Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1966. The Mirisch Corporation. Screenplay by William Rose, based on the novel The Off-Islanders by Nathaniel Benchley. Cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc. Produced by Norman Jewison. Music by Johnny Mandel. Production Design by Robert F. Boyle. Costume Design by Wesley Jeffries. Film Editing by Hal Ashby, J. Terry Williams. Academy Awards 1966. Golden Globe Awards 1966.
A Russian submarine traversing the depths of the Atlantic off the coast of New Hampshire accidentally runs aground and strands its Soviet passengers on shore, witnessed by a little boy whose parents (Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint) don’t believe his stories about Russian spies on the beach until they break into their house and cause mayhem. People are tied up and guns are brandished but the Russians, led by Alan Arkin in his first major role, just need a boat that will help drag their vessel back into the ocean’s depths. The word about their presence gets around town and inspires no end of Cold War-tinged knee-jerk reactions from a sleepy town that hasn’t had anything surprising happen to it in a very long time. Norman Jewison shoots this delightful comedy like a high quality television show of the period, all bright, even lighting and squarely captured medium shots of actors against solid colours, but there’s great artifice in the humorous way that the script keeps twisting up its situations to show how hollow all the personal complications are: there’s never really much of a threat in any of the interactions between these people except for the assumptions and prejudices they have of each other. It’s not quite Dr. Strangelove, particularly as Arkin’s muggy performance (he always looks like he knows he’s being funny, like a bad Saturday Night Live actor) keeps it from being truly great, but it is a lot of fun.