The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming Review
Say what you will about Norman Jewison (such as he’s never made a truly great film, for example, just a number of very good ones), but there’s no denying the diversity of his output. Taking on a pair of Doris Day comedies early on in his career (The Thrill Of It All, Send Me No Flowers), he has since worked on musicals (Fiddler on the Roof, Jesus Christ Superstar), science fiction (Rollerball), biopics (F.I.S.T., The Hurricane) and even delightfully ridiculous cod-religious nonsense (Agnes of God). The particular entry in his filmography from 1966, The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming, sees him take on a post-Dr. Strangelove Cold War comedy and as with many of his generic exercises never really demonstrates any great skill. Its plot involves a Russian sub unintentionally coming ashore in Massachusetts and the comical panic this causes induces in the inhabitants of a small town.
Yet whereas they are expecting something akin to Went the Day Well?, the audience has no such luck. Admittedly, we shouldn’t perhaps expect the same level of threat or darkness from a mainstream sixties Hollywood comedy, but then Strangelove had set such a precedent that must have been impossible for the filmmakers to ignore. However, The Russians Are Coming is more sitcom than satire, an aspect that stands out over everything else. The opening half hour focuses on the disrupted domesticity of Carl Reiner and Eva Marie Saint before expanding into a broader small town picture populated by eccentrics(both being standard sitcom tropes, though numerous Disney movies starring Dean Jagger - The Shaggy D.A. et al - also spring to mind). Plus there’s The Phil Silvers Show’s Paul Ford in a supporting role and spearheading a sub-plot that could easily fuel a Dad’s Army episode. And yet, the pacing is all wrong for such an approach. Split the film into 20 to 30 minute segments and in no way would they equal typical sitcom episodes, neither in terms of energy nor their gag quotient (though it doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to see where the laugh track would fit).
What they would have, however, is the highly pitched, deeply aggravating performances, each of them a caricature: the cowardly husband, the old drunk, the bumbling lawman, the dotty spinster, etc. etc. The only two actors who do offer something a little different - Eva Marie Saint and Alan Arkin - are given largely thankless roles. And it is with regards to the latter where The Russians Are Coming proves most disappointing. Arkin has always been an underrated actor (and director for that matter, as anyone who has seen Little Murders will be aware), but here he is completely wasted. Rather than demonstrate any of his talents he is instead given the bumbling foreigner role he had previously portrayed in Inspector Clouseau, albeit of a Russian rather than French variety. If only Jewison had utilised even an ounce of the menace in his eyes, then this could have been a very different experience.
A MGM back catalogue release, The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming therefore is completely free of extras, but does have a better than most presentation. Anamorphically transferred in its original ratio of 2.35:1, the print has the requisite sharpness and richness of colour meaning that it remains watchable throughout. The only problem - aside from rare instances of damage - is the occasional grain and odd flicker, though neither prove too distracting. As for the sound, both the dialogue and Johnny Mandel’s cheeky score are suitably crisp and clear in the original mono without ever truly impressing. Note also that the Russian dialogue comes with electronically generated subtitles alongside the various language options.