The plot is driven by Stirlitz's (ultimately successful) attempts at thwarting negotiations between SS General Karl Wolff, representing Walter Schellenberg and Heinrich Himmler, and American intelligence operative Allen Dulles in Bern, Switzerland during the final months of World War II. The Dulles portrayed in the show, acting without the authorization of the President, is interested in reaching a peace agreement with Nazi Germany that would leave many Nazi institutions in place in order to prevent the rise of "Bolshevism" in Germany and Northern Italy. The negotiations are conducted in secret and behind the back of Hitler and, more importantly for Stirlitz, the Soviet Union. The tension isn't easy since right from the very beginning of the series, Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner opens up an investigation on Stirlitz, led in part by Stirlitz's role in delaying the German atomic research program and his otherwise almost-too-impeccable record of loyalty and devotion to Hitler, even as other German officers had begun to grumble in private about the leadership.
Near the end of the 12-part miniseries, Ernst Kaltenbrunner and Martin Bormann both get together and send the Gestapo to arrest Karl Wolff for his negotiations with the Allies. However, Wolff is saved in the nick of time when Schellenberg intervenes. Upon the arrival of Wolff's plane, Schellenberg stops the Gestapo forces from capturing Wolff and allows for the negotiations to take place.
Stirlitz is sometimes referred to as a Russian James Bond, even if the comparison is not entirely warranted. Although the show contains some relatively unbelievable elements (i.e. a Russian passing for a German for twenty years) and it may even have served a somewhat similar ideological role as the James Bond films did in the West, Seventeen Moments of Spring is based, even if only loosely, on actual historical events. Moreover, the show also strives for a much more realistic version of foreign espionage than the James Bond films do, with Stirlitz carefully playing on rivalries within the SD and SS, cautiously seeking out friendly contacts, prudently developing alibis for his covert activities and very rarely resorting to force or gadgetry. It is also notable that one hardly gets the impression that many of the Nazis were the incarnation of evil: while the show does remind the viewer of the horror of Nazi death camps through the use of some original footage, one nonetheless finds it hard not to take something of a liking for Heinrich Müller and some of Stirlitz' other adversaries. This is a contrast to the Bond films, where the Russian generals and leaders are either brute vodka-guzzling stereotypes, calculating evil geniuses, or just greedy people involved in schemes for money.
The series was immensely popular in the Soviet Union and it originated many popular phrases as well as an entire genre of anecdotes, the latter having seemingly taken a life of its own. The show is still frequently aired on Russian television. Plans were discussed to build a monument to Stirlitz in the city of Gorokhovets, his birth place in the series. It's been said that "for older generations, the series is little more than a factual retelling of an actual historical event - a behind-the-scenes look at a war painful to remember. But for younger people raised from childhood on yearly showings - the film was shown one hour-long serial at a time, 12 days in a row - "Spring" became more famous for its quirky lines and surreal shots than its cinematic whole.
QUALITY: Normally sold as a 6-DVD set, we have compressed the series into only 3 DVDs. As a result, each DVD is more than 4 hours long. Contrary to expectations, however, there is only a very minor loss in quality with so much film put onto each disc. The overall quality is very good, though not perfect. Very minor imperfections, mainly in the transfer.
IN RUSSIAN WITH SWITCHABLE ENGLISH SUBTITLES. MORE THAN 12 HOURS LONG.