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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West (1924)

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Mr. West (played as a Harold Lloyd type with enormous round glasses), is a YMCA president who is planning a trip to the newly founded Soviet Union to spread the idea of the YMCA. His wife is worried that Russia is full of savage Bolsheviks who wear primitive rags and fur for clothing, as depicted in American magazines. He takes along his cowboy friend Jeddie (played by Boris Barnet) for protection and as a companion. However, on arriving in the USSR his briefcase is stolen, he gets separated from Jeddie and he falls into the hands of a group of thieves, including a run-down Countess (played by Aleksandra Khokhlova, who was, or would become sometime later, the wife of director Lev Kuleshov), who masquerade as counter-revolutionaries. The thieves play on West's fears and engineer his abduction by crooks dressed up as caricature Bolshevik barbarians. The thieves then rescue West from the clutches of these fictional Bolsheviks, extorting thousands of dollars from him along the way. In the end, it is the real Bolshevik police who rescue West, rather than his friend Jeddie (who meanwhile has hooked up with an American girl living in Moscow). West then takes a sightseeing tour of Moscow, where he sees that the Soviet government did not destroy all cultural landmarks, such as Moscow University and the Bolshoi Theater, as the thieves suggested. The film culminates in Mr.West watching a military parade with the policeman and concluding that the American view of the Soviet Union is wrong. He telegraphs his wife instructing her to hang a portrait of Lenin (no more, no less) in his study.

American ignorance based on stereotypes was in 1924 as big as today. As well as Soviet propaganda. Only this is a very good film, in many respects. Lev Kuleshov at his best. Think at the famous Kuleshov Effect and all that staff, you'll find it in this movie. By the way, Kuleshov was known by his friends as openly pro-American and quietly anti-Soviet (not that it would matter; anyway he passed through the great purges of Stalin by keeping low-key). One of the roles (the chief of crocks) was played by Vsevolod Pudovkin (who also co-signed the scenario). Among the rest of the cast, Vladimir Fogel, as a young cocky man. A last hint: in the final scene of military parade, you will see for only one instant the figure of Trotsky (as the film was made in 1924, Stalin was not yet in full control).

(Lev Kuleshov)

(Vsevolod Pudovkin)

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