Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (dir by Norman Jewison)


Earlier tonight, I watched a 1966 film called The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.  

It’s a cheerful comedy about what happens when the captain (played by Theodore Bikel) of a Russian submarine decides that he wants to take a look at the United States.  Though he was only planning to look at America through a periscope, he accidentally runs the submarine into a sandbar sitting near Gloucester Island, which itself sits off the coast of Massachusetts.  The captain sends a nine man landing party, led by Lt. Yuri Rozanov (a youngish Alan Arkin, making his film debut and receiving an Oscar nomination for his efforts), to the island.  Their orders are simple.  Yuri and his men are too either borrow or steal a boat that can be used to push the submarine off the sandbar.  If they run into any locals, they are to claim to be Norwegian fisherman.

Needless to say, things that don’t quite go as planned.  The first Americans that Yuri and his men meet are the family of Walt Whitaker (Carl Reiner), a vacationing playwright.  Walt’s youngest son immediately identifies the Norwegian fisherman as being “Russians with submachine guns.”  When Walt laughingly asks Yuri if he’s a “Russian with a submachine gun,” Yuri produces a submachine gun and promptly takes Walt, his wife (Eva Marie Saint), and his children hostage.

Yuri may be a Russian.  He may officially be an enemy of America.  But he’s actually a pretty nice guy.  All he wants to do is find a boat, keep his men safe, and leave the island with as little drama as possible.  However, the inhabitants of the island have other plans.  As rumors spread that the Russians have landed, the eccentric and largely elderly population of Gloucester Island prepares for war.  Even as Police Chief Mattocks (Brian Keith) and his bumbling assistant, Norman Jonas (Jonathan Winters), attempt to keep everyone calm, Fendall Hawkins (Paul Ford) is organizing a militia and trying to contact the U.S. Air Force.

Meanwhile, Walt’s babysitter, Allison (Andrea Dromm) finds herself falling in love with one of the Russians, the gentle Alexei Kolchin (John Phillip Law).

As I said at the start of this review, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming is a cheerful comedy, one with a rather gentle political subtext, suggesting that the majority of international conflicts could be avoided if people got to know each other as people as opposed to judging them based on nationality or ideology.  There’s a rather old-fashioned liberalism to it that probably seemed quite daring in 1966 but which feels rather quaint today.  Sometimes, the comedy gets a bit broad and there were a few times that I found myself surprised that the film didn’t come with a laugh track.  But overall, this is a well-acted and likable little movie.

As I watched The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (and, as someone who is contractually obligated to use a certain number of words per review, allow me to say how much I enjoyed the length of that title), I found myself considering that the film would have seemed dated in 2013 but, with all the talk of Russian hacking in the election and everything else, it now feels a little bit more relevant.  Not a day goes by when I don’t see someone on twitter announcing that the Russians are coming.  Of course, if the film were released today, its optimistic ending would probably be denounced as an unacceptable compromise.  Peaceful co-existence is no longer as trendy as it once was.

Another interesting thing to note about The Russians Are Coming, The Russians are Coming: though the film was written by William Rose (who also wrote another example of mild 1960s feelgood liberalism, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner), it was based on a novel by Nathaniel Benchley.  Benchley was the father of Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws.  It’s easy to see the eccentrics of Gloucester Island as distant cousins of the inhabitants of Amity Island.

As previously stated, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming was nominated for best picture but it lost to the far more weighty A Man For All Seasons.

A Movie A Day #39: Prime Cut (1972, directed by Michael Ritchie)

primecutNick Devlin (Lee Marvin) is a veteran enforcer for the Chicago mob.  His latest assignment has taken him out of the city and sent him to the farmlands of Kansas.  Nick is the third enforcer to be sent to Kansas, all to collect a $500,000 debt from a local crime boss named Mary Ann (Gene Hackman).  The first one ended up floating face down in the Missouri River.  The second was chopped up into sausages at the local slaughterhouse.  Nick might have better luck because he once had an affair with Mary Ann’s wife, Clarabelle (Angel Tompkins).

When Nick tracks down Mary Ann to demand the money, he discovers that Mary Ann and his brother Weenie (Gregory Walcott, best remembered for his starring role in Plan 9 From Outer Space) are running a white slavery ring.  Kidnapping girls from a nearby orphanage, Mary Ann and Weenie keep them naked and doped up in a barn.  One of the girls, Poppy (Sissy Spacek, in her film debut), looks up at Nick and says, “Help me.”  Nick takes Poppy with him, claiming that he’s holding her for collateral until he gets the money.

The main attraction here is to see two iconic tough guys — Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman — fighting over Sissy Spacek, who is only slightly less spacey here than in her breakthrough role in Badlands.  In Prime Cut, the ruthless Chicago mobster turns out to have more of a conscience than the rural good old boys who work for Mary Ann and Weenie.  Nothing sums up Prime Cut better than the scene where Lee Marvin, wearing a black suit, and Sissy Spacek are pursued through a wheat field by a thrasher that’s being driven by a roly-poly farmer wearing overalls.  Prime Cut is both an exciting crime film and a trenchant satire of both the American heartland and the type of gangster movies that made Lee Marvin famous.

Music Video of the Day: The Thrill Is Gone by B.B. King & Tracy Chapman (1998, dir. Thom Oliphant)

I don’t think there’s much to say here. I distinctly remember when the music video came out two years later for the song Riding With The King. This one went under my radar. According to mvdbase, B.B. King actually made three music videos back in the mid-80s under the direction of John Landis. This music video is sad, which is appropriate since the song is too. I also like that they paired King with Chapman considering one of her most famous songs is Give Me One Reason, which she would later go on to do as a duet with Eric Clapton for the A Very Special Christmas Live album. Clapton having done Riding With The King with B.B. King. It all connects together.

The last thing I want to mention is that B.B. King didn’t originally do this song. It was written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951. I have embedded Hawkins’ version below as a way to work him in even though he never did a music video to my knowledge.

The video was directed by Thom Oliphant. He appears to have done around 30 music videos. He went on to produce and direct a lot CMT specials.

Giles Dunning shot the video. He has shot around 35 music videos and directed 2 of them. He went on to do some music and TV work after this video such as for the LCD Soundsystem concert film Shut Up And Play The Hits (2012). But, you’ve probably seen his camerawork that he did prior to this video. He worked on A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988), A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), Pet Sematary (1989), A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989), Ghoulies Go To College (1991), Critters 3 (1991), Critters 4 (1992), and for some non-horror ones, he also worked on Pump Up The Volume (1990) and A River Runs Through It (1992). Oh, and he also worked on Rockula (1990) since I apparently am unable to escape that movie since I reviewed it during October of 2015.