Tuesday, 3 March 2015
THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING - Review By Greg Klymkiw
The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966)
Dir. Norman Jewison
Starring: Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin, John Phillip Law,
Theodore Bikel, Andrea Dromm, Jonathan Winters, Brian Keith, Paul Ford, Ben Blue
Review By Greg Klymkiw
In Cold War America, the most terrifying mayday imaginable was, no doubt, the title of Norman Jewison's 1966 hit comedy The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (a play on the wild ride Paul Revere cry during the American Revolution against Britain). These days, with Vladimir Putin's illegal annexation of Crimea and his violent takeover of Eastern Ukraine, in addition to the threat Russia poses to all former Soviet countries, this might not seem like a laughing matter.
However, during the 60s, with the hysteria of Senator Joseph McCarthy's targets of his witch hunts still fresh in the minds of rednecks as a genuine threat to freedom, the reality of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the government's own rallying promotion of a survivalist mentality, replete with Duck and Cover-styled educational films and the building of fallout shelters in many backyards, the threat of a Russian Invasion upon their own soil was firmly lodged in the minds of Americans from coast to coast. That a Canadian director with seemingly liberal leanings would tackle this threat with humour was more than a little bit subversive, especially within the context of being a major studio production.
Jewison's comedy, however, captured the hearts and tickled the funny bones of Americans and the world. At the time, his grand farce seemed to border on black humour, if not outright cutting edge satire, but perhaps the passage of time has been the much needed balm to assuage our responses and appreciate it for what it really is - a sweet, funny clarion call for peace and understanding between nations all over the world.
In this sense, Jewison's film might well find whole new audiences receptive to its charms in a contemporary context.
Based upon Nathaniel Benchley's novel "The Off-Islanders", Jewison and his screenwriter William Rose, fashioned the sprightly, if not downright silly fable involving a dim, pig-headed Russian submarine Captain (Theodore Bikel) who wishes to grab a glimpse of America and upon getting too close to a New England island, it runs aground on a sandbar. Somewhat embarrassed, the Captain decides it's best to quietly dispatch a group of men on shore to "borrow" a tugboat to pull the sub back into open waters.
Leading the pack is Lieutenant Yuri Rozanov (Alan Arkin). Seeking the "forced" assistance of Walt Whittaker (Carl Reiner) and his family, what should have been a quiet operation turns into a crazy mobilization of island forces against the friendly Russians. Loaded with slapstick and hysteria, a veritable mini-World-War-III threatens to erupt, but in the course of all the complicated chicanery, the film offers an opportunity for Russians and Americans to come to new understandings, friendships and yes, even romance.
The film alternates between cleverly sending up the differences between the two cultures, but also tends to overdraw the redneck American knee-jerking patriotism. The latter is hardly a flaw. It's perfectly in keeping with the period and in a strange way, it doesn't actually seem dated at all. In fact, I can imagine a contemporary remake actually painting even broader portraits of bloodthirsty American Tea Party types rallying against a foreign horde of perceived invaders.
Jewison expertly handles the huge cast and subplots with his typical high level of craftsmanship and anything for a laugh sense of humour. The acting varies from straight-up to wildly over-the-top, but the real treat here is Alan Arkin in his first major movie role. He's got stardom written all over him and you'd think he'd been making movies for years.
He's that good!
Of course, so is the movie!
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3-and-a-half-Stars
The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming is available on Blu-Ray via Kino-Lorber and includes a very interesting and lively making-of featurette with director Norman Jewison.