Series: Seventeen Moments of Spring
''Seventeen Moments of Spring''
Stirlitz opened his computer, connected to the internet, and logged onto TV Tropes. "It's a website," concluded Stirlitz.
(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.
- Affably Evil: Walter Schellenberg.
- 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: The SS deserter 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Colonel Badass: Stirlitz.
- Cyanide Pill: A suicide pill hidden in a cigarette.
- Evil Virtues: The Nazis are shown to have some sense of personal loyalty and even decency towards each other, despite being monsters.
- Genre Savvy: Kaltenbrunner notices that Stirlitz has a perfect record despite everything he is involved with ending ultimately in Nazi failure, whilst at the same time supposedly maintaining a firm belief in Final Victory, even in private. This just makes him suspicious, and he details Mueller to investigate.
- 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 Shepherd: Pastor Schlag is a rare example of a Good Minister in the Soviet media.
- 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.
- Historical-Domain Character: All the Nazi high leadership, as well as Stalin.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Stirlitz shooting Agent Klaus.
- The Mole: Stirlitz is this, having been embedded in Germany for many years while reporting
- Mook-Face Turn: A guard 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.
- Moscow Center: Back then they were called the NKVD, not the KGB, but they were still the Center, and they send Stirlitz messages.
- Nazi Nobleman: The main character claims to be this. His German alias is Max Otto Von Stirlitz.
- 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.
- Smart People Play Chess: Stirlitz plays chess with an old lady barkeep while wondering about whether Goebbels is the one trying to make a separate peace.
- Smug Snake: Barbara Krein.
- The USSR Wins The War: Despite the historical context - both in-universe and out - this is largely and refreshingly averted. Schellenberg and Himmler are seen watching a United News newsreel (in English) displaying the victories of the Western Allies, and the Yalta conference is also covered. On the other hand, the plot revolves around the duplicity of said Western Allies in negotiating with Himmler...
- Said plot is not entirely fictional either, although the Soviets (arguably) blew it out of proportion.
- Isolated instances are still present, such as "in 1942 the Soviet Air Force shattered the myth of Luftwaffe invincibility", which was presumably news to the RAF, who had won the Battle of Britain two years previously.
- This is likely in reference to the (also very large) Eastern Front air war, to which the the Royal Air Force contributed exactly once, and could hardly be blamed for being otherwise engaged; Free France's Normandie-Niemen Regiment on the other hand deserves mentioning, but the Soviets can technically lay the claim to that unit being a Soviet-run Eagle Squadron (currently there are duplicate Normandy-Niemen regiments in France and Russia).
- Stock Footage: Lots, both depicting World War II combat and illustrating the senior Nazis.
- 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.