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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING (1966)

This Cold-War farce still earns its laughs. The plot is unusually strong for the genre, even believable: Soviet sub runs aground off a small New England island and the panicked residents think they’re being invaded. William Rose’s script hits a few dead spots of exposition, but he structures the multiple plotlines to great comic effect while helmer Norman Jewison keeps even the silliest bits grounded in just enough reality for them to take flight. And what a remarkably handsome film for a mid-60s comedy! Art director Robert Doyle had good practice for this coastal town after his Bodega Bay for Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS/’63; and there’s little process work or over-lighting in Joseph Biroc’s lensing. (Plus, that’s future helmer Hal Ashby doing the spot-on editing and getting lots of solid laughs with apt jump cuts. Something his own films could have used.) Carl Reiner is no more than pleasant as the nominal lead and Eva Marie Saint, is lovely, but underutilized as his wife, but everyone else is terrific. John Philip Law, as a Ruskie sailor, & Andrea Dromm, as a blonde American dream, make a charming/gorgeous couple while Jonathan Winters, Paul Ford, Theodore Bikel, toothsome Tessie O’Shay & a young runny-nosed Michael Pollard show off some serious comic chops. Character stalwarts Ben Blue & Doro Merande are just as winning. But the real standouts are the habitually undervalued Brian Keith as the town’s chief cop and Alan Arkin in a miraculous debut as the leader of the Russian shore party. You’d never have guessed anything but major star careers for the both of them. NOTE: Check out the trailer for Reiner & Arkin’s variation on Reiner & Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man shtick.

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