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


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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.

Shattered Politics #26: Wild In The Streets (dir by Barry Shear)


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I am really not looking forward to turning 30.

Seriously, the great thing about being in your 20s is that everything is set up to specifically appeal to you.  Everyone wants your attention, your money, your tweets, your ideas, you love, and everything else.  And, yes, I understand that most people neither like nor respect my generation but oh well and whatever.  Trust me, the generation coming up behind mine is a hundred times worse.

2008 was a great time to be a politically knowledgeable millennial.  Everyone running for President was desperate to get our vote and they were willing to promise us anything.  And, since my age group voted overwhelmingly for Obama, all of the old elitists in the national media briefly fell in love with us.  (The genius of Obama’s 2008 campaign was to tell us that we were the people that we were waiting for.  Technically, it’s a bit nonsensical but never doubt what you can accomplish by appealing to the ego of the electorate.)

Of course, over the past few years, my generation has essentially been fucked over by both political parties and, since we dared to complain about it, nobody likes us anymore.  But, oh well and whatever.  American culture is basically built around our whims so we really don’t need anyone else’s love.

And, if all this sounds a little bitter or angry, I would point that young people and old people have been at war since time began.  Generational conflict is nothing new.  And if you need proof of that, I suggest watching a film from 1968 called Wild In The Streets.

Wild in the Streets tells the story of Max Frost (Christopher Jones), a rock star who lives in a gigantic mansion with his band and his groupies.   When Max is asked to perform at a campaign appearance for senate candidate Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook), he agrees to do so because Fergus supports lowering the voting age.  (When Wild In The Streets was made, you had to be 21 to vote.  So, if your birthday fell on election day, you could cast your first vote and then go have your first legal drink.)  However, at the rally, Max announces that he wants 14 year-olds to have the vote and then performs a song called “14 or fight!”

Max’s song is such a sensation and leads to so many protests that, in a compromise, the voting age is lowered to 15.  Johnny Fergus is elected to the Senate and, before you can say “Blue dog,” promptly starts to ignore the will of the people who supported him.  So, Max arranges for his girlfriend Sally (Diane Varsi) to be elected to the U.S. House.  After spiking the water supply of Washington D.C. with LSD, Sally gets a bill passed and the age requirement for holding political office is lowered to 14!

Of course, in the next election, 24 year-old Max Frost is elected President of the United States.  Soon, anyone over the age of 35 is being sent to re-education camps where they are force-fed LSD.  Max is so ruthless that he even sends his own mother (Shelley Winters) off to re-education.

And, with all the old people gone, everything is perfect for Max.  Except for that fact that 10 year-olds are now demanding the vote…

In many ways, Wild in the Streets feels like a film that could have only been made in 1968.  From the psychedelic direction to the costumes to the hair to music, everything about this movie screams late 60s.  But, at the same time, it’s still a genuinely amusing satire, largely because generational conflict is timeless.  We all think that those older than us are clueless and that those younger are spoiled.  There’s a lot of things in your life that can control.  Sadly enough, getting older is not one of them.

Wild in the Streets is a fun and amusing time capsule.  See it now before the younger generation comes of age and totally fucks up the world.