Draza Mihailovich in Film: In the Mountains of Yugoslavia (1946)

The first major film to feature Yugoslav guerrilla resistance leader Draza Mihailovich was Chetniks! The Fighting Guerrillas, a major Hollywood movie released by Twentieth Century Fox in 1943 in the United States. The movie starred Philip Dorn as Draza Mihailovich and Anna Sten as his wife Lubitca. The movie was a box office and critical hit in the U.S. The film was shown as a double feature in some theaters in the U.S. in 1943, paired with We Are the Marines (1942), a documentary on the U.S. Marine Corps. The Ink Spots and Lucky Millinder performed in theaters that were showing the movie. Chicago Mayor Edward J. Kelly attended a debut showing at the B & K Apollo theater after proclaiming “Chetnik Day” in Chicago on April 1, 1943 as reported in the April 3, 1943 Boxoffice magazine, “Chicago Mayor in PA For ‘Chetniks’ Debut” .

In Britain, Ealing Studios began filming a similar film originally entitled Chetnik which was to be on Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrilla resistance movement. By the time of release, however, British support for Mihailovich had shifted. Instead, all references to the Chetniks were removed and the film became a generic guerrilla resistance movie released as Undercover (1943) in the UK and as Underground Guerrillas (1944) in the U.S. by Columbia Pictures starring John Clements and Mary Morris.

With the abandonment of Draza Mihailovich, rival Communist resistance leader Josip Broz Tito emerged as the dominant resistance leader in Yugoslavia. When the Soviet Red Army occupied Belgrade on October 20, 1944, Tito was installed in power in Yugoslavia.

The opening title credits for the 1946 Soviet-Yugoslav film V gorakh Jugoslavii, In the Mountains of Yugoslavia, U planinama Jugoslavije.

Tito had emerged victorious while Mihailovich had been discredited. This state of affairs was reflected in the Soviet movie that was released after the war. Entitled V gorakh Jugoslavii in Russian, In the Mountains of Yugoslavia, U planinama Jugoslavije in Serbo-Croatian, the film presented Tito in a positive light while Mihailovich was denigrated and shown in a negative light.

The movie had been begun in May, 1945 as a Soviet and Yugoslav co-production directed by Abram M. Room and released by Mosfilms. The cinematography was by Eduard Tisse. Georgi Mdivani wrote the screenplay. Draza Mihailovich was played by Croatian-born actor and director Vjekoslav Afric. Soviet actor Ivan Bersenev played Josip Broz Tito. Bojan Stupica played German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. The film was in the Russian language featuring both Soviet and Yugoslavian actors. The movie was shot on location in Belgrade, Mostar, Dubrovnik, and other locations in Yugoslavia. The interior shots were filmed at the Croatian city of Opatija at the Kvarner Hotel southwest of Rijeka on the Adriatic coast. The film also featured Vsevolod Sanaev as Aleksei Gubanov, a Soviet Red Army soldier, Olga Zhizneva as Andzha, Olivera Markovic, Misa Mirkovic, Dragan Todic as Blazho, and Nikolai Mordvinov as Slavko Babic. The film score was by Yuri Biryukov.

General Draza Mihailovich portrayed by Croatian-born actor Vjekoslav Afric in the Soviet-Yugoslav film V gorakh Jugoslavii, In the Mountains of Yugoslavia (1946).

Soviet director Room had a medical background and had been a Red Army doctor during the Russian Civil War. In 1923 he became a member of Vsevolod Meyerhold’s Theatre of the Revolution. The first movie he directed was The Vodka Chase in 1924. His most critically acclaimed film was the silent comedy Bed and Sofa (1927). He directed the first talking picture in the Soviet Union, the 1930 documentary The Five Year Plan. The other films he directed were Traitor (1926), Ruts (1928), Criminals (1933), Squadron No. 5 (1939), Invasion (1945), School for Scandal (1952), The Garnet Bracelet (1965), Belated Flowers (1972), and The Untimely Man (1973).

Eduard Tisse had worked on seminal Soviet films directed by Sergei Eisenstein such as Strike (1924), The Battleship Potemkin (1925), October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1928), Alexander Nevsky (1938), and Ivan the Terrible (1944-46).

The movie was one of the first released in post-World War II Yugoslavia. The movie was shot on location in what are described as historically significant locales of the Yugoslav People’s Liberation Army. The opening scenes show the mountainous terrain of Yugoslavia and Yugoslav Partisans marching in triumph.

Vjekoslav Afric as Draza Mihailovich in the Soviet-Yugoslav film V gorakh Jugoslavii, In the Mountains of Yugoslavia (1946).

The film begins with an upward panning shot of the Palace Albania, Palata Albanija, a 13 story high rise building in Belgrade on Terazija Street built in 1940. German troops are shown attacking Belgrade.  A German announcer declares: “Pobeda! Pobeda! Pobeda!” Belgrade is another military victory for the Third Reich, following Minsk, Kiev, Odessa, and Sevastopol. German troops are shown in Belgrade in front of the National Assembly building built in 1936.

The story begins on June 22, 1941 with a meeting held by Tito with the Central Committee of the Yugoslav Communist Party to launch his guerrilla resistance following the German and Axis invasion of the USSR. “Death to fascism! Liberty for the people!” are the Communist slogans. Before that time, Tito and the Yugoslav Communist movement followed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Treaty of 1939 and “collaborated” with Nazi Germany, supporting the Nazi destruction of Yugoslavia as an opportunity for a Communist takeover of the country. Resistance only emerged after the German invasion of the USSR, Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941.

The plot of the film centers around the character of Slavko Babic, who has a striking resemblance to Joseph Stalin. Babic lives in a mountainous village in the western part of the former Yugoslavia. After the German and Axis invasion, occupation, and dismemberment of Yugoslavia, he is forced into open resistance when Italian and German troops occupy the region. He meets a Chetnik guerrilla commander and Chetnik guerrillas who have already initiated an organized guerrilla resistance movement under Draza Mihailovich. At first, Babic is on good terms with the Chetnik guerrillas and supports their resistance movement. He joins the Chetniks in an attack on German troops on a mountain road. Using rifles and a captured heavy machine gun, Slavko is able to defeat and route the German troops. Fleeing German troops are shown being mowed down by Slavko and the men with him. Later, he breaks with the Chetnik guerrillas and open conflict and hostility develops between them. He joins in guerrilla activity against German and Italian occupation troops, ambushing them in a mountain pass. In a montage, the guerrillas are shown moving in the mountains and engaging in attacks against Axis troops. The Germans retaliate by shooting Yugoslav civilians and destroying homes. He eventually joins the Partisan guerrillas and emerges as a Partisan guerrilla wearing a Partisan uniform.

The main character, Slavko Babic, center, is shown with a Chetnik guerrilla leader, right, under Draza Mihailovich.

Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelic is then shown talking with a German officer in a large office room with a chandelier in the center. He is shown with a revolver and a knife on his table with a large crucifix between two burning candles. He tells the German officer that Bosnia is an essential part of Croatia. He informs him that he seeks “death for the Serbian people”. The genocide committed against the Serbian population of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina is not treated. The entire scene with Pavelic is less than a minute in length. The scene gets in the two points which the Communist regime sought to highlight. The Ante Pavelic regime was expansionist and sought the elimination of the Serbian population in Croatia and Bosnia. The film fails to acknowledge, however, the enormity of the Ustasha genocide against the Serbian population which was planned, organized, and systematic. The genocide against Croatian and Bosnian Jews and Roma is similarly omitted. The “Ustashi” are mentioned in the movie and a soldier with a German helmet is shown with a large “U” symbol appearing on the front of it. This, however, is all that appears on the Pavelic NDH regime. The screenplay noted that Pavelic regarded Bosnia-Hercegovina as integral parts of Croatia, but failed to note that this was not merely ideology or theory but actual fact. A Greater Croatia was, in fact, realized during the war. The territory of the Independent State of Croatia, Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska, NDH, from 1941 to 1945 consisted of an expanded Croatia that included Bosnia-Hercegovina. Pavelic himself had been born in Hercegovina.

A Chetnik guerrilla leader under Draza Mihailovich is depicted in the Soviet-Yugoslav film V gorakh Jugoslavii, In the Mountains of Yugoslavia (1946).

The next scene shows General Draza Mihailovich in a room with a German officer. Clearly, the film sought to equate the two leaders as “fascists” and “collaborators” and “quislings”. This was the Communist and Partisan position or orthodoxy on Draza Mihailovich. He was portrayed as the opposite side of the coin to Ante Pavelic. In the scene, with a burning fireplace in the background, he is shown smoking a cigarette in a holder with bottles of alcohol on the table. Mihailovich, played by Croatian actor and director Vjekoslav Afric, wears granny glasses and a beard and is in uniform. What stands out, however, are the boots. Mihailovich rarely wore boots, which were associated with Ante Pavelic and the other fascist leaders. German and Soviet officers and troops did, however, wear boots. This detail is jarring because it is factually inaccurate and is a tipoff that Mihailovich is the victim of character assassination and demonization. He is shown perfectly at ease and comfortable in the company of the German officer. They move over to a couch at the back of the room where both are relaxed and cordial with Mihailovich as a gracious host.

Draza Mihailovich played by Vjekoslav Afric in the 1946 film V gorakh Jugoslavii, In the Mountains of Yugoslavia.

Mihailovich, mirroring Pavelic, claims that Bosnia is an integral part of Serbia. He then states that his objective in the conflict is to create a Greater Serbia, “velika Srbija”. These were the three major points that the filmmakers wanted to make at the outset. Mihailovich, like Pavelic with regard to Croatia, sought Serbian expansion into Bosnia, to take over Bosnia. He was a proponent of Serbian “nationalism”, imbued with the objective of creating a Greater Serbia. Finally, he was a fascist “collaborator” and even a fascist himself. This was the image of Draza Mihailovich which was manufactured by the Communist regime of Josip Broz Tito that endured after the war. In the 1990s, it was a paradigm that was transferred to Serbian leaders from Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to Slobodan Milosevic and even Tomislav Nikolic in 2012. That showed the power of misinformation and propaganda images. They have staying power and they can be recycled and reused over and over again.

Yugoslav guerrilla Slavko Babic, center, meets with a Chetnik guerrilla leader under Draza Mihailovich, right.

The scene with Draza Mihailovich is much longer than the Ante Pavelic scene, over three minutes in length. The movie then returns to the main narrative of Slavko Babic as he transforms into a full-blown Partisan guerrilla. In one scene, Partisan guerrillas are shown ambushing German troops in Mostar in Bosnia-Hercegovina with the bridge featured prominently in the scene.

The other part of the film shows Field Marshall Erwin Rommel on a terrace in Dubrovnik discussing the threat that the Partisans and Tito posed. The goal here is to highlight and to emphasize the supposed Partisan danger to the German troops in the Balkans. Rommel was a well-known name in the West and in Eastern Europe as well because of the exploits of the Afrika Korps. The message here is that the Partisans were such a threat to the Axis that a Nazi commander of the stature of the Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel, was concerned with them and was engaged in combat against them. In point of fact, Rommel was put in command of Army Group B in 1943. After the surrender of Italy on September 8, 1943, Rommel launched an offensive against the Yugoslav Partisan forces and was able to retake Susak and advance 40 miles east to Ogulin. This was a major defeat for the Communist Partisans in Yugoslavia and gave Rommel his first important military victory in that theater.

Slavko meets with Tito as they organize guerrilla resistance activities against Axis troops. The Partisans are shown as victorious over the Germans and the Chetnik guerrillas in battles and combat engagements against their opponents.

The hardships of the Communist Partisan guerrillas are then recounted as Tito is shown leading them in the mountains and through winter. The guerrillas hear on the radio that the German Army has been defeated at Stalingrad. This buoys the Partisans and convinces them that victory is assured. Tito proclaims that victory is at hand. They take over the villa where Rommel planned his operations, at the same table with a map over it, with Tito disdainfully tossing Rommel’s dice away.

In the final scenes, the Red Army is shown advancing on Belgrade and taking the city on October 20, 1944. Tito is shown with Soviet military commanders as the city is finally liberated. Soviet T-34 tanks are shown as part of an infantry attack as Soviet heavy artillery is seen in an assault with Katyusha rockets. Some of these scenes incorporate stock newsreel and documentary footage of Soviet Red Army troops in action on the Eastern Front during the war interspersed with the filmed scenes in Belgrade. The Red Army is shown advancing into Romania and Bulgaria. Massive crowds are shown in downtown Belgrade in front of the Palace Albania building on Terazija Street as Soviet and Partisan troops march by in a victory parade.

A Partisan waving the new Yugoslav flag with the red star in the center is shown on the Knez Mihailo Obrenovic III statue in Belgrade on Republic Square erected in 1882. A long Yugoslav flag was placed in front of the Palace Albania building. On October 20, 1944, a red flag had similarly been placed to announce the liberation of the city from German occupation when the Red Army stormed into the city forcing German troops to retreat.

Slavko Babic is mortally wounded and dies in the arms of fellow Partisans. In the final scenes, large posters of Joseph Stalin and Tito are shown being carried in the victory celebrations as the liberation of Belgrade is celebrated. The film closes with images of Tito with Soviet and Partisan leaders as they celebrate the Communist victory in Yugoslavia.

In the Mountains of Yugoslavia is a film that presents the Communist or Partisan “narrative” of World War II. It is factually inaccurate and misrepresents, distorts, and even falsifies the actual events. The so-called victors get to write the history of any conflict. In this regard, In the Mountains of Yugoslavia is not any different. The film presents an image or interpretation of events that has endured to the present.