So nice they named it twice.
With no ill intentions, a Russian submarine accidentally runs aground on a New England island. Rather than radio in with an embarrassing international blunder, the captain sends nine of his men, two who speak English, ashore to find a way to free the sub. Simply find a motorboat to push the sub free and go on their way. The men, lead by Lt. Rozanov (Alan Arkin) stumble upon a the vacationing Whittaker family.
To give you a feel for the family, imagine Walt and June Cleaver thinking they’re under Russian attack and little Beaver won’t shut up. The loudmouthed son, Pete (Sheldon Collins) spots the men sneaking around the garage and immediately runs his mouth announcing “Two of them got tommyguns. And they’re all talking some foreign language. They could be Russians or something!” Of course no one pays much attention. The father, Walt (Carl Reiner) seems the complaining type and we get the feel that this kid just constantly annoys his parents.
When the Russians come knocking on the door trying to pass themselves off as Norwegians, little motor-mouthed Pete instructs his father, “Ask if they’re Russians.” Well, their cover is blown, so they brandish a gun, make it clear they don’t want to hurt anyone and once they’ve got their information (and station wagon), they leave English speaking Alexei Kolchin (John Phillip Law) to watch the family. But little Pete pushes his father to take Alexei’s gun and Walt rushes to town. The Russians aren’t in town long before everyone is up in arms thinking the Russians are invading.
Like a bad game of telephone, it escalates where the whole town thinks Russians have parachuted in and taken over the airport. The town creates a makeshift militia, led by an oddball veteran with a sword. The barkeep sees the opportunity to make a buck and soon alcohol is fueling the fire. Icing on the cake is watching the town drunk try to wrangle his horse so he can spread the news to the other side of town. He gets the best and final line in the film, which I’m sure you can guess.
The whole satirical situation is hilarious and the characters running around the town are hysterical. They really show how typical ignorant townsfolk would turn the situation into a circus. The thing I found funniest and most likely is that none of the people (except for the Whittaker family have even seen any Russians.
I found the whole film to be just a hoot; a real hardy laugh I could feel good about. The comedy and story transcends generations, the situations are absurd and the whole thing feels zany. Today, it is so rare to find a film that pokes such great satire (like American’s fierce fear of Russians) that doesn’t offend, try too hard or just fall flat. I think present film makers need to look back to this classic and remember how good hearted satire is done.
“All they’re trying to do is borrow a motorboat.”