The Death of Stalin and Dark Comedies (New Substandard)

• March 22, 2018 11:24 am


In this latest episode of the Substandard (subscribe, tell your friends, leave a review!), we discuss The Death of Stalin and the workability of black comedies. Sonny gives the one—and only—review of Armando Ianucci's The Death of Stalin. I almost saw it but refused to pay for parking in the city on a Sunday. (You can also read Sonny's review here.)

I've seen The Producers on Broadway (the one with Lewis Stadlen) and absolutely loved Mel Brooks's remake of To Be or Not to Be, also with Stadlen, along with Brooks, his wife Anne Bancroft, Tim Matheson, and Jose Ferrer. But I especially loved the interplay among Brooks, Christopher Lloyd, and the late Charles Durning. Plus George Gaynes! (And yes, I do know spoofs of Nazis have been done since 1940's The Great Dictator and "You Nazty Spy!")

But Sonny brings up an interesting point: Are Nazi spoofs acceptable because serious treatments of the Reich have also been done, whereas there haven't been many truly definitive films done on Stalin's crimes? Hence, a number of critics did not think The Death of Stalin was appropriate. Sonny argues the absurdity of totalitarian states warrants black comedy, and I supplied two such stories. Except I erred in one anecdote: I said Marsshal Timoshenko had been released from prison just in time to lead the Red Army against the invading Wehrmacht. I was wrong. Timoshenko helped in the release of Marshal Rokossovsky, who had been imprisoned and even subjected to two mock executions.

At least I contributed that. (JVL seems to have misunderstood the term "black comedy" entirely.) What I'm saying is the episode is a little thin. Which leads to recriminations, backbiting (but not in the Marv Albert sense), and a slew of profanity. See what happens when we don't take a week off?