I Saw A Film!
Off my usual beaten path. This is a brilliantly executed comic variation on small town hysteria leading to probable mayhem and violence, but here, diffused by circumstance and cooler heads, though only just having cooled off.
An old timey Russian Sub (not the Hunt for Red October variation) grounds off the coast of Gloucester and a team of sailors, lead by the always excellent Alan Arkin, come ashore in hopes of gaining a boat strong enough to assist. What happens instead is a wonderful wild-fire of fantasy and inept human imagination overwhelming reason. It being made basically right in the middle of some of our nation’s worst “red” fears is remarkable.
You’ve got some talent in this old movie from the recently late Carl Reiner and Johnathan Winters, to Eva Marie Saint and John Phillip Law (a terrific B-movie favorite!). A real level-headed and perfectly identifiable Brian Keith as the police chief and Paul Ford, a comic regular of old films. This film is a pleasure to parse for its many touchstone actors.
As the “invasion” builds into a frenzy we have a cute little romance between the young (John Phillip Law and Andrea Dromm (later on Star Trek!). Thankfully the sweet bits are not overwrought and doesn’t get in the way of the comic fun. At one point the town’s veteran general wearing his sword and rallying the townsfolk for a referendum on who should lead, shouts out, “After all it’s the democratic way!”, he no sooner gets this out before some wag says “republican!”. Sometimes little things can ring so poignant.
Brian Keith is excellent as the tired police chief having to argue with these clowns turned menace. This is something the film performs excellently, the means by which regular, and often silly folks can suddenly be a terrifying mob. Yes it’s true the Russians should have simply requested help officially, and this would have undermined the hilarity and then the solution of the event, but it’s not hard to imagine wanting to dispel some embarrassment with some rather harmless shenanigans.
One of the more enjoyable bits is when the chief, trying to get rid of people, sends one of the yokels to get his horse and ride through the town as though it were the beginning of the Revolutionary War to warn the folks that the Russians were coming. He spends the movie hilariously trying to catch this recalcitrant horse for the chore.
This film is running Free on Prime and is a classic that has no business on my page of forgotten gems and rascally crap. But it’s got maturity going for it, and I’m not sure it’s been done better. It also slams home why Alan Arkin is one of the best. An all time favorite.