Thanks for inviting me to watch The Russians Are Coming. It was very funny and also made me think. I did enjoy it a lot.” –Alma (Michael’s KMU student in 2007)
Story: A comedy from the tense days of The Cold War, this film shows us the effects of national pride and international fear, as well as what universal compassion can do to help us overcome our differences. In the 1960s, panic spreads when a Russian submarine gets stuck near a small US island. Will this accident start a war? This movie will make you laugh AND think! (1966, starring Alan Arkin, Brian Keith, Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters; a Norman Jewison MGM production; comedy; 2:05 hours)
(For story details, read the synopsis at the end of this file.)
Setting: mid 1960s; Gloucester Island (Massachusetts); a small American island
Note 1: From the end of World War 2 until the early 1990s, the USA and the Soviet Union (Russia) were in what was called “The Cold War“—a tense time when both sides were afraid that the other would start World War 3, and “end life as we know it” due to nuclear weapons through “Mutually Assured Destruction” (appropriately nicknamed MAD). This movie was made during that time, and perhaps played a part in helping people get over their irrational fear of people they had never met.
Note 2: To stress that they were not Americans, the filmmakers show the Russians speaking non-standard English. The fact that native speakers have no trouble understanding them should help you see that English-learners can make many mistakes and still communicate! (See “non-standard English” below)
People and proper nouns:
- (Dad) Walt Whittaker: the main character, a NY writer on a “working vacation” with his family. His obnoxious son is Pete (age 9), and daughter is Annie (age 4). Walt writes musical plays, and he is anxious because he is up against a deadline.
- (Mom) Elspeth Whittaker: (Walt’s wife)
- Alison: the Whittaker’s babysitter (around 18 years old)
- Lieutenant (i.e., Lt) Rozanov: Russian officer in charge of the shore patrol
- Alexei Kolchin: young Russian sailor, told to watch/guard the Whittaker family
- (Chief) Chief Link Mattocks: the head of the island’s 4-man police force
- (Operator) Alice Foss: the island’s phone operator (in those days, people couldn’t dial each other’s numbers directly—they had to ask Alice to “connect” them; thus Alice is sort of the “information center” of the island)
- Fendall Hawkins: an elderly man and former soldier, who thinks of himself as the “civilian leader” in this crisis (though he really has no “authority” to do anything).
- Luther Grilk: the town “drunk,” who spends most of the show trying to catch his horse Beatrice
- Peeping Tom: a man who looks through a woman’s window, especially while she is getting dressed (this goes back to an interesting story, that took place in Coventry, England, in the 11th century—click here for more info: http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/LadyGodiva.htm or http://ask.yahoo.com/20040713.html)
- Labor Day: a one-day holiday, the first weekend in September, which unofficially means that summer is over; note that Americans celebrate Labor Day on a different day than the Chinese/Russians.]
- The Cold War: see Note 1
Vocabulary:(underlined words are vocabulary terms; *key terms)
- aground: when a ship gets stuck in water that is not deep (“The sub went aground on a sandbar.”)
- ammunition: bullets or other things that can be fired from a gun; information that can help you win an argument (“You’re wasting ammunition. Cease fire!”)
- *animosity=hatred (usually it is not countable, but the Russian added “-ies”)
- *arrested (he is under arrest): refers to someone the police think has done something wrong (i.e., a crime); if a court agrees, then this person is “convicted” of the crime and then punished
- *capture: to catch an animal or person who doesn’t want to be caught
- “clear out”: “to leave in haste”; used to forcefully tell sb to go away quickly (such as before a typhoon arrives)
- convoy: a group of ships or trucks that travel together for protection
- creepin’: (i.e., creeping—an apostrophe is often used to show that the final “g” is missing from a spoken word) moving in a quiet way so that others won’t notice you
- *damp=wet; a wet feeling, especially caused by humidity near the ocean
- danged/darned: alternatives to the cuss word “damned”, which are considered less rude (“This whole danged island is under attack by Russians.”) [Note: Yes, there are still many Americans who never use cuss words like “damn, hell, shut up, bitch, nigger, Jesus, or God” and the “even more offensive” terms like O*M*G**, sh** and fu**…, even though you hear them all the time in American movies.]
- *delinquent: a young person who breaks the law or does socially unacceptable things (After Pete complains that his dad didn’t shoot Alexei, Dad says to Mom: “What are we raising? Some kind of delinquent?”)
- deputy: a police officer, under the head (chief or sheriff) of a police force
- *to disguise: wearing something [called “a disguise”] that changes the way you look, to hide who you are, how you feel, etc.
- *diversion=distraction; a military action that takes the enemy’s attention away from a more crucial part of the battle (“You could create a diversion to get people away from the harbor.”)
- *escort: to go with someone, esp. to protect them (Mom: “We could give them an escort. Use all the small boats to make a convoy.”)
- *firearms: hand-held guns of all sizes
- flatfoot: an informal (and often insulting) nickname for a police officer
- to flee: to run away
- *“my foot”: “that’s nonsense”; an expression used to show that you don’t believe what someone just said (“Suppose they’ve really landed? ‘Suppose’ my foot! There aren’t any Russians here!”)
- *“to foul up” (a foul-up; to fu** up): to do something wrong, especially by making mistakes, or the situation caused by such mistakes (“Your foul-up is going to foul up the whole detail!”)
- *hostages: innocent people held by an enemy, in the hope that the other side will pay money or do something else to get these innocent people set free
- military: the branch of government responsible for defending one’s country or international interests; in the US, this is broken into five parts: army (ground forces), navy (sea forces), air force (planes), marines (special ground forces who come by sea), coast guard (responsible for ports and the US coastline)
- *nuts: (a negative term) people who seem to be acting crazy (like sports fanatics who paint their faces and hair in the team colors)
- obnoxious: very annoying, offensive or rude
- *to open fire: to start shooting guns or other weapons
- *panic/to panic (panicked): a situation caused by fear and/or the lack of accurate information (They panicked when they heard rumors about the Russians, which caused a panic in the community.)
- *parachutists: people who jump from an airplane and then open a cloth-like umbrella that lets them float safely to the ground
- periscope: a long tube that uses mirrors to allow you to look over something while staying safely behind or below it (esp. used on submarines)
- playwright: someone who writes plays
- police constabulary: a formal term for the police (law-enforcement personnel) in an area
- postmaster/postmistress: the city official who is in charge of the post office
- *prison: jail; place where the police keep someone who breaks a law
- *pyramid: a structure with triangle sides, or people who are on each others’ shoulders like a triangle or pyramid (e.g.: In ancient Egypt, kings were buried under pyramids.)
- *rumors: things people say based on what someone else said, not necessarily based on the truth (流言; 谣言)
- sandbar: a temporary, often-submerged (underwater) mound of sand near the coast
- steeple: a pointed tower, especially above a church (which often offers a good view of the area below)
- submarine: a navy ship that travels under water
- *to supersede: to replace something with sth that has more authority, is more modern, etc. (Chief: “Unless you’ve got a federal warrant that supersedes the laws of the Commonwealth [this state], you can keep your big fat mouth shut, or I’ll throw you in the can [jail] for disorderly conduct!”)
- sword: (剑): a long, sharp knife-like weapon; since a losing general used to give his sword to the winning general to “admit defeat”, a sword is also a symbol of leadership. (Citizen: “We need a leader. You do it Fendall! You’ve got the sword.”)
- tortured: to be hurt on purpose, usually so that you will give information you don’t want to give
- *traitor: someone who acts in a disloyal way, especially if disloyal to his government or other leaders (which is called treason)
- treason: see “traitor” (to insult the police officer, Fendall calls him “you traitorous fink!”)
- *witnesses: someone who sees an event and can truthfully tell others details about it
Non-standard English sentences:(examples from this film)
- First, is necessary to make borrowings of automobile. (i.e.: First, we need to borrow your car.)
- All are most sinceriously terrified of what will happen now. (i.e.: Everyone is seriously terrified of what will happen now/next.)
- Also see dialogs #4 & 5 below
The progression of the rumors that leads to panic:
- Postmistress (Muriel): “The Russians have landed and I’m being attacked.”
- Operator: “They were probably parachutists.”
- Neighbor: “Parachutists have captured the airport.”
- Man: “They said Muriel was dead.”
- Man: “It’s not just parachutists, the Russian navy has landed, too.”
Sentences/dialogs from the movie:(some are from IMBD: http://www.imdb.com) Blue type shows “key” dialogs. (When presenting these dialogs in class, I let a student act as “narrator”, reading things in brackets.)
Dialogs, part 1 (ends at 42:02 after a man says “They captured the airport”)
- 1. [first lines; in Russian with no English subtitles]
- [Rozanov arrives on the bridge of the Russian submarine after learning from the chart man how close they are to the USA coast]
- Lieutenant Rozanov: [in Russian] What is it Captain? What are you doing? [turning to a chart man] Show me our position.
- [the chart man shows Rozanov how close they are to an island]
- Lt Rozanov: What? WHAT? Tovarich Captain…
- Russian Captain: Take it easy.
- Lt Rozanov: Permit me, Captain. Look at our position.
- Russian Captain: I don’t need your advice.
- Lt Rozanov: But this is dangerous! The chart is old! We do not know these waters.
- Russian sailor: Comrade Captain, our depth is at 28 fathoms.
- Lieutenant Rozanov: Tovarich Captain…
- Russian Captain: Rozanov, shut up! You are a fool!
- Lt Rozanov: What? But we’re at twenty-eight!
- Russian Captain: Leave the tower or I’ll place you under arrest!
- Russian sailor: 23 fathoms.
- Lt Rozanov: Don’t you hear it?
- Russian Captain: Rozanov, I gave you an order!
- [after a pause as the beeping of the sonar grows more intense]
- Russian sailor: Sixteen fathoms!
- Lt Rozanov: [to the sailors] Surface! Stop engines!
- Russian Captain: How dare you!
- Russian sailor: Twelve fathoms!
- Russian Captain: Down periscope! Full speed astern!
- Russian sailor: [in Russian; looking as the sonar] Eight… seven… six… five…
- [the submarine shutters violently as it runs aground]
- 2. [after their submarine runs aground]
- Russian Captain: [in Russian] Devil take it! What a mess! What a mess.
- 3. Brodsky: [in Russian; without subtitles; they are now in the Whittaker garage] Hey, look here. Wheat! American wheat!
- Hrushevsky: [picks up a handfull and sniffs it; in Russian] That’s not wheat you idiot! It’s fertilizer.
- Brodsky: [in Russian; subtitled] Fertilizer? You mean manure? Cow…
- Hrushevsky: Da!
- 4. Pete Whittaker: Dad! There are men outside! …I counted them. There are nine of ’em!
- Dad (Walt Whittaker): Oh, come on, Pete.
- Pete: Two of them got tommy-guns [dangerous automatic weapons]. And they’re all talking some foreign language. They could be Russians or something!
- Mom (Elspeth Whittaker): Pete, will you sit down and eat your breakfast, please?
- Pete: You don’t even believe me!
- [There is a knock at the door; Walt and Elspeth look surprised and concerned.]
- Pete: [sarcastically] You always know everything.
- Dad: I’ll get it.
- Lt Rozanov: [thick Russian accent] Ah, good morning sir. A pleasant good morning to you….
- Alexei Kolchin: We are two strangers in this island, and we wish to speak with you about boats.
- Dad: I don’t understand. I mean, who are you? I didn’t hear a car…
- Rozanov: Please not to be afraid. We are nobody. We wish only to inquire where to find motor-powerboat for private use for some brief little time, you understand?
- Dad: Well… there are all kinds of boats in town; in the harbor.
- Pete: [interrupting] Ask them if they’re Russians!
- Dad: Peter, be quiet.
- Lt Rozanov: [thick Russian accent] Very clever little boy. Very, very clever, to see that my friend and I are foreigners here, but of course not Russian, naturally. What would the Russians be doing on United States of America island, with so many animosities and hatreds between these two countries? It is too funny an idea, is it not? No, we… we are of course… Norweigans.
- Dad: Norweigans?
- Lt Rozanov: [nods] On a small training exercise for the Nyaato countries…
- Alexei Kolchin: NATO!
- Lt Rozanov: NATO countries, of course, yes. Ah, to reach place of power motorboats it is necessary to make borrowings of automobile, for a short time only, sir.
- Dad: Uh… uh… may, may I ask you something, please?
- Lt Rozanov: Yes, of course.
- Dad: Are, are there nine of you out there, and are you all Russians with machine guns, and does one of you look like Uncle Ha… I meant, look like a wrestler?
- Lt Rozanov: [unhappy because he couldn’t avoid trouble] Ugh… I am sorry to, uh, comply with your statement, but misfortunately, all of the answers to these questions are… yes. [then he draws a gun]
- 5. [Walt and Elspeth have answered some questions—see the synopsis—and given Rozanov the car keys; young Pete is upset about his parents’ cooperation with “the enemy”]
- Pete: [to his father] Don’t tell them anything! He hasn’t even tortured you yet!
- Mom: [nervously] Ah, no one is going to get tortured…
- [A large Russian comes in with another gun.]
- Lt Rozanov: It is necessary for you to remain in this house, I hope most vigorously, for short time only.
- Dad: Well, we’re not going anywhere but…
- Lt Rozanov: Good! Please to remain absolutely good behaved so that this man, a marksman of prize winning caliber, will not have the necessity of shooting you to small pieces!
- Lt Rozanov: [in Russian to Kolchin] Watch them. And especially watch that little troublemaker.
- 6. [Pete accuses his father of collaborating with the enemy]
- Pete: You told them everything they wanted to know, just like Arnold Benedict!
- Dad: That’s Benedict Arnold [an infamous Revolutionary War traitor], not Arnold… What are you saying, Pete? Are you saying you think your father is a traitor?
- Pete: Yes I am! I bet I’m the only kid in the fourth grade whose father IS a famous trader.
- Mom: That’s “trai-tor“… Just stop it, Pete! You’re being silly!
- [Soon after this, Allison arrives; there is a fight, Dad gets the gun, and Alexei runs away. See synopsis.]
- 7. [The Russians have walked into “West Village”. Muriel—who doesn’t see clearly—hears a noise and goes outside to investigate something strange.]
- Muriel Everett: It’s those high school kids… [Outside, she sees the Russians and then runs into her house to call Alice and the Police department] Russians! Russians!
- Lt Rozanov: [in Russian; not subtitled] Brodsky, go shut her up… but gently!
- Muriel: [talking to the operator] Is that Alice Foss? Call Chief Mattocks. The Russians have landed! They’re here. Do you hear? The Russians, in West Village. And I’m being attacked! [Then the Russians cut the phone lines and tie Muriel up.]
- 8. Operator (Alice Foss; calling the Police Chief—who is asleep): I’m sorry to bother you, Chief Mattocks, but I just had a call from Muriel Everett.
- Chief (Police Chief Link Mattocks): What is it? What’s she want?
- Operator: She was shouting that I should call you, because–according to her–well, Muriel said the Russians have landed!
- Chief: Want to give me that again, Alice? [But it sounds like: “Wanna gimme that again?”]
- Operator: Muriel said the Russians have landed, whatever that means, Chief. And she said they were attacking her personally!
- Chief: Remember last time, when she called about that Peeping Tom – you know who that was, don’t you? It was Luther Grilk’s horse! You handle it; just go ahead and call her.
- [Moments later, she calls back, telling the Chief that all the circuits are dead; there’s no way to call West Village. She wants to call the State Police or Coast Guard.]
- Chief: No, Alice. Let’s find out what’s going on first…before we start spreading around a lot of alarms.
- [But Alice makes some calls, and the rumors start to fly! See synopsis.]
- 9. Deputy’s wife [after her husband says that she should “clear out” if there is trouble]: “Clear out where? The ferry isn’t even running. This is Sunday!” (i.e., “Where should we go? The boat off the island is not running because this is Sunday”!)
- 10. [Three deputy police officers meet at the police station. They see citizens running by the window, with guns, so they know they have to do something to get the situation under control.]
- Chief: [sarcastically] Great. That’s just great. And I thought all the nuts went home on Labor Day. [That is, “I thought that all of the crazy people were tourists, who spend part of the summer here and then go home once the end-of-summer holiday comes; but these “nuts” live here all year!]
Discussion, part 1
- With your partner, talk about the use of non-standard English in this film. How much of the Russian-English could you understand? What does your English level say to others? Then fix some of the non-standard English in the Russians’ dialogs.
- How did you feel about the boy “Pete”? In what ways was he a “good son” and in what ways wasn’t he? Why did he act this way?
- Talk about “how nervous” each of the following people was (at the beginning, in the house): Alexei, Dad, Mom, Pete, Annie. Who was most/least nervous, and why?
- Why didn’t the Chief want to believe what the Operator told him about the Postmistress? Talk about ways that someone’s past actions affect their future.
Dialogs, part 2 (ends at 1:21:57, as they “hop” facing each other)
- 11. [As the Chief and “armed citizens” drive to the airport, Officer Norman Jones is supposed to organize the people at the harbor. He sends some to get more guns, while others try to get into the nearby bar—which is supposed to be closed in this town on Sundays. They eventually convince the owner to open the bar, and sell drinks.]
- Bartender: All right! All right! But only on one condition! Everybody pays cash! [In small towns, many bars allow regular customers to have a “tab” or credit, but if war is coming, this man wants money not promises!]
- Man: Come on Norman, they’re opening up the bar!
- Officer Norman Jones: [to himself] We’ve just got to get organized! We have… GOT… to get organized!
- 12. [Dad (Walt) finally bikes into town, but no one will listen to him. As he leaves, the Russians capture him.]
- Lt Rozanov: Has Coastal Guardians or Navy of United States been told that we are here, yes or no?
- Dad: I don’t think so. But some men in the bar were speaking about telephoning the President.
- Lt Rozanov: What is communication with mainland?
- Dad: The telephone office is right upstairs. Tell me, are there Russian parachutists on the island? Everybody on the island is saying…
- Lt Rozanov: Everybody on the island is crazy!
- Dad: Look, can I give you some advice? You’ll never make it down to the harbor. Why don’t you all give yourselves up? Either you’ll kill somebody, or you’ll get killed. Either way – you could start a war!
- Lt Rozanov: What is your name?
- Dad: Whittaker. Walt…
- Lt Rozanov: Pay mark [attention] to this, Whittaker Walt. We must have boat. Even now may be too late. This is your island, I make it your responsibility; you help us get boat quickly, otherwise there is World War III, and everybody is blaming YOU!
- 13. [Since the Russians won’t give themselves up, Walt suggests that they “create a diversion” by sending some men out of town, where they’ll fire the guns in the air to get the citizens to desert the harbor, which will allow them to borrow a motor boat.]
- Lt Rozanov: [sarcastically] It’s great idea. I send my men fifty paces and BLOOEY! I congratulate you on extreme genius of this plan. Ptooey!
- Dad: Not if you all disguised yourselves… like with those clothes downstairs at the cleaners….
- Operator: [shocked] Mr. Whittaker, are you on their side?
- Dad: Of course I’m not! I just think it would be a whole lot pleasanter [more pleasant] if a lot of people didn’t get killed. They’re pretty desperate. All they’re trying to do is borrow a motorboat.
- 14. Russian sailors: [As they walk through the town in disguise] Emergency! Everybody to get from street!
Discussion, part 2
- As they passed a church, Russian sailors mentioned two music composers: Handel and Tchaikovsky. Why? What “point” do you think the film-writers were trying to make?
- When Walt told the deputy police officer “the truth” about the Russians (who were trying to borrow a boat to get off a sand bar), why didn’t anyone listen to him?
- Talk about the progression of how the mis-information started to spread. Then tell us about a time you believed a rumor that proved later to be false (or vice versa).
Dialogs, part 3
- 15. Alexei Kolchin: [talking to Allison as they walk down the beach] In Union of Soviet, when I am only young boy, many are saying, Americanski are bad people, they will attack Russia. So all mistrust American. But I think that I do not mistrust American… not really sinceriously. I wish not to hate… anybody! [He throws a stone into the sea] This make good reason [good sense] to you, Alison Palmer?
- Alison Palmer: Well, of course it does. It doesn’t make sense to hate people. It’s such a waste of time….
- Alexei: If I am to be imprisoned [since something has gone wrong, and the others have left me alone here], could you perhaps come and see me there?
- 16. [Walt, Elspeth and Pete drive back to their house, fearing that Alexei will use their daughter as a hostage. Rozanov gets there just before they do; as he tries to get away, Walt screams at him…]
- Dad: Where’s my daughter! Stop or I’ll fire! I warn you, stop or I’ll kill you! [then he shoots out the front window of the car Rozanov is driving; after a moment he calms down and then goes over to the car.]
- Lt Rozanov: [dazed, but still alive] Always I am saying goodbye to you, and always I am meeting you again. [he hands his gun to Walt]
- Pete: You’d better surrender, ’cause my dad has all the guns! So you’d just better surrender…
- Dad: Pete. Be quiet!
- Dad: Are you hurt?
- Lt Rozanov: I’m wounded in dignity only. Please, I know everybody on this island is complete[ly] and total[ly] crazy. But you, Whittaker Walt? You are crazy too? I came back here only to get Kolchin.
- Dad: We saw the strange car… We thought something happened to Annie, our daughter. [stammering] I’m sorry, I… I wasn’t trying to… Well, I… I was trying to kill you, I’ll admit that, but it wasn’t… I mean, it wasn’t anything personal.
- Lt Rozanov: Hmm… don’t do it no more.
- Dad: I promise, I won’t. That’s the last time I’ll shoot anybody.
- Lt Rozanov: Peace. [and they shake hands]
- 17. [By now, everyone knows that there really are some Russians on the island. They have stolen a boat and gotten out of town. (But most citizens still don’t know about the sandbar or other “truths” behind the situation.)]
- Fendall Hawkins: Listen, Mattocks, I’m warning you. This whole operation has been a foul-up. And it’s your fault! …You big incompetent flatfoot. I’m holding you responsible! [draws sword] As commander of the civilian forces, in this emergency! I’m charging you with treason!
- Chief: [very angry] Give me that thing! [he grabs Fendall’s sword and breaks it in half]
- Fendall: [half tearful, half enraged] That’s a Dexter F. Meadows Memorial Sword.
- Chief: Yeah.
- Fendall: [enraged] You traitorous fink! [he goes for Mattocks, resulting in a brawl]
- Officer Norman Jones: For God’s sake, why is it we can’t learn to live together?
- 18. [The submarine is now in the harbor, and the Captain is angry when he learns that some of his men are missing. This dialog does not have subtitles.]
- Russian Captain: [in Russian] Comrade, won’t you come aboard? Where is everybody?
- Lt Rozanov: [in Russian] Tovarich Captain, didn’t Lysenko reach you?
- Russian Captain: [in Russian] Lysenko? No. Why do you think I’m here, huh?
- Lt Rozanov: Tovarich Captain…
- Russian Captain: [in Russian] Comrade Lieutenant Rozanov, immediately deliver all the shore party aboard.
- Lt Rozanov: [in Russian] They’re not here!
- Russian Captain: [in Russian] Rozanov, the Americans are lying to you. Don’t believe them. They are holding my sailors prisoners.
- Lt Rozanov: Tovarish Captain…
- Russian Captain: [in Russian] Comrade Lieutenant Rozanov, I’m giving an order to deliver all my men aboard. Otherwise, I will straighten out this island in such a manner that nobody will be able to find it! I will blow it up, do you hear me? I will obliterate it from the face of the Earth! I’m giving you three minutes!
- 19. [The submarine’s big gun is pointing at the town; the police chief is bravely trying to restore order with reason instead of violence.]
- Chief: Tell the Captain he’s under arrest.
- Lt Rozanov: But I…
- Chief: Tell the Captain he’s under arrest!
- Lt Rozanov: [in Russian] The policeman says you are under arrest.
- Russian Captain: [laughs loudly; in Russian]
- Chief: Norman, get the women and kids out of here.
- [The Russian Captain speaks in Russian to Rozanov, saying to tell the officer that he is going to blow this town to pieces!]
- Chief: [to Rozanov] What did he say?
- Lt Rozanov: [in English] Well, he’s angry, yes. He says, “you stupid idiot,” he will blow up the town.
- Fendall [to himself]: I’m going over to Ed Spooner’s place. I’ll radio the Air Command!
- Chief: [taking out his note pad] All right, let’s have your name and address.
- Lt Rozanov: [translating in Russian] He wants our address.
- Russian Captain: [to the Russian sailors; in Russian] Point your gun… take aim right between his eyes!
- Chief: Tell him this, and get it straight. You are all under arrest. You come in here, scaring people half to death. You steal cars and motorboats. You cause damage to private property. Then you threaten the whole community with grievous bodily harm and maybe murder. Now, we ain’t gonna take no more of that. See? We may be scared. (I am, anyway.) But maybe we ain’t so scared as you think we are. Now, you say you’re gonna blow up the town? Well, I say, all right; you start shootin’ and see what happens.
- [Scores of Americans have their guns pointed at the Russians, while Russian guns are aimed at the Americans.]
- 20. Luther Grilk: [as he gallops through the slums] The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!
- Footnotes: *”gonna” is the spoken form of “going to”; English learners should never write “gonna.” The chief is also using poor grammar here, probably to show his anger. Correct: “We aren’t going to take any more of that.” Shootin’ is an abbreviation for “shooting”—an apostrophe is often used to show that the final “g” is missing from a spoken word.
Discussion: part three
- At one point, the American citizens started fighting each other (and the police chief broke Fendall’s sword). Why did this fight start, and why do you think it is in the movie?
- When there was a standoff beside the submarine, one accidental push of a gun trigger could have started World War 3! Tell your partner what could have been done to prevent this standoff.
- Tell your partner what you think “bravery” is. What is the difference between being “brave” and being “foolish”? Tell each other about examples of bravery in the movie.
- Who was your favorite character, and why? [Dad, Mom, Pete, Rozanov, Alexei, Allison, Operator, Chief, Fendall, the Russian Captain (or pick someone else!).]
- Look at the introduction to this study guide. How does “this film show us the effects of national pride and international fear, as well as what universal compassion can do to help us overcome our differences”?
Synopsis:(edited from work by “KrystelClaire” et al at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060921/synopsis?ref_=tt_stry_pl (visited 2/9/2013))
At the end of a summer during the Cold War (1960s), a Russian submarine draws too close to the New England coast because its captain wants to take a look at America through his periscope. The ship then gets stuck on a sandbar near an island off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Rather than use the radio to get help, and risk an embarrassing international incident, the captain sends a nine-man landing party (headed by his second-in-command Lieutenant Rozanov) to find/borrow a “power motor boat” big enough to help free the sub from the sandbar. The men arrive at the house of Walt Whittaker, a vacationing playwright, just as the family is packing to return to New York City.
Walt’s troublesome son first sees the group (all wearing black clothing), and imaginatively concludes that they are Russians, but no one believes him until they knock on the door, saying that they are Norwegians. When Walt refuses to assist them, Rozanov draws a gun and promises no harm if the family provides information about military on the island (none) and police force (small), and gives them keys to their car. Walt and Elspeth provide the answers and the keys, and the Russians depart, leaving behind a young sailor, Alexei Kolchin, to guard the Whittakers and (later) Alison Palmer, their attractive 18-year-old babysitter.
The Whittakers’ car quickly runs out of gasoline on a rural coastal road, forcing the Russians to walk. They make it to another group of houses where they steal another car from Muriel Everett, the elderly postmistress. Just as the Russians cut the phone lines, Muriel calls Alice Foss, the gossipy telephone switchboard operator, and before long, wild rumors about an attack by the Russians throw the entire island into confusion. “Maybe they were parachutists” becomes “They’ve captured the airport”, and then “Muriel is dead” and “This whole danged island is under attack by Russians.”
A former soldier (Fendall Hawkins) stirs up the local citizens to get together and fight back, while the level-headed Police Chief Link Mattocks and his bumbling assistant Norman Jonas (played by a comic actor) try to find out the truth behind the rumors and keep the citizens from hurting each other.
Meanwhile, Walt (prodded by his son calling him a traitor) manages to overpower Kolchin, who flees. Walt bikes into town to find help, and later Elspeth and Pete also leave the house; then Kolchin returns, and gets to know Alison and Annie (not as hostages, as Walt will later assume).
Part of the fun in this story comes from switching back and forth between all the confused people: the police, the angry citizens, Walt and his family, the Russians on land, and the Russians on the boat, and a drunk man who is trying to get on his horse so he can “warn the citizens” like Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere.
Many things seem to happen at once. Walt is re-captured by the Russians (and tries to help them so that no one gets hurt). The Russians borrow clothes from a laundry in town, and steal a boat. Other Russians capture Mrs. Foss and disable the island’s telephone switchboard. And Kolchin starts to fall in love with Alison.
Walt manages to free himself, and he and Elspeth return to the house and almost shoot Rozanov, who arrives there just after they do (to get Kolchin). After they talk, the Whittakers, Rozanov and Kolchin decide to head into town together to clear up the misunderstandings.
When the tide rises enough the submarine frees itself, and the Russian captain sets out in search of his missing men. He finds Rozanov and Kolchin in the harbor and threatens to blow up the town unless the other seven are returned to him. This leads to the tense climax of the film. The Russian captain and his weapons are aimed at Chief Mattocks, with the town’s armed citizens pointing their rifles and pistols at the Russians. A single nervous finger could start World War 3!
(If you don’t want to know the end of the story before watching, stop reading here!)
As tension mounts, a small boy falls from his lookout on the church steeple and hangs dangerously from the side of the building. Forgetting their differences, islanders and Russians unite to form a human pyramid and rescue the child.
With peace and harmony established, the submarine heads out of the harbor with a convoy of villagers in small boats protecting it. The stolen boat with the seven missing Russians reaches the submarine shortly thereafter, and is returned to the Americans just before two U.S. Air Force jets arrive. They break off after seeing the convoy, and the submarine is free to sail away—giving us a happy ending!
Note to teachers: To give time for discussion, I use three full class days (6 hours). Day one: preview the vocabulary, show the trailer and up to where Annie comes down the stairs (before he apologizes); read the synopsis (without the spoiler) to the class (I let two students alternate, while the text is on the screen); then assign dialogs to groups, letting the first group “perform” before class ends. Day two: vocabulary quiz (half-page); the rest of the groups perform dialogs, and show to the place where Alice Grilk crashes. If there is time left, add one or two discussion questions. This will leave a bit less than an hour for the last day, so you have time for several discussion questions.
Partial answer to discussion #6: when Walt took away Alexei’s gun (though his wife thought this was foolish, not brave); when the men went through town to create a diversion; Alexei’s decision to go back to the house; when the chief stood up to the captain; when Alexei climbed out on the gutter on the steeple; the escort)
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