The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming

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The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming
Russians are coming.jpg
Directed by Norman Jewison
Produced by Norman Jewison
Screenplay by William Rose
Based on The Off-Islanders 
by Nathaniel Benchley
Starring Alan Arkin
Carl Reiner
Eva Marie Saint
Brian Keith
Jonathan Winters
Theodore Bikel
Paul Ford
Music by Johnny Mandel
Bonia Shur
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Editing by Hal Ashby
J. Terry Williams
Studio The Mirisch Corporation
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates May 25, 1966
Running time 126 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.9 million[1]
Box office $21,693,114[2]

The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming 1966 is an American comedy film directed by Norman Jewison. It is based on the Nathaniel Benchley novel The Off-Islanders, and was adapted for the screen by William Rose.

The movie tells the Cold War story of the comedic chaos which ensues when the Soviet submarine Спрут (pronounced "sproot" and meaning "octopus") accidentally runs aground near a small New England island town. The all-star cast includes Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Theodore Bikel, Jonathan Winters, and in his first major film role, Alan Arkin.


A Russian submarine draws too close to the New England coast one morning when its captain (Theodore Bikel) wants to take a good look at America and runs aground on a sandbar near an island off Cape Ann, Gloucester. Rather than radio for help and risk an embarrassing international incident, the captain sends a nine-man landing party, headed by his second-in-command Lieutenant Yuri Rozanov (Alan Arkin), to find a motor launch to help free the submarine from the bar. The men arrive at the house of Walt Whittaker (Carl Reiner), a vacationing playwright from New York City. Whittaker is eager to get his wife Elspeth (Eva Marie Saint) and two children, obnoxious nine and half-year-old Pete (Sheldon Collins) and three-year-old Annie (Cindy Putnam), off the island now that summer is over.

Pete tells his dad that "Russians with machine guns" dressed in black uniforms are near the house, but Walt is met by the men who identify themselves as Norwegian fisherman. Walt buys this, and to teach lesson a Pete in judging others, asks if they are "Russians with machine guns", which startles Rozanov into admitting that they are Russians and pulling a gun on Walt. Rozanov promises no harm to the Whittakers if they hand over their station wagon and provide information on the military and police forces of their island. Although Walt and Elspeth provides the keys, the sailors are perplexed as to why there are no military personnel on the island, and only a small police force. Before the Russians depart, Rozanov orders one of the sailors, Alexei Kolchin (John Phillip Law), to prevent the Whittakers from fleeing. An attractive 18-year-old neighbor, Alison Palmer (Andrea Dromm), who works as a babysitter for Annie, expected to work that day and finds herself captive as well.[3]

The Whittakers' station wagon quickly runs out of gasoline, forcing the Russians to walk. They steal an old sedan from Muriel Everett (Doro Merande), the postmistress; she calls Alice Foss (Tessie O'Shea), the gossipy telephone switchboard operator, and before long, wild rumors throw the entire island into confusion. As level-headed Police Chief Link Mattocks (Brian Keith) and his bumbling assistant Norman Jonas (Jonathan Winters) try to squelch the inept vigilante movement of blustering Fendall Hawkins (Paul Ford), Walt, accompanied by Elspeth, manages to overpower Kolchin, because the Russian is reluctant to hurt anyone. During the commotion, Kolchin flees, but when Walt and Elspeth leave to find help, he reappears, saying that although he does not want any fighting, he must obey his superiors in guarding the residence. On the beach, Alison is with Annie, Alexei appears, promising he will not harm anyone and offers to surrender his submachine gun as proof. Alison tells Kolchin that she trusts him and does not need to hand over his firearm, and Alexei chooses to walk along the beach with the two to build rapport. Kolchin becomes fond of Annie, giving her Russian translations of various words, as well as Alison, whom he finds commonality with despite their different cultures and backgrounds.

Trying to find the Russians on his own, Walt is re-captured by them in the telephone central office. After subduing Mrs. Foss and disabling the island's telephone switchboard, seven of the Russians get civilian clothes and manage to steal a motorboat and head back to their submarine, which is still high and dry. Back at the Whittaker house, Kolchin is by now falling in love with Alison. Walt manages to free himself, and he and Elspeth return to the house and almost shoot Rozanov, who arrives there just before they do. With the misunderstandings cleared up, the Whittakers, Rozanov and Kolchin decide to head into town together to clear the air with everyone over just what is going on.

With the rising tide, the submarine frees itself, and the Russian captain threatens to open fire on the town unless the other seven men are returned to him. Chief Mattocks arrives with the rest of the villagers, the men armed with various weapons from revolvers to war-time "souvenir" rifles. As tension mounts, two small boys go up in the church steeple to see better. As the tension approaches breaking point, one of the boys (Johnny Whitaker) slips and falls, but his belt gets caught on a gutter. Immediately uniting to save the child, islanders and Russians form a human pyramid and Kolchin rescues him.

Peace and harmony is established between the two parties, but unfortunately an over-eager Hawkins has called in the Air Force by radio. In a joint decision, the submarine heads out of the harbor with a convoy of villagers in small boats protecting it. Kolchin says goodbye to Alison, the boat with the seven Russians reaches the group shortly thereafter, and the seven board the submarine, just before two Air Force F-101B Voodoo jets arrive. They break off after seeing the convoy, and the submarine is free to sail to safe waters.[4]



Aerial view of Noyo Harbor in California where part of the film was shot

Although set on the fictional "Gloucester Island" off the coast of Massachusetts, the movie was filmed on the coast of Northern California, mainly in Mendocino. The harbor scenes were filmed in Noyo Harbor, a small town south of Fort Bragg. Because of the filming location on the West Coast, the dawn scene at the beginning of the film was actually filmed at dusk through a pink filter.

The submarine used was a fabrication. The United States Navy refused to loan one for the production and barred the studio from bringing a real Russian submarine, forcing the studio to create their own. It was segmented into four parts, each having its own motor to power it.

The planes were actual F-101 Voodoo Jets from the 84th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, located at the nearby Hamilton Air Force Base. They were the only Air Force planes that were based near the location of the supposed island.

The title alludes to Paul Revere's Ride, as does the subplot in which the town drunk (Ben Blue) rides his horse to warn people of the 'invasion'.

According to Norman Jewison, the film — released at the height of the Cold War — had considerable impact in both Washington and Moscow. It was one of the few films to portray the Russians in a positive light. Senator Ernest Gruening mentioned the film in a speech in Congress, and a copy of it was screened in the Kremlin. According to Jewison, when screened at the Soviet film writers' union, Sergei Bondarchuk was moved to tears.[5]

Pablo Ferro created the main title sequence, using the American flag's red, white and blue colors and the Soviet hammer and sickle as transitional elements, zooming into each to create a montage, which ultimately worked to establish the tone of the film. The music in the sequence alternates between the American "Yankee Doodle" march and a Russian marching song called "Polyushko Pole" (Полюшко Поле, usually "Meadowlands" in English).

Much of the dialog was spoken by the Russian characters, and at the time this movie was made few American actors were proficient in a Russian accent. Musician and character actor Leon Belasco, who was born in Russia, spoke fluent Russian and specialized in foreign accents during his 60-year career, was the dialog director. John Phillip Law's consistently, magnificently incorrect pronunciation of difficult English phonemes, most notably in his slow, careful, hopeless struggle to master Alison Palmer's name (ah-LYEE-sown PAHL-myerr), was remarkably authentic by the standards of the day.

The film was a hit in its day, and helped introduce two famous stars, Alan Arkin (who played Rozanov) and Johnny Whitaker (who did a cameo as the boy who is rescued from the church steeple). Arkin, a Russian speaker, did so well as Rozanov that he would be sought for both American characters and a few ethnic ones. After he appeared in the film, Whitaker was called by television producers to audition for the television show Family Affair, which also starred Brian Keith. Another star in the film, Theodore Bikel, was able to pronounce Russian so well, despite not actually being able to speak it, that he won the role of the submarine captain.


According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a rating of 81%, making it one of Jonathan Winters' highest filmography reviews.[1]




See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company The Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 186
  2. ^ "The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming!, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 16, 2012. 
  3. ^ Hal Erickson, "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966)", New York Times, accessed January 1, 2009
  4. ^ "Overview for The Russians are Coming, the Russians are coming, Turner Classic Movies, accessed January 1, 2009
  5. ^ "The Russians Are Coming to Hollywood", (DVD featurette), 2002.

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