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.


In Moscow[edit]

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War and Soviet political repression of the early 1980s prior to perestroika, Vladimir Ivanoff (Robin Williams), a saxophonist with the Moscow circus, lives in a crowded apartment with his extended family. He stands in lines for hours to buy toilet paper and shoes. When the apparatchik assigned to the circus (Kramarov as Boris) criticizes Vladimir for being late to rehearsal and suggests Vladimir may miss the approaching trip to New York, Vladimir gives Boris a pair of shoes from the queue that made Vladimir late. While Ivanoff is riding in his friend Anatoly's (Baskin as the circus clown) Lada, Anatoly stops to buy fuel for his car from a mobile black market gasoline dealer. While the friends wait for the gasoline seller to fill Anatoly's jerrycans, the two practice their English.

Vladimir acts as go-between for his crazy grandfather and KGB agents who want to arrest the old man for shouting anti-Soviet slogans out the apartment window. Vladimir defends his grandfather to the agents as a harmless comedian who is a war hero.

Defection in New York[edit]

The circus troupe is sent to perform in New York City. Anatoly, who has talked of little else but defecting, can't bring himself to go through with it; and Vladimir, who had opposed the scheme as reckless and foolhardy, suddenly decides to do it. He runs from his Soviet controllers and hides behind a perfume counter at Bloomingdale's under the skirt of the clerk, Lucia Lomardo (María Conchita Alonso). When local police and the FBI arrive, Vladimir stands up to his controllers and defects to the United States with news cameras rolling. Vladimir is left with nothing but the clothes on his back, the money in his pocket, and a pair of blue jeans he had planned to buy for his girlfriend in Moscow.

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, takes him home to Harlem 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 Cuban emigrant, 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 works as a McDonalds cashier, 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 drunk, he is mugged by two African American youths. He reports the incident to the police with his attorney Orlando present; and the two go to a diner where Vladimir rants about his misfortunes. During a confrontation with a fellow Russian defector, 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. Lionel moves back from Alabama and takes over Vladimir's job driving a limousine.

In the end, Vladimir gets a job as a saxophonist in the band at the Russian nightclub. He encounters his former Soviet circus handler now a street vendor selling hotdogs.


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]