Moscow on the Hudson

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Moscow on the Hudson
Moscow on the Hudson (1984) (Original Poster).PNG
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul Mazursky
Produced by Paul Mazursky
Written by
  • Paul Mazursky
  • Leon Capetanos
Music by David McHugh
Cinematography Donald M. McAlpine
Edited by Richard Halsey
Delphi Premier
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • April 6, 1984 (1984-04-06) (USA)
Running time
115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $13 million
Box office $25,068,724

Moscow on the Hudson is a 1984 American romantic comedy-drama film written and directed by Paul Mazursky, and stars Robin Williams as a Soviet circus musician who defects while on a visit to the United States. The film was released on April 6, 1984.

Williams's co-stars include María Conchita Alonso (in her film debut), Elya Baskin as the circus clown, Savely Kramarov as one of two KGB apparatchiks, Alejandro Rey as the musician's immigration attorney, and Cleavant Derricks as his first American host and friend.


The story begins on a New York City bus, with Vladimir (Robin Williams) advising a newly arrived Frenchman how to get to his destination. He tells the Frenchman that it is always difficult getting around the city when one first arrives. Vladimir then begins remembering his own arrival from the Soviet Union, and the scene shifts to Vladimir riding on a Soviet bus some time earlier.

In Moscow[edit]

Vladimir, a circus musician, arrives late to rehearsal. Boris (Savely Kramarov), one of the political officer assigned to the circus, criticizes him and implies that he may miss their approaching trip to New York. Later, while Vladimir is riding with his friend, circus clown Anatoly Cherkasov (Elya Baskin), Anatoly expresses his discontent with life in the Soviet Union; while buying black market gasoline, Anatoly reveals to Vladimir that he plans to defect during the upcoming trip. The next morning, Vladimir is intercepted by the two circus-assigned apparatchik waiting at the entrance, who "keep an eye on" Anatoly during the trip to the United States .

Defection in New York[edit]

The Moscow circus arrives in New York and are shuttled around in a chartered bus. During the ride, Anatoly writes "freedom" in condensation on the bus window, and Vladimir quickly wipes it off.

The performers stay at a Howard Johnson Hotel, where Vladimir reveals to Anatoly that it is no coincidence they are sharing a room together because the apparatchik want him to "spy on" Anatoly.

The next day during the opening circus performance, Anatoly attempts to defect but is met by the apparatchik agents. The following day, the performers are allowed to shop at Bloomingdale's before their return to Moscow. Vladimir meets Lucia Lombardo (María Conchita Alonso), a perfume clerk, while attempting to buy blue jeans. Anatoly tells Vladimir that he is going to defect in Bloomingdale's. Vladimir angrily challenges Anatoly to just do it. Anatoly, shadowed by apparatchik, loses his nerve.

As the performers are being led back to the bus, Vladimir then announces his intent to defect to a store security guard, Lionel Witherspoon (Cleavant Derricks), who initially confuses Vladimir's request to be allowed to defect with one indicating a need to defecate. The apparatchik, who had been distracted by their shopping, rush over to prevent it. A chase ensues, ended in Vladimir's attempt to hide behind Lucia's counter. Orlando Ramirez (Alejandro Rey), an immigration lawyer, approaches and gives Lucia his card to give to Vladimir. After trying to hide inside Lucia's dress, Vladimir crawls away through Bloomingdale's but once again encounters Lionel. Boris and the other KGB officer arrive and confront Vladimir, but Lionel defends him. Boris first pleads with Vladimir to return and then threatens, but Vladimir repeats, "I defect", to the cheers of the rapidly assembling crowd. ABC New York newscaster Kaity Tong and a news crew are already on scene. The FBI arrive and interview Vladimir about why he is defecting and whether or not he has relatives or friends in the United States. Lionel, basking in the glare of the media, offers to take in Vladimir after revealing he knows no one in the United States outside of Lionel and Lucia. As a final parting gesture, Vladimir rushes out onto the street as the chartered bus of circus performers is leaving and says goodbye to his saxophone, which had been left on the bus. He also communicates to Anatoly that he is now free (a free bird).

Life in the Big Apple[edit]

Lionel Witherspoon (Cleavant Derricks), an African American security guard who has just protected Vladimir from his furious Russian handlers during Vladimir's defection at Bloomingdale's, takes him home to Brooklyn to live with Lionel's mother, unemployed father, sister, and cranky but good-hearted grandfather—a living arrangement noticeably similar to that of Vladimir's family back in Moscow.

With the help of sympathetic immigration attorney Orlando Ramirez (Alejandro Rey), a naturalized citizen from Cuba who witnessed Vladimir's defection, Vladimir soon adapts to life in America. Vladimir attempts to find work despite speaking little English and fearing the threat of his former KGB handlers. He initially lives in poor neighborhoods and takes low-paying jobs such as fast-food service, limousine driver, and sidewalk merchant.

Vladimir starts a relationship with Lucia. At a party celebrating Lucia's becoming an American citizen, Vladimir proposes to her; but she refuses and breaks up with him. A little while later, Lionel decides to move to Alabama to be with his young son; and Vladimir learns from a friend of his sister that his beloved grandfather back home in Moscow has died.

Grieving, Vladimir goes to a Russian nightclub to ease his mind. When he returns home, late to his apartment building and drunk, he is mugged. He later reports the incident to the police with Orlando present, and the two go to a diner where Vladimir rants about his misfortunes. A nearby Soviet immigrant overhears the conversation, and interrupts Vladimir to disagree, leading the two into a tense confrontation that is settled after Vladimir comes to appreciate his good fortune of living in America. Soon after, Lucia reunites with Vladimir telling him that she is not ready for marriage but would love to live with an immigrant.

Vladimir gets a job as a saxophonist. He encounters former KGB officer Boris operating a hot dog stand.


The film features Soviet comedic actor Savely Kramarov, as the apparatchik/KGB officer, in one of his first Western film roles.

The three Russian actors Kramarov, Oleg Rudnik, and Elya Baskin also appear together in the film 2010 as cosmonauts. Kramarov and Rudnik play the two KGB agents always shadowing Vladimir and Baskin plays Vladimir's friend the circus clown. Stand up comedian Yakov Smirnoff also has a minor role in the film.

Williams learned Russian in a crash course for the film and also learned to play the saxophone.[1][2]


The film garnered positive reviews around the time of its release, and was moderately successful at the box office, bringing in $25 million in ticket sales. It currently holds an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Conception and filming[edit]

According to Director Mazursky, the idea for the film came from Mazursky's own grandfather's emigration from Ukraine through Russia nearly 80 years before. In developing the script, the director contacted the Russian immigrant community and made his first trip to Russia. "Most Russians," noted the director at the time, "are just trying to survive. Yet, all Russians who leave their country leave behind something they treasure and love. It's a terrible conflict for them, so the act of bravery is overwhelming." After considering many locations for the Moscow portion of the film, Mazursky settled on Munich, based on the flexibility Bavaria Studios offered him with full control over an authentic "Eastern European street."[3]


The poster, depicting a bird's eye view of New York with Moscow and Russia beyond, prompted a lawsuit by artist Saul Steinberg. Steinberg alleged that the movie poster infringed the copyright in "View of the World from 9th Avenue", his famous cover illustration for a 1976 issue of The New Yorker magazine. The district court agreed and awarded summary judgment to Steinberg in Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 663 F. Supp. 706 (S.D.N.Y. 1987).


  1. ^ "Speaks Russian Like A Czech", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 14, 1984 (from the NY Times),4734498
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Moscow on the Hudson Production Notes". Retrieved February 25, 2013. 

External links[edit]