“Friday night Clarence Brewster and I took in the much-discussed 'Mission to Moscow' - plainly propaganda, but interesting. Last night Shelley Bowers and I investigated the riverfront section after seeing a show - about 12 P.M. Two large govt. steamers, 'The Jawhawk' and ‘The Penniman' -- typical flat bottom river steamers with their paddle wheel at the rear and a sag in the center (like the ones Will Rogers and Irven Cobb raced in in 'Steamboat Round the Bend') were docked. About 12 oil barges were also in the vicinity. The Negroes in a nearby all-colored tavern were really whooping it up. After looking at the Courthouse lawn (where Gen Grant made his 1861 headquarters) and Cape Rock (site of a trading post established by a Frenchman Girardot) we headed home.”
--Letter from my father, Navy V-12 program, Cape Girardeau, Mo., to his family, Bloomington, Kans.,Sunday, August 29, 1943.
This “propaganda” movie was shaped by the U.S. Office of War Information’s Bureau of Motion Pictures (BMP), which could force moviemakers to create films to the government’s liking because it controlled the right to grant export licenses to movies. According to historian William L. O’Neill, “the premier example of government interference [by BMP] was Mission to Moscow, based on the memoir by former Ambassador Joseph Davies. Even more than the book, the film whitewashed the great terror of the 1930s during which Stalin put to death literally millions of Soviet citizens, glorified the great butcher himself, distorted Soviet history, and committed numerous other assaults upon truth, decency, and, for that matter, common knowledge.
“The primary responsibility for this fraud is suspected to be President Roosevelt, whose political aims it furthered and who authorized Davies to show it to Stalin, who in turn selected it as one of only 24 American pictures to be shown in Russia during the war, and no wonder. Though Jack Warner filmed Mission to Moscow, it so perfectly embodied OWI’s view of the people’s war that it could have been made in-house. The great philosopher John Dewey called it ‘the first instance in our country of totalitarian propaganda for mass consumption,’ which may have invested the film with more dignity than it warranted but definitely captured its spirit. Luckily, Mission to Moscow failed at the box office, and the government never tried as hard again to determine the content of a feature film.”
(Source: William L. O’Neill, A Democracy at War, 260).