The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966)

Directed by Norman Jewison

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A submarine-jul of Russian soldiers run aground on the fictional Gloucester Island, just off the New England coast and ignite the Cold War era fears of the small town in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.  The subsequent mob mentality shows how quickly fear and unsubstantiated rumors evolve into anger and hatred, though it turns out their concerns are somewhat justified since there are, in fact, Russians soldiers descending upon America.

The Russian soldiers of this film are more tourists than militaristic world conquerors.  They first get too close to the coast only because they are interested in glimpsing America for the first time.  After finding themselves stuck, all they look for is a boat to tow them back out to sea, but between their sneaking around the edge of town and the already weaponized fear of the locals, things escalate quickly.

It’s the same mob mentality in another 1966 film, Arthur Penn’s The Chase.  In that film the rumored return of a hometown criminal (Robert Redford) stirs the fear and wrath of a corrupt little town.  They are so fearful of what he may want, having been wrongfully convicted, but that fear turns them into the antagonists, preemptively pulling out the torches and pitch forks.

In this film, while the Russian soldiers are indeed armed, they spend much of the film hiding in tool sheds or behind fences while the mob forms, a divide between the police and the sudden civilian militia.  None of them have actually seen the Russians, but that doesn’t dissuade them from declaring that hundreds of them have descended from sea and sky.

The Russians are led by Lieutenant Yuri Rozanov (Alan Arkin), an affable young man who accosts a young family of five when their son recognizes them as the supposed enemy.  The relationship between this group and this family forms the heart of the film.  While the rest of the townsfolk act based on rumors and preconceived notions, the characters in this storyline will be forced to get to know each other.  In one case one of the navy men and the daughter of the American family fall quickly in love.

Everything builds to an almost literal Cold War, both sides with their hands on a trigger of some sort, mirroring the real life close call between the U.S. and Russians a few years earlier.  Then, when a child finds himself in danger, the two sides work together to save the day, and suddenly they’re no longer enemies.

Up Next: The Signal (2014), Harvey (1950), Cemetery of Splendor (2015)

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