1967 - Musical or Comedy: The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

by Philip Berk November 10, 2017
The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming movie poster

Although it was based on a novel by Nathaniel Benchley, the son of famed humorist Robert, The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! had the imprint of William Rose. Rose was an American screenwriter who volunteered to join the war effort in England long before Pearl Harbor. After the war he remained there and became a much-celebrated screenwriter of such acclaimed comedies as Genevieve and The Lady Killers.

Once back in the U.S. he wrote edgy liberal screenplays including Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and of course The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!. Even though Norman Jewison was a hot young director (his In the Heat of the Night would be the winner the following year) it took guts on the part of the Mirisch Brothers to make this film just as the cold war era was thawing out, but the Cuban Missile crisis was much in the minds of Americans.

The film had no stars, much of the dialogue was in Russian (subtitled) but it soon became the movie everybody had to see. It made Alan Arkin a star, and he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical. Others in the cast were Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Keith, Theodore Bikel, Jonathan Winters, and Paul Ford, all turning in memorable performances.

The U.S. Navy Dept. refused to cooperate in the making of the film, but ironically once it opened, it had considerable impact in both Washington and Moscow. It was one of the few American films of the time to portray Russians in a positive light. Senator Ernest Gruening mentioned the film in a speech to Congress, and a copy of it was screened in the Kremlin.

The film cost $4 million and grossed over $20 million. Many thought The Russians Are Coming!The Russians Are Coming! was a popular win; it was eclipsed by the drama category where Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  was pitted against A Man For All SeasonsRichard Burton against Paul Schofield, and Fred Zinnemann against Mike Nichols. For the Hollywood Foreign Press it was A Man for All Seasons all the way, a trifecta repeated by the Academy a month later. Even Liz Taylor lost (to Anouk Aimee) and in fact, Virginia Woolf won no Golden Globes at all.