don’t recall a similar compliment being paid in return. Instead we had an epic run of evil Brits in films like Braveheart and Patriot.
Whilst I agree that Russians have dep-seated prejudices and blind spots about the war I don’t think they have the monopoly on this, nor is it nowadays connected to information. Russian bookshops are crammed with military history books of which a good number (literally hundreds) are either translations from Western books in this field and are concerned with the allies in the Second World War and other historical conflicts – there are substantial sections on naval warfare in particular especially the Battle of the Atlantic. Russia is not the Soviet Union. Official media may be biased but those who are intersted can find out the truth, about history at least. The only time when I saw a real real effective blanking out of inconvenient information was during the Yugoslavia wars1992-9. Russians I spoke to in those days had no idea about events in places like Srebrenica which were known throughout the world (and this was in the Yeltsin period we are supposed to be nostalgic about). On the other hand blanks are often created by our own media, notably on Israel where public oinion has been maneouvred into a pro-Palestinian position through a kind of (Saudi-fuelled?)consensus between news networks.