Series / Seventeen Moments of Spring

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Stirlitz opened his computer, connected to the internet, and logged onto TV Tropes. "It's a website," concluded Stirlitz.

''Seventeen Moments of Spring'' (Russian: Семнадцать мгновений весны, Semnadtsat' mgnovenij vesny), also Seventeen Instants of Spring, is a 1973 Soviet TV miniseries directed by Tatyana Lioznova and based on the book of the same name by the novelist Yulian Semyonov. The series consists of 12 episodes of 70 minutes each.

The series depicts the life of a Soviet spy Maxim Isaev, who is operating in Nazi Germany under the name Max Otto von Stirlitz (sometimes transcribed as "Stierlitz"), played by the Soviet actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov. Other leading roles were played by Leonid Bronevoy, Oleg Tabakov, Yuri Vizbor, Yevgeniy Yevstigneyev, Rostislav Plyatt, Vasily Lanovoy and Mikhail Zharkovsky. The series is set in 1945, with the war lurching to a conclusion. Isaev/Stirlitz has been a Nazi Party member since 1933 and has risen to a high rank as an SS intelligence officer, while all the time spying for Moscow. He receives a coded message saying that Soviet intelligence has heard rumors that someone in Germany has approached the Western Allies with hopes of making a separate peace. Moscow directs Stirlitz to find out who is doing it. Meanwhile, SS intelligence chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner has grown suspicious of Stirlitz, and orders Gestapo boss Heinrich Muller to investigate him.

This series had openly disobeyed the Soviet cinema rule of depicting the Nazis as monsters. Walther Schellenberg, Müller and Bormann were performed by the popular and charismatic actors Oleg Tabakov, Leonid Bronevoy and Yuri Visbor (who managed to lend a touch of charm to their roles while leaving the audience with no illusions as to the morality of their characters), and Nazi bosses in general were shown as being very much alike the Soviet bosses of the time. And the protagonist, Stirlitz, looked like a Soviet intellectual who had to hide his true self under the mask of obedience, loyalty and "proper ideological orientation". Stirlitz's awesome ability to outwit his bosses and keep "the human face" at the same time (despite the fact that one could hardly make a career in SS from 1939 till 1945 without staining his hands) was praised by the Soviet audience, who felt as though they were being spied on in their own country.

Due to this, the series became a Fountain of Memes and the source of many anecdotes and jokes—see Russian Humor for examples of these, as well as the page quote. The series has something of a "Weird Al" Effect in Russia today, as far more people are familiar with the jokes than the original TV show. It is sometimes described in the West as "Russian James Bond", which is true only in the sense that Stirlitz is seen as the quintessential super-spy in Russia in much the same way Bond is in the West - otherwise, the austere Stirlitz has very little in common with the rather more flamboyant Bond.

There is also a prequel series, set in the Red October era. Avoid it.


Stirlitz had a trope. He liked it, so he had another one:

  • Above the Influence: Stirlitz's professionalism is shown when he has to visit a brothel, and turns down an offer of sex - instead asking for coffee.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Averted, one of Stirlitz's key allies is a German pastor. Another character is a German KZ prisoner has a long rant about the Nazis have seduced and doomed Germany.
  • Agent Provocateur:
    • Klaus, a German agent who pretends to be a concentration camp escapee in order to ferret out people who are disloyal to the regime.
    • Holthoff accuses Stirlitz of sabotaging the German nuclear effort by throwing suspicion on Runge the physicist, then suggests to Stirlitz that the three of them-Holthoff, Stirlitz, and Runge—escape to Switzerland together. It's a charade, a trap set up by Mueller. Stirlitz doesn't fall for it, whacking Holthoff over the head with a wine bottle and taking him to Gestapo HQ in handcuffs.
  • Affably Evil: Walter Schellenberg, Himmler's right-hand man, and the most affable, friendly high-ranking SS official you'll ever meet. He doesn't even wear a uniform.
    • So much so that the actor who portrayed Schellenberg got letters from his character's surviving relations thanking him for the dignified and affable portrayal. According to Schellenberg's niece Tabakov also looked quite a bit like the real "uncle Walter"
  • Babies Ever After: Helmut, who saved Kat's child escapes together with Kat after his heroic act. They've taken his own baby from orphanage ('cause his own mom is dead because of the bombing) and, pretending to be the married couple, try to find the rescue. Than, oops, he gets himself killed, and Kat has to somehow manage in the hostile Berlin with two babies on her hands. Everything ends well.
  • Bang Bang BANG: Taken to ludicrous extremes in the first episode, where Stock Footage of a Soviet artillery battery firing is interspersed with rocket noises and even Wild West-style ricocheting bullet whines. For no apparent reason.
  • Becoming the Mask: In Episode 4 Stirlitz sees a German policeman barking orders and thinks that nowhere do cops like to boss people around like they do in "our country"—and then he's brought up short when he realizes he was thinking of Germany as "our country".
  • Benevolent Boss: Schellenberg.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Professor Pleischner throws himself out of the window to avoid being captured and tortured by Gestapo.
  • Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: Blonde Nazi Sex Kitten, in the person of Barbara. Barbara is blonde-haired and very attractive and a hard-core true believer Nazi. She is not at all thrilled to have Kat the Soviet agent stashed in her home, even if Kat has (supposedly) agreed to turn her coat and work for the Germans. She also casts bedroom eyes at Stirlitz while holding her mild-mannered partner Helmut in contempt.
  • Book Burning: One of Goebbels' book-burning festivals is shown while Stirlitz ponders whether he's the one approaching the Allies.
  • The Book Cipher: This is how Stirlitz decodes the coded messages he receives over the radio.
  • Captain Obvious: No doubt the Russian Humor meme associated with this series is associated with the narration, which sometimes explicates the thuddingly obvious. The scene where Stirlitz is first shown decoding a message from a Numbers Station could have been staged without dialogue, but no, there's the voice of the narrator telling the viewer that Stirlitz is decoding a message. Another example can be found in Episode 5 when Stirlitz sees the briefcase that holds the radio transmitter. A scene that didn't require any dialogue instead has the ever-present voice of the narrator telling the viewer that yes, Stirlitz recognized the suitcase.
  • Colonel Badass: Stirlitz.
  • Cyanide Pill: A suicide pill hidden in a cigarette. Professor Pleischner chomps on one when he realizes that the Nazis have caught him.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Stirlitz has been undercover in Nazi Germany for years.
  • Eagleland: Unsurprisingly, Flavor 2. Allen Dulles and the Americans are shown as only too willing to make a separate peace and use what is left of Nazi power as an ally in the fight against the Bolsheviks.
  • Evil Virtues: The Nazis are shown to have some sense of personal loyalty and even decency towards each other, despite being monsters.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The TV series was later colorized, re-edited and re-released.
    • This caused considerable content among the viewers. Criticism is mostly comes down to colorization being very, very poorly done and edits cutting out key moments for current political reasons or for seemingly no reason at all. And the simple fact that it used to be in black and white. On the other hand, colorising an entire mini-series was a tremendous job. A lot of details lost in the original version due to film limitations were re-added. And the result looks indistinguishable from proper colored films.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: In episode 5 a Bad Cop Gestapo thug beats on a suspect and breathes threats of torture, followed by the Good Cop who comes in and tells the suspect in a friendly manner that it will all be over and they'll let him go if he signs a confession. The Good Cop then leaves the interrogation room, finds the Bad Cop, and tells him to beat on the suspect some more.
  • Good Shepherd: Pastor Schlag is a rare example of a Good Minister in the Soviet media.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: After Holthoff approaches Stirlitz with a proposal that they defect to a neutral country, Stirlitz crashes a wine bottle over his head. All it does is knock him out.
  • Guile Hero: Stirlitz only directly kills a single person in the entire series. It's not that he's afraid of fighting - he's a trained Center officer, after all - but he knows his mission is to gather intelligence and that, if he had to start gunning down mooks, he'd have failed.
  • Heel–Face Turn: In episode 9 Rolf, with Barbara's help, opens the window and says he'll set the baby outside to freeze to death if she doesn't name the rezident. Meek, quiet Helmut then whips out a gun and kills both Barbara and Rolf.
  • Historical-Domain Character: All the Nazi high leadership, as well as Stalin and Allen Dulles.
  • I Have Many Names: The protagonist. He is serving undercover in Nazi Germany as SS Colonel Max von Stirlitz. His "real" name as NKVD agent is Maxim Isayev. His original name is Vsevolod Vladimirov. At his safe house and the Elefant bar he's known as "Bolzen".
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Mueller has to take a few quick drinks after fingerprint analysis reveals that the prints on Kathe's radio briefcase belong to Stirlitz.
  • The Infiltration: Years undercover have paid off, as Stirlitz has made it deep within German intelligence.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Stirlitz shooting Agent Klaus.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Klaus is in the middle of some non-stop nattering when Stirlitz, seemingly tired of listening, pulls out his gun and shoots Klaus In the Back.
  • Local Hangout: The "Elefant" bar, where Stirlitz hangs out and occasionally meets informants.
  • Longing Look: Stirlitz's wife is brought to the Elefant bar, to see her husband for the first time in years. However, he's such a Deep Cover Agent that they don't dare do anything other than stare at each other across the room.
  • The Mole: Stirlitz is this, having been embedded in Germany for many years while reporting to Moscow.
  • Mook–Face Turn: Helmut, reminded of his own child by Kat's baby goes into a rage and kills the SS-woman and her superior officer when the former offers the sadistic choice below.
  • Narrator: Omnipresent throughout, sometimes delivering exposition, sometimes relaying Stirlitz's thoughts, sometimes playing the Captain Obvious (see above).
  • Nazi Nobleman: The main character claims to be this. His German alias is Max Otto Von Stirlitz.
  • The Needs of the Many: After getting Kat from the clutches of the Gestapo and spiriting her to SS headquarters, Stirlitz thinks about how he could have taken her to safety. But that would have meant the end of his mission as well, and would have jeopardized the Russian war effort and the fate of Europe, so he didn't.
  • Numbers Stations: How Stirlitz gets messages from Moscow. He listens to a Numbers Station and decodes the message with his code book.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Klaus is shot in the back and dumped in a swamp.
  • Sadistic Choice: An SS-woman threatens to freeze Kat's baby to death unless she gives up the name of resident.
  • Sherlock Scan: Usually delivered by the solemn narrator's (Yefim Kopelian's) voice telling us what Stirlitz noticed and what train of thought he conducted from that.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Helmut, Kat's other guard along with hardcore Nazi Barbara, was discharged from the army due to his PTSD. Barbara holds him in contempt.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Stirlitz plays chess with Frau Zaurich the barkeep while wondering about whether Goebbels is the one trying to make a separate peace.
  • Smug Snake: Barbara Krein.
  • Spotting the Thread: Kat, one of Stirlitz's radio operators, is heavily pregnant. Stirlitz is concerned, saying that when she's in labor she might be in too much pain to maintain her cover identity. Sure enough, when Kat's giving birth she starts calling for her mother in Russian. The nurses call the Gestapo.
  • Spy Fiction: Oh yeah.
  • Stock Footage: Lots, both depicting World War II combat and illustrating the senior Nazis.
  • Surprise Checkmate: In episode 2 Frau Zaurich, proprietor of the "Elefant" bar, challenges Stirlitz to a game of chess. He beats her in about a minute. She is appalled.
  • Taxidermy Is Creepy: Stirlitz has a clandestine meeting in a natural history museum in episode 5. Lots of creepy closeups of stuffed animals and birds.
  • Translation Convention: Most characters speak Russian; but the meetings with Hitler are in German overdubbed by Russian, as per course for Soviet cinema.

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