Authenticity buttresses this 1992 HBO biography of Joseph Stalin (Robert Duvall), the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party from 1922 to 1953. Not only does the camera enter the Kremlin to recreate scenes from Lenin's apartment and the czar's ballroom, but it also visits Stalin's dacha, or country house, to recreate scenes between Stalin and his daughter Svetlana. What is most impressive, though, is the camera's ability to peer into the soul of Stalin himself -- thanks to Duvall's brilliant portrayal of the "man of steel" -- to reveal the cunning brutality of his twisted mind. With the help of makeup artists' efforts to sufficiently Stalinize him, Duvall presents the leader the way history has depicted him: as a rough-hewn, paranoid opportunist who connives his way to the top over the corpses of political enemies and friends alike, without suffering so much as a single twinge of conscience. To make the portrayal convincing, Duvall speaks with a Russian accent and adopts fist-pounding, finger-wagging Stalinesque gestures that may or may not forecast another assassination. Equally impressive is Maximilian Schell as Lenin. He looks and acts like the Lenin of history: He is fatherly, passionate, pragmatic, single-minded and, after suffering a third stroke, vulnerable to Stalin's wiles. Beautiful Julia Ormond delivers a fine performance as Stalin's second wife -- viewers may shed a tear for her after she is driven to suicide. Stalin was one of the first HBO productions to prove that cable television could produce a motion picture on a grand scale -- equal to or exceeding the quality of Hollywood's most lavish productions.
by Mike Cummings review