The post-war period was not easy for Soviet filmmakers. The geopolitics of the era made it impossible for them to travel outside the Eastern Bloc, meaning that if a director wanted to make an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, The Three Musketeers or any other story set in the West, they needed to find a suitable location in the USSR.
Thankfully, the transcontinental country featured a surplus of landscapes that, with a bit of camera work, could easily be passed off as the French countryside or the American West. Indeed, the USSR encompassed over 15 countries, meaning there was barely a city or panorama on earth that couldn’t be recreated within the borders of the sprawling nation.
You may be wondering why the Soviets wanted to readapt Western cinema at all. Well, directors understood that the forbidden West was incredibly alluring for Soviet audiences. It was a peek into an unknown world, or so they were led to believe. Soviet cinema offered insight into a manufactured, heightened version of the West. These depictions allowed directors to promote Soviet values, poke fun, and craft somewhat absurd and ironic impersonations of Western film.
Take A Man from the Boulevard des Capucines, for example, a Soviet take on a spaghetti western that makes a pastiche of the cliches and tropes of Hollywood film. Other times, of course, directors simply wanted to offer the people of the Soviet Union a good story, and they were prepared to be incredibly inventive to make that happen.
Five Locations used to depict the West in Soviet cinema:
Lviv, Ukraine (Paris)
In 1978, Odessa Film Studios began work on an adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ 1944 novel The Three Musketeers, which takes place in 17th-century France and features many sequences set in Paris. Odessa’s three-part musical version of the swashbuckling tale relocated the action, using western Ukraine as a stand-in for France. Replacements for the Richelieu Palace and Treville Mansions, for example, were captured in the city of Lviv.
Maarjamäe Castle, Estonia (Baskerville Hall, Dartmoor)
The Soviet adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books garnered a dedicated fanbase in both East and West. Indeed, fans of the eleven-episode series included Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II. Vasily Livanov, who portrayed the titular detective, was even awarded an MBE for his performance back in 2006. The series was shot in a number of locations, including Abkhazia and Estonia, the latter of which boasts the majestic Maarjamäe Castle, which was used to depict Baskerville Hall in the 1981 episode Hound of The Baskervilles.
Riga, Republic of Latvia (Berlin)
Seventeen Moments of Spring tells the story of a Soviet spy who burrows his way into the very heart of the Third Reich. Though set in Berlin and partly filmed in East Germany, the Berlin scenes were shot in Riga in the Republic of Latvia, which was a popular destination for Soviet filmmakers in the 1970s and ’80s. Jauniela Steet was particularly sought-after and was used as a replacement for London’s Baker Street in the Soviet Sherlock Holmes TV series.
Feodosia, Crimea (The American West)
Soviet filmmakers faced a significant challenge in recreating the iconic landscapes of the American Wild West. The stereotypical tumbleweed towns of the classic western were, more often than not, bought to life in Crimea. It was here, not far from Feodosia, that Alla Surikova filmed A Man from the Boulevard des Capucines, set in the fictional town of Santa Carolina. Coastal scenes, meanwhile, were shot at Koktebel Bay and Colorado’s Monument Valley found a rival in Crimea’s White Cliff.
The Black Sea (Atlantic Ocean)
Though relatively unknown in the West, the 1961sci-fi film The Amphibian Man is a shining example of Soviet filmmaking. Based on the 1928 novel by Alexander Beliaev and set in Argentina in the 1920s, this otherwordly offering was bought to life by directors Vladimir Chebotaryov and Gennadi Kazansky, who used the Black Sea as a stand-in for the Atlantic Ocean and Laspi Bay for the various coastal scenes. The bustling Argentinian streets were shot in Baku, with many of the city’s major sights making an appearance.