A few weeks ago I wrote about Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove and how it mocked America’s attitude to the nuclear missile crisis. Two years later Norman Jewison made a similar film which this time mocked America’s attitude towards The Cold War. That film was possibly the blog’s most unnecessarily titled film yet; The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming.
The film sees a group of Russian soldiers take a detour and end up on the New England coast. They then decide that they must find a motorboat to safely return them to their submarine and decide to pose as Norwegian tourists. They happen on the holiday home of Carl Reiner’s frustrated writer Walt Whittaker who has come to the town in the hope of finishing his novel. He is surprised when the two Russian officers turn up at his house and soon hold his family at gunpoint until he gives them the keys to his car. Whittaker eventually overpowers the young officer who is tasked with guarding them and goes into town to try and find out what the Russians are actually up to. Meanwhile news of the Russians’ presence in the town has been circulating and has led to mass hysteria breaking out. The town’s level-head police chief attempts to get to the bottom of the case however some of the more vocal locals try to get their case heard. Meanwhile Whittaker starts to warm to Russian Lieutenant Rozanov, played by Alan Arkin in his first film role, and realises that he’s not such a bad guy after all. The film builds up to a massive climax in which the townsfolk descend on the Russians while they in turn threaten to blow up the town. However a potential tragedy then breaks out which seemingly brings them all closer together.
The Russians are Coming is much more of a standard comedy than the much more subtle Dr Strangelove. The laughs essentially stem from the fact that the Russians are on the whole quite cool and calm while the Americans are a lot more hysterical. The whole thing has a farcical element about it but this is stopped from getting out of hand by the Russian characters who you could believe would actually kill. Personally I couldn’t believe that this was Alan Arkin’s first film role as he was great as the incredibly calm Rozanov who got increasingly more baffled by events in the town. Carl Reiner was also the perfect choice to play the American writer as he can get laughs based on his facial expressions alone. The supporting cast where also brilliant as a paranoid bunch who felt the Russians were there to attack them rather than simply to get back to their submarine. William Rose’s screenplay is packed full of obvious yet funny jokes as well as few very well-choreographed set pieces. One element that didn’t really work for me was the romance between the young Russian officer and the Whittaker’s babysitter however that was mainly due to the actors rather than anything else. Overall The Russians are Coming is a lightweight comedy which doesn’t have any of the political message that Dr Strangelove does. But, whilst I can’t say I wasn’t entertained, I’m not sure if it was a worthy Best Picture contender.