Cast & Crew
Russian aristocrat Ivan Turin, recently exiled to Paris during the Bolshevik revolution, agrees to carry out a plot against the life of Citizen X, the current Soviet leader, because he worries about the welfare of his wife and son back in Russia. Carrying a letter for General Silenko that is coded to read like a recipe for a new way of cooking goose, Turin disguises himself as a peasant and crosses the Russian border. The dreaded Tcheka, the Russian secret police, learn of Ivan's arrival and instruct his former friend and betrayer, Sergei Krasnoff, to keep an eye on him. The Tcheka arrest Ivan's wife Anna, with whom Sergei is in love, in the hope that upon her release she will become dependent on Sergei's protection. Sergei encourages her to take a job at the state gambling house, a front for the Tcheka's activities. Worried about the welfare of her son Kolya, and believing that Sergei secured her release from prison, Anna trusts Sergei and takes the job. Ivan arrives by train and discovers Kolya at home with a gang of street urchins with whom he has taken up and finds that his wife is out with Sergei. General Silenko, after meeting with Ivan, goes to the gambling house in search of a friend, Antoniev, and to tell Anna of her husband's arrival. Anna then innocently reveals that her husband has returned from Paris with a recipe for a new way of cooking goose. Sergei, knowing that the recipe is a coded plan to overthrow Citizen X, arrests Silenko, and Anna rushes home to meet her husband and to tell him that she has inadvertently "signed his death warrant." Ivan leaves to try to find the letter with the recipe, and Sergei arrives at Anna's house with an envelope he claims is the recipe, telling Anna that, if she will meet him in his apartment, he will burn it and defy the Tcheka out of love for her. After he leaves, shots are heard outside the door, however, and when Anna picks up the gun, she is arrested and confesses to having killed Sergei in order to protect her husband, whom she believes to be his killer. In Citizen X's office, it is revealed that Sergei never found the letter and that the government believes that Anna is covering for someone. Citizen X then reveals that Sergei was stabbed, not shot, thus disproving Anna's story. Kolya, who disappeared when the Tcheka arrived to arrest Anna, is brought in with the gang of street urchins. The children finally admit that their leader, Yashka, who was later killed when the Tcheka raided their hiding place, knifed Sergei when he fired gunshots at the children, who were trying to retrieve the letter that meant life and death for Kolya's parents. Ivan then confesses everything and praises the courage of his wife, son and the urchins, all of whom are true comrades. Citizen X charges Ivan with conspiracy and a sentence of death, but decides instead that he'll be exiled to Siberia for ten years as the country needs strong men. Ivan and Anna look forward to starting a new life together in Siberia.
The working title for the film was Network. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Samuel Behrman submitted an original story entitled "Net Work," which was not used for the final film. The legal records contain much correspondence concerning a claim by noted European author Rene Fülöp-Miller, who was hired during pre-production as a technical advisor for matters dealing with the Russian setting. Fülöp-Miller claimed that after the Behrman story was rejected, a novel of his own was used as the basis of the film. He said that because production executive Sol Wurtzel liked his idea, he dictated his story to his personal secretary, Fred Zinnemann. Ralph Block, the associate producer, denied that Fülöp-Miller's story was used for the film. In a letter in the legal records, Zinnemann, who could not confirm that Fülöp-Miller dictated the story, stated that three aspects of the story were suggested by Fülöp-Miller; however, he did not know if any of Fülöp-Miller's material survived in the final film, because, Zinnemann wrote, the film was partly remade by a second director and then completely changed by a third director. Block, in a letter, stated that after many scenes were retaken and new scenes written and filmed, only one-half of the final film at most was the work of director Berthold Viertel. Nevertheless, Fox executives believed that the author had a good chance of having the courts in Europe restrain the exhibition of the film. Because Fülöp-Miller wanted no compensation for the story, but wanted to be able to publish it in a magazine and claimed that he had letters from Viertel indicating that he wrote the story, the studio decided to credit him with the story in prints exhibited abroad.
A Motion Picture Herald news item confirms that this film had three directors; it states that principal photography was directed by Viertel, while retakes were directed by Hamilton MacFadden and the "finishing touches" were applied by Raoul Walsh. The file on this film in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library contains much research on Russia and a number of stories or articles concerning Russia, including a French story by Yves Mirande; Rene Fülöp-Miller's "Lenin and Gandhi" and "Spirit of Bolshevism"; "Yashka," a short story by Alexander Neveroff; two short stories from Neveroff's The Face of Life; and Leo Perutz's "Whither Rollest Thou Little Apple." The legal records indicate that the following actors were in the cast in the footage shot by Viertel: Maurice Black (Commissar), Kuznetzoff Trio (Singers), Richard Tucker, Billy Bevan, and Lillian Elliott. Their participation in the released film has not been confirmed.