Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

Directed by
Norman Jewison
Written by William Rose, from a novel by Nathaniel Benchley
Starring Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin, Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters, Paul Ford, Theodore Bikel
IMDB Entry 

The Benchley family has a long history of having their books turned into film.. Robert Benchley is still considered one of the greatest of American humorists and both acted and made a series of short films that are still very funny today. His grandson, Peter Benchley, is known for a little book he wrote named Jaws, which was turned into a movie. And in between is Nathaniel Benchley, who wrote a cold war satire, The Off-Islanders, which was turned into the comedy The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.

The story begins when a Soviet sub runs aground near a New England island. Not wanting an international incident on his hand, the captain (Theodore Bikel) sends his political officer Rozanov (Alan Arkin) to try to quietly find a boat to tow them into deep water. He gathers a small crew and lands on the island, running into Walt Whitaker (Carl Reiner), and being forced to reveal their identity due to a misunderstanding. Then things get crazy and the people of the town react to the threat, and the police chief (Brian Keith) tries to get a handle on it.

The movie mixes slapstick* and some nice human moments with what was a strong message that was somewhat surprising given it’s era.

This was Arkin’s first screen role, which got him an Oscar nomination. He’s excellent as a man trying to get a simple job done and is thwarted at every turn. Reiner has one of his better film parts, and Brian Keith shows the calm imperturbability that was his trademark.**

The most memorable piece of the film for me, was when the Russians meet up with a young boy. None spoke English and were given a phrase to use in case anyone was suspicious:

My brothers and I used to run around with that catchphrase whenever something went wrong.

In addition to Arkin, the film was also nominated for a best picture and two other Oscars, and won three Golden Globes. Director Norman Jewison has a long and successful film career, helming Best Picture winner In the Heat of the Night and many other films.

*The screenplay was written by William Rose, who also wrote It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad,Mad, World.  In this case, though the slapstick works. (I’m not a fan of IAMMMMW.)

**Jonathan Winters is wasted. This isn’t surprising: Jonathan Winters was always wasted.  His larger-than-life talent and improvisational genius made it hard to fit him into a scripted film.


Mike Doran said...

Warning: Do NOT read the following comment.

One of the Russian sailors is credited as 'Milos Milos'.

This is Milos Milosevic, who shortly before the film's release, murdered Mickey Rooney's then-wife, and then took his own life.

( I told you not to read this ...)

Gary R. Peterson said...

Good post that makes me want to watch again a movie I saw years ago and was underwhelmed by. Yeah, Jonathan Winters must have been wasted here since I forgot he was even in it. You wrote that Winters "was always wasted," but one place where Winters was fully utilized was in "A Game of Pool," the TWILIGHT ZONE episode that co-starred him and Jack Klugman. It's my favorite of all Winters' performances, and ironically it's a dramatic role. PS: I just bought the complete MORK AND MINDY set and am looking forward to seeing Winters as a regular in the final season.