“I am sorry to, uh, comply with your statement, but misfortunately, all of the answers to these questions are… yes.”
Carl Reiner was a major collaborator of Mel Brooks’, as well as creating the legendary Dick Van Dyke Show. Alan Arkin was one of the original members of The Second City, possibly the breeding ground of more legendary comedic actors of the last half century than anywhere else. They both have amazing credentials and I know for a fact that they have both made me laugh plenty of times in the past. So when I randomly watched The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming without knowing anything about it, seeing their names in the opening credits made me immediately confident that my gamble with this movie would pay off.
It’s the height of the Cold War and a Russian sub circles the small American island of Gloucester. When the over eager captain decides to get a closer look at America, he runs the sub aground on a sand bank. Lt. Rozanov (Arkin) leads a band of men ashore to find a boat that can tow their sub back to sea. The first house they come across is that of Walt Whittaker (Reiner).
It’s the end of the summer and he’s looking forward to leaving the island and getting back to his real life as a comedy writer in the real world. Rozanov holds Walt and his family hostage, steals their car and leaves them under the guard of the innocent Alexi Kolchin. As Rozanov and his men leave in Walt’s car, a delightful romp across the island ensues as sightings of the Russians increase and Walt tries to win the respect of his precocious little shit of a son.
The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming is funny. Really funny. But what I liked most about it was thinking about the fact that it was made when the Cold War was still a very real, very serious thing. Yet, they pull the piss out of Cold War paranoia so utterly and completely. It seems like it would have been risky to make fun of this topic at that time, but it never feels like they shy away from any joke for fear of offending anyone.
This is the kind of farce you don’t see too much of these days. Even Curb Your Enthusiasm, the best practitioner of it in the modern day, has been off the air for a few years now with no return announced. The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming is like text book definition of how it should work.
Every piece of dialogue is misconstrued, every action is misinterpreted, every misunderstanding, no matter how absurd, is perpetrated, and everything spirals out of control exponentially with each new addition. When done badly, that comes off as lazily relying on jokes with no regard for reality. When done well, you just don’t care, because the ride is that much fun. When done well, you get The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.