There is something deeply ironic about every propaganda film. Whether or not you agree with its agenda, its bias remains so blinding that the discerning person cannot possibly take it seriously. In fact, these films often become nothing short of laughable. The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924) is no exception.
Mr. West, an American capitalist on business with the YMCA, arrives in Soviet Moscow in possession of a comical amount of luggage, an American flag, and a cowboy for a bodyguard—the recommendation of a dozen of his colleagues who have seen reliable images of the typical Bolshevik Barbarian in their magazines. He is immediately relieved of one of his bags by a young thief, who in turn loses his spoils to an older gang. This gang knows the true size of the American purse, and hopes to capitalize on Mr. West’s vacation. Two of the criminals present themselves as former dignitaries, inviting him into their home and telling him lies of the decay of proper civilization in Russia. They clearly hope to gain his trust by playing upon his fears and false assumptions, even staging mock atrocities in order to raise the stakes (dressed, of course, as his imaginary barbarians). Eventually the police intercede and set everything right. Mr. West radios home and asks his wife to hang Lenin’s poster in his study. The true nature of Bolshevism has been discovered.
The goal of the film is to dismantle western stereotypes of Russian communists using satire, to which I say fair enough. And yet, its audience is limited to only the most stereotypical of westerners—and today, the film is so outdated it almost doesn’t mean anything anymore.
Frankly, the film is hilarious both in its intentional irony and, indeed more so, in that which is ignorant and accidental. Even better than any of that is the acting, or rather overacting. Being in an early silent film, actors are perhaps not quite sure how to communicate without words. As a result, the scenes packed with slapstick humour become indistinguishable from those that are meant to be more serious.
If you are the sort of person who likes sci-fi channel creature features and watches old horror movies for the bad special effects, you would love to spend an hour watching Mr. West.