THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN. Universal International Pictures, 1957. Zza Zza Gabor, Lex Barker, Jeffrey Stone, Maurice Manson, Kurt Katch. Screenplay by Gene L. Coon & Robert Hill. Story by DeWitt Bodeen & Harry Ruskin. Directed by Russell Birdwell. Currently streaming on YouTube (see below).

   â€œThe Devil has gone back to Hell.”

   This twisty and twisted little thriller mostly from the Universal back-lot and sets from the horror movies is something of a cross between a Men’s Sweat Mag, the National Enquirer, Sterling Noel’s bestselling I Killed Stalin, and a government propaganda short.

   We open in Moscow at Joseph Stalin (Maurice Manson)’s deathwatch. A team of surgeons, including a noted plastic surgeon and nurse Greta Grisenko (Zza Zza Gabor) are there to operate on Stalin, but first he has to indulge his fetish for watching women have their heads shaved and oversee the murder of his double before the operation and the announcement of his death as he absconds from the USSR with half the national treasury.

   Several years have passed and we are in West Berlin where American Private Eye Steve Anderson (Lex Barker) and ex-OSS agent meets Lili Grisenko (also Zza) a naturalized American who hires him to find her sister who went missing in Russia after they were separated as war refugees and who was known to have been a nurse for Stalin.

   Steve’s friend, one-armed Mischa (Jeffrey Stone), who runs an underground group of Russian expatriates, informs Steve and Lili that he believes Stalin is still alive and that their best chance to find Greta is to find Stalin. That best chance to find the dictator turns out to be his son Jacob (William Schallert) who defected to the West in the War to escape the influence of his evil father and now hides out in a small German village trying to forget his Father, protected by Mischa and his friends.

   Meanwhile both Stalin in his hideout and the Russians in Moscow who don’t want his treachery out  send assassins to kill Anderson before he can find the dictator.

   Stalin’s son (a surprisingly sensitive performance by Schallert for this film) provides them the clue they need to find Stalin, and Anderson polishes off one of the assassins and neutralizes the other (a once wartime friend), while he and Mischa are off to find Stalin who is planning to return to Russia and take power again for a finale of suggested kinky sex (Greta allows Stalin to shave her head for kicks and tortures Steve) and a retribution ending to that first line I quoted.

   â€œThe Devil has returned to Hell.”

   The Girl in the Kremlin is more interesting than good, sensational and exploitative without ever achieving the kind of pulp level garishness required for that to work and despite a few kinky flourishes –- notably the really disturbing and near pornographic scene in the opening when a peasant girl’s (Natalie Daryll who allowed her waist length hair to be shaved) hair is graphically shorn while Stalin watches intently — it never really manages to wallow in the depths it seeks. It is far too polite for that.

   Barker is appropriately tough in the lead, and Zza Zza is actually fairly good in the twin role, avoiding too much scenery chewing as the evil sister in her bald cap, the big reveal of the film’s second half, along with Barker, bare-chested of course, being whipped by two women. There is even a touch of mystery as we don’t know until the end which of the men is Stalin in his new face.

   This does capture the feel of those popular Men’s Sweat Mags of the era where the garish covers and provocative illustrations and article titles always promised more than the prose dared to deliver. This film is like that but, to borrow a line from Ian Fleming, it reads better than it lives, ending with a title card to inform us piously that man reaps what he sows.

   That sums up this one. You went for Rocky Horror Picture Show and you ended up with Scooby Doo.