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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming (1965)

"You help us quickly, otherwise there is World War III, and everyone is blaming you."
- Lt. Yuri Rozanov (Alan Arkin)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 13, 2002

Stars: Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin, Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters, Theodore Bikel
Other Stars: Tessie O'Shea, Ben Blue, John Philip Law, Andrea Dromm, Paul Ford, Michael J. Pollard, Johnny Whitaker
Director: Norman Jewison

Manufacturer: Sunset Digital Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 02h:05m:35s
Release Date: October 15, 2002
UPC: 027616880185
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ CCC- C+

DVD Review

More than any other genre, comedy seems to date badly. Sometime it's because of styles that seem outmoded, and sometimes humor is so topical it's meaningless to an audience only a few years later. The passage of decades and the end of the Cold War unfortunately have not been kind to the comic effect of The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, despite its importance in the mid-1960s.

Near Gloucester Island off Massachusetts, a Russian submarine captain (Theodore Bikel) is sightseeing when he runs his sub aground on a sandbar early one Sunday morning. He dispatches a group of men, led by Lt. Rozanov (Alan Arkin), to recover a motorboat to help get the sub off the sand before it is discovered and an international incident is created. Despite their best efforts, the Russians create a panic in the town, exemplified on the familial level by musical comedy writer Walt Whittaker (Carl Reiner) and his wife Elspeth (Eva Marie Saint), and on the broader social level by Police Chief Link Mattocks (Brian Keith) and his jumpy deputy Norman Jonas (Jonathan Winters) as well as a citizens' militia led by Fendall Hawkins (Paul Ford). The mayhem comes to a dramatic confrontation in the island's harbor that may or may not lead to the brink of war.

While hailed as a comic masterpiece at the time, it has lost a good deal of its edge and its humor. I expect that at the time, much of the humor was derived from the very real tension of a world that had just made it through the Cuban Missile Crisis and appeared to be lurching into another confrontation in Indochina. At the time, fears of a Russian invasion, given impetus by military inroads a few years before into Hungary, were not seen as all that far-fetched. Now, of course, they come off as little more than ridiculous and hardly substantial enough to support a screenplay. The best segment today is the creative title sequence, which features battling American and Russian flags, set to alternating strains of Yankee Doodle and the Song of the Volga Boatmen.

Arkin, in his first substantial screen role, does a fine job with the role of the leader of the expedition, though much of his comedy arrives simply from his accent and butchering of the English language. He does have some good moments with a nervous edginess, particularly exemplified in his interactions with the Whittakers' irritating little boy. Carl Reiner's part is at its best in a slapstick sequence that finds him tied to the elderly and portly telephone operator (Tessie O'Shea). Despite some bland setup at the beginning, he never really evokes an audience identification beyond being a typical television dad. Jonathan Winters, as is so often the case in films, is given little to do with his enormous talents. Perhaps the best bit comes from silent comedian Ben Blue, who is briefly seen throughout the film attempting in vain to catch a horse so that he can play Paul Revere. The love interests, young Alison (Andrea Dromm) and Alexei Kolchin (John Philip Law) are bland, uninteresting and uninvolving.

Like the misshapen all-star comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, this film takes an all-star cast and in the last analysis doesn't give them much to do that's funny. As a result, it's of interest primarily as an historical relic.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen image is generally quite attractive. However, there is a spider-weblike pattern visible at the top of the screen in most light-colored scenes that seems to indicate that a cleaning of the telecine equipment was called for. The color is quite good and speckling is nominal. No significant frame damage is present. There's ample fine detail, and black levels are quite good. The only times I noticed compression artifacts are on large scale panning shots of the village.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono audio has a significant and often annoying hiss. This is exacerbated by the fact that dialogue is recorded at a fairly low level, requiring substantial volume levels that emphasize the hiss even more. The music generally sounds fine, although it is slightly shrill and lacking in fullness and presence. Dialogue is clear throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:11m:13s

Extras Review: Happily, this disc includes a 23m:00s interview with director/producer Norman Jewison about the making of the film and its international reception to great acclaim. This documentary, while fluffy at times as Jewison showers compliments on his collaborators, is useful for helping to put the picture in its proper historical context. Also present is the theatrical trailer, which is much funnier than the film itself. Mostly composed of what appears to be an ad-libbed interview between Reiner and Arkin in character, much like Reiner's Two-Thousand-Year Old Man shtick with Mel Brooks, it's quite engaging and entertaining. The trailer is also presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Once considered a classic comedy, and now only an historical footnote, this picture takes the Cold War and plods along with it in a well-intentioned plea for peace and understanding. Happily, the substantial director interviews help put the picture in the proper perspective to maximize its appreciation.


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