The Russians Are Coming,
The Russians Are Coming
Director Norman Jewison produced The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966)—a very funny farce about a potentially apocalyptic situation—at the height of the Cold War. Loosely based on The Off-Islanders by Nathaniel Benchley (son of humorist Robert and father of Jaws novelist Peter), the film begins when the captain (Theodore Bikel) of a Soviet submarine pilots his vessel too close to the New England shore and runs aground on an island off Cape Cod (in actuality a sleepy California town on the Pacific Ocean). When second-in-command Lt. Rozanov (Alan Arkin) leads a landing party in search of a boat to help tow the sub out to sea, the Russians happen upon the vacation home of New York playwright Walt Whittaker (Carl Reiner) and his wife (Eva Marie Saint). After word of the Russians’ arrival gets out, panic spreads across the island: local police chief Link Mattocks (Brian Keith) and his loony deputy (Jonathan Winters) find themselves at odds with the superpatriotic leader of the local American Legion outpost (Paul Ford). Meanwhile a young Soviet sailor, Kolchin (John Phillip Law), falls in love with the Whittakers’ All-American babysitter, Alison Palmer (Andrea Dromm). The opposing sides head toward a dangerous standoff but in the end join forces to save the life of a young child.
The film was successful both at the box office and with critics, who praised the balance between humor and geopolitical commentary. “There is also great satirical fun in Johnny Mandel’s musical score,” added Robert Alden in his review for The New York Times. Jewison reminisced about the creation of the movie’s animated opening title sequence and its music in his autobiography, This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me:
I wanted the opening titles to establish that this was a comedy based on a serious political idea. We tossed around all kinds of ideas, but it wasn’t until we played the Red Army Chorus and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” contrapuntally that we all agreed the title sequence should be a battle of the Soviet and American flags.
In addition to “Yankee Doodle,” composer Mandel made use of the the traditional Russian folk melody “Song of the Volga Boatmen” and another familiar tune, “Polyushko Pole” (known in English under various titles, including “Meadowlands”). Although this latter melody is often presumed to be a folk tune, it was in fact composed in 1934 by Soviet composer Lev Knipper as part of his Symphony No. 4. These pre-existing melodies mix with original Mandel compositions, including a Russian choral anthem, a humorous march theme for the island residents’ quasi-military response to the Soviet incursion, and a tender love theme for Kolchin and Alison. While the latter is only heard instrumentally in the film, the soundtrack album released on United Artists Records (UAS 5142) included a vocal versions with lyrics by none other than Miss Peggy Lee.
Mandel had sent the famed singer a lead sheet of his song “The Shadow of Your Smile” (from The Sandpiper) but, as Lee recalled in her autobiography, “Before I could even turn around, everyone had recorded it.” When she expressed her disappointment through a mutual friend, Mandel called her and told her he had a new song in need of a lyric.
As soon as I played the melody, the lyric began to dance around in my mind. It was finished in less than an hour. Johnny looked at me in astonishment. “How did you do that?”
“Write those lyrics so fast? Did you know you wrote what’s in the film?”
“No what film?”
Mandel then revealed that the song was from his score for The Russians Are Coming and took Lee to the Director’s Guild Theatre for a screening of the film. She was amazed to discover that her lyrics fit the action of the love scene perfectly. Lee was under contract to a competing record label, however, and thus was unable to record the song for the soundtrack album, a task ably performed by jazz vocalist Irene Kral. (Lee did record the song on her 1967 Capitol LP Extra Special! in an arrangement conducted by Quincy Jones.)
Although The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming is the shortest of the LP programs included in this box set, it nevertheless represents the bulk of Mandel’s score: the film is sparsely (but effectively) spotted, with most of the music coming in the last third of the film. This presentation is newly mixed from the original ½″ four-track stereo masters for superb sound quality.
- 1. The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming
- (Main Title) Mandel’s main title combines “Yankee Doodle” with the “Song of the Volga Boatmen” over animated credits depicting battling U.S. and Soviet flags. The latter wins out—temporarily—as “Meadowlands” takes over, then the first two melodies return; the remainder of the credit sequence plays without music.
- 7. Sailors Chorus
- A brief quotation of “America the Beautiful” (for the arrival of the Soviet sub off the U.S. coast) yields to a men’s chorus singing an original Mandel composition, crafted in the manner of a Russian folk song (the Russian lyrics are credited to Bonia Shur on the film’s legal cue sheet) as the Soviet submariners row ashore and march along the beach.
- 8. Tipperary
- Lt. Rozanov and his crew commandeer the Whittakers’ station wagon, but it runs out of gas. This WWI-era song, “It's a Long Way to Tipperary” by Harry J. Williams and Jack Judge, plays as they are forced to proceed on foot, the lyrics segueing from English to Russian.
- 9. The Airport
- In the first of two cues that make up this track (“Don’t Be Afraid”) Kolchin returns to the Whittaker residence and surprises Allison, offering her a gun to show he is not afraid; she surprises him by not being frightened and then tends to his head wound. Mandel provides quietly suspenseful music with Russian-flavored orchestration. On the album this music crossfades to the next cue heard in the film (“The Airport”), which features a brief statement of Mandel’s Colonel Bogey-style march associated with the townsfolk’s attempts to mount a defense against the perceived threat.
- 3. Hop Along
- Whittaker and Mrs. Foss (Tessie O’Shea), a rather amply proportioned island matron, have been bound, gagged and tied together by the Russians; they hop up and down in an attempt to free themselves. Mandel’s cue begins with comically suggestive strains as the unlikely couple is forced to face each other at close quarters, then segues to dance-like music for their humorous calisthenics. A low-key rendition of the “Volga Boatmen” tune intervenes as the film cuts to a scene aboard the sub. The dance theme then alternates with mock-dramatic episodes as the film cuts back and forth between the captive duo, Russians in hiding, and island residents hot on their trail.
- 6. The Shining Sea (Instrumental)
- This album version of the love theme is similar to music heard in a handful of cues as Kolchin romances Alison near the Whittaker beach house.
- 4. Volga Boat Song
- Having dislodged their sub, the Russians still aboard the vessel sail away; Whittaker drives Rozanov and Kolchin to meet them. This setting of the Russian folk tune plays over scene.
- 5. Escorts Away (The Russians Are Coming)
- The sub commander and the townspeople have reached a stalemate and are about to open fire on each other when a young boy (Johnny Whitaker) slips from his observation perch on a church steeple and hangs precariously; Kolchin and his fellow sailors help rescue the boy to the delight of Americans and Russians alike. Unfortunately the Air Force has been alerted and fighters dispatched to intercept the submarine. Mrs. Whittaker suggests using all of the small boats in the marina to give the sub an escort—Mandel’s march theme is given a full presentation as they do so. This crossfades to the “Meadlowands” melody as the missing Russians approach on a boat they have borrowed and rejoin the sub.
- 10. The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming
- (End Title) The march theme strikes up as the all clear is sounded—the Air Force pilots head back to their base. Mandel’s Russian anthem is sung in celebratory fashion as Rozanov bids goodbye to the Whittakers and the Soviet vessel submerges. “Yankee Doodle” and the “Volga Boatmen” song return over end cast.
- 2. The Shining Sea (Vocal Added)
- Irene Kral sings the vocal version of Mandel’s love theme (not heard in the film). —