Tikhonov's depiction of Stirlitz in the 1973 television miniseries, "Seventeen Moments of Spring," is nothing short of a cult classic -- shot in striking black and white, with a cool, jazzy soundtrack and the mother of all plots, in which Maksim Isayev, a devoted Soviet agent, masters his German accent and infiltrates the Nazi elite as Max Otto von Stirlitz during the final months of World War II.
Stirlitz is urbane, cunning, steely-nerved, and above all loyal -- in one of the most famous scenes in the series, all of which can be found on YouTube, he sits in agonizing silence in a crowded village bar, gazing across the room at his wife, who has been smuggled by his Soviet colleagues into Germany for the briefest and most heart-rending of conjugal viewings.
Tikhonov's distillation of a dashing man of derring-do is so revered that even Kremlin image-makers admitted to designing an entire media campaign presenting then-President Vladimir Putin as a modern-day Stirlitz. But above all, Stirlitz is beloved as the punch line of innumerable jokes that depict the flawless spy in the unlikely role of a bumbler.
One favorite: Stirlitz wakes up in a jail cell. He is disoriented, and can't remember what country he is in. He drills himself: if a German guard enters, he is Stirlitz. If the guard is Soviet, he is Isayev. A Russian policeman walks into the cell. "You shouldn't drink so much, Tikhonov," he says.
-- Daisy Sindelar