At the height of the Cold War era between the USSR and USA, a Russian submarine appears on the coast of a small New England town. Fearing for their lives, the residents of the small town get together and decide to prevent a possible invasion, creating all sorts of ridiculous situations.
Reaction & Thoughts:
The Russians are Coming The Russians are Coming was a tremendous financial and critical success when it first debuted in movie theaters in 1966. This political and social farce had an advantage that few movies have: perfect timing. As the Cold War between USA and USSR reached a dangerous point, the general public became more aware of the tense situation between the two powerful nations. Imaginary or real, the threat of a possible nuclear war was in the minds of many citizens in the states.
Director Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night) and writer William Rose (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) knew exactly what they were doing when they concocted this farce, smartly manipulating the sensibilities of the country. They struck a chord, and the title became a household phrase all around America.
However, five decades later, The Russians are Coming has dated quite a bit — some viewers are bound to scratch their heads trying to understand what all that fuss was about. Despite these minor contrivances imposed by the change of times, I found the film still disarmingly funny and engaging; it remains tasteful while still making fun of very serious issues.
Based on the novel The Off Islanders by author Nathaniel Benchley (father of Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws), the best thing about The Russians are Coming is its cast.
This was Alan Arkin’s first starring role and the movie made him a star. He plays Lieutenant Rozanov, the English-speaking Russian in charge of the mission. Although I like him better in films like Wait Until Dark and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, here Arkin proves to be an excellent farceur. The Oscar-nomination he received is a bit hard to justify, but he is indeed very funny. Fifty years later Arkin is still going strong, with fine work in recent films like Argo and Going in Style.
This is an ensemble movie anyway. The film features such a strong cast of actors that the performances tend to upstage everything else about the movie. Carl Reiner (Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid), Eva Marie Saint (North by Northwest), Brian Keith (The Parent Trap), Jonathan Winters (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), and my favorite, Paul Ford (The Music Man), who is always a delight in everything he does, play the small town’s residents — they’re all fine in their respective roles. Theodore Bikel (The Defiant Ones) plays Arkin’s superior and John Phillip Law (Barbarella) is a Russian soldier.
The film was beautifully shot by Joseph Biroc (Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte and The Flight of the Phoenix) in Mendecino, California (standing in for the East Coast). The atmosphere of a coastal town is beautiful captured, with the natural environment presented with lush and vibrant colors.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The film has gotten some backlash in the last couple of decades. Although the film was a huge success back in 1966, critics and moviegoers now often bypass the film when they talk about the best films of 1960s. The Graduate, 2001: A Space Odyssey and director Jewison’s own 1967 hit In the Heat of the Night are now wildly regarded by modern audiences as some of the best films from the era, while The Russians are Coming is seen as merely a time capsule. Those of you who have not seen the film because of its reputation as an antique of its time should give the film a chance. Replete with offbeat characters and many moments of great comic timing, The Russians are Coming is an entertaining, amusing satire. Color, 126 minutes, Not Rated.