red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen

 

 

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

Cast: Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin, Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters,
          Theodore Bikel, Tessie O'Shea, John Phillip Law, Ben Blue, Paul Ford
Producer/Director: Norman Jewison
Screenwriter: William Rose
Theatrical release: 1965; available on DVD


Harkening back to the studio days of the 1950s, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming brings together an accomplished cast and crew who create a great comedy-of-errors in a family-friendly environment, as well as a film that still offers a powerful impact.

It's the story of a Russian submarine run aground on the Massachusetts coast because its captain wants to see what the United States is really like. Paranoia flourishes on both sides, especially in the locals. Before the closing scene, World War III nearly erupts, but the fun is all in how détente blossoms from near-tragedy and how everyone works together in the end.

In the mid-1960s, at the height of the Cold War between the United States and Russia, Canadian native Norman Jewison chose to direct this film as a way to bridge that divide. On the DVD, his "Making of..." featurette explains much about the environment in the world and in Hollywood of the time — a period before Dr. Strangelove. Although a submarine is key to the story, the U.S. Navy wouldn't provide one, citing "security concerns." But ultimately, the film was read into the Congressional Record for its humor and usefulness at portraying current events. And a print was flown to Russia, where it was screened seven times at the Kremlin. Quite the tributes for a Hollywood comedy!

The folks behind the film have the chops. Producer/director Jewison started out in 1950s and 1960s television with Your Hit Parade and The Judy Garland Show, moving on to direct films as acclaimed and disparate as In the Heat of the Night, Terms of Endearment, Moonstruck, Rollerball, Jesus Christ Superstar, F.I.S.T., Steve McQueen's The Thomas Crown Affair and The Cincinnati Kid, as well as Doris Day vehicles Send Me No Flowers and The Thrill of It All.

Other members of the cast and crew have become a who's who of Broadway and Hollywood. Screenwriter William Rose authored Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and The Lavender Hill Mob. Carl Reiner, a well-known writer and comedian who worked in early television with Sid Caeser and Imogene Coca, also wrote Broadway plays — and, in his 80s, became a key player in the George Clooney remakes of Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve, and Ocean's Thirteen.

Alan Arkin, a Broadway actor, made his film debut here, while Ben Blue, a silent screen comedian, gets one of his final bows in a hilarious bit as the town drunk who spends the entire film trying to catch his horse so he can Paul Revere through town to warn that "the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming."

Michael J. Pollard, who will go on to be the goofy Bonnie-and-Clyde sidekick, shows that quirky tendency here. And Johnnie Whitaker, who will become Brian Keith's TV son on A Family Affair, appears here as the tow-headed tot who brings the locals and the submariners together.

Behind the camera are Hal Ashby and Haskell Wexler, providing directorial assistance and cinematography that stand them in good stead as they venture out in subsequent years to make many well regarded films of their own.

 

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