Here’s a rather frightening article on Stalin at the movies. One interesting detail is that Soviet agents may well have been told to assassinate John Wayne. Another is that cynical propagandists end up believing what they see on the screen, just like other people. When Stalin saw a movie about an admiral of Catherine the Great, he decided on the spot to build a huge fleet.
It gives me a bit more sympathy with Eisenstein to know that the Great Critic was taking a personal interest in his projects, and if the Critic weren’t pleased it could easily have meant a bullet in the head. A Confucian refusal to serve an unjust government would have been a better response than Ivan the Terrible, but can I know that I would have chosen death over wrongdoing? After all, a movie doesn’t directly injure anyone, and a director might imagine he could carry out the project in a way that subverts any ostensible message.