Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties

By Edmund Wilson | Go to book overview

MR. JOSEPH E. DAVIES AS A STYLIST

I HAVE JUST been reading Mission to Moscow, Mr. Joseph E. Davies' book, after seeing the film of the same title. The picture, I find, coincides with the book in almost no respect. The real Mr. Joseph Davies, for example, is a shrewd corporation lawyer who contributed to the Roosevelt campaign fund and was appropriately rewarded with an ambassadorship. The Davies of the Warner Brothers picture is a plain rugged American business man, played by Mr. Walter Huston rather like a more elderly version of Sinclair Lewis's Dodsworth, who demurs with a touching humility when the President asks him to go to Russia, and protests that he is really not qualified because he has had no diplomatic training. The real Mr. Davies was sent for the perfectly specific purpose of discussing a trade agreement and arranging for the settlement of debts contracted by the Kerensky government. But these objectives do not figure in the film. The Hollywood Mr. Davies is simply entrusted with a mission of reporting on the Soviet Union. The real Mr. Davies was troubled by the tyrannies of the Stalinist police state. "No physical betterment of living standards," he wrote in Mission to Moscow, "could possibly compensate for the utter destruction of liberty of thought or speech and the sanctity of the individual . . . The government is a dictatorship not 'of the

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