To begin with you have a cast made up of funny men.
Michael Palin is always going to do something funny given the opportunity.
And it doesn’t take much to push the bizarre situation of Stalin’s death to the point of black comedy which is what director Armando Iannucci constantly does.
With Stalin lying apparently dead on the floor, the all-powerful Central Committee is paralysed by fear.
“He does look unwell.” says KGB Chief Beria.
Not wishing to appear disloyal by declaring him dead but fervently wishing that he is, they decide to call a doctor, only to find that they have banished all the competent doctors to Siberia.
The solution to the problem is a remarkable piece of black comedy and typical of the way that the film works. It stretches each situation to its logical conclusion to great comedic effect.
is put in charge of the funeral arrangements. He is twice a politician of anybody else on the Central Committee.
With the aid of General Zuhov (played with ferocious energy by Jason Isaacs) uses the funeral to out manoeuvre Georgia Beria the head of the KGB and position himself to take over as General Secretary.
The comedy in this film arises from the deadly intent behind the simplest situations.
A heated exchange between members of the Central Committee about whom Beria may have been referring to when he rushes out of the room clutching an arm full of files shouting and no one in particular, “I have information on all of you.” suddenly assumes deadly seriousness in the minds of the members depending on where they may have been standing. They begin rushing around the room indicating that Beria was not referring to them but to other members of the committee. It is the essence of black comedy.
The irony of the situation is that all of them are involved in a well-organised and well advanced and ultimately successful plot to remove Beria.
Suspicion of abounds. No one trusts anyone.
It’s The Three Stooges meets The Sopranos.