Moscow on the Hudson (1984)
October 4, 2014 2:19 PM - Subscribe

When a Russian musician defects in Bloomingdale's department store in New York, he finds adjusting to American life more difficult than he imagined.

Vladimir Ivanoff (Robin Williams) walks into a department store to buy blue jeans, walks out with a girlfriend, an immigration lawyer, and a buddy. His life – and theirs – will never be the same again.

The director, Paul Mazursky, was greatly admired by film critic Roger Ebert:
"Moscow on the Hudson is the kind of movie that Paul Mazursky does especially well. It's a comedy that finds most of its laughs in the close observations of human behavior, and that finds its story in a contemporary subject Mazursky has some thoughts about. In that, it's like his earlier films An Unmarried Woman (women's liberation), Harry and Tonto (growing old), Blume in Love (marriage in the age of doing your own thing), and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (encounter groups). It is also a rarity, a patriotic film that has a liberal, rather than a conservative, heart. It made me feel good to be an American, and good that Vladimir Ivanoff was going to be one, too."
Ebert gave the film four stars, his top rating, and notes the racial diversity of the film, which includes Cleavant Derricks and Maria Conchita Alonso. The themes of nationality and what it means to be "American" are reinforced by a diverse cast of supporting characters.

Vincent Canby of The New York Times was less impressed by the film, and felt the subject matter was never properly explored. However, he was impressed with the cast, calling their performances "first-rate", and particularly Robin Williams':
"Mr. Mazursky's fictional conceits do not do justice to Vladimir or to his situation, either in the Soviet Union or this country. In spite of Mr. Williams's extraordinarily complex performance – his Russian sounds amazingly, comically authentic – the introductory scenes in Moscow recall the kind of consumer-oriented jokes that Hollywood was cranking out in the post-'Ninotchka' 1940's in a movie like 'Comrade X.' Even the film's Manhattan, with the exception of Bloomingdale's, is not explored with much sense of surprise or humor."
From IMDb's Triva section:
  • "In preparation for his role, for about a year, lead actor Robin Williams studied Soviet customs and learned the Russian language. Reportedly, Williams spent five hours a day learning Russian and had learned to speak it well within a month. By the time of principal photography, Williams was at a proficiency level where he could carry out a conversation. William's teacher was a Russian actor called David." (imdb)
  • "Appearing in this film was Russian actor Saveliy Kramarov who was a real life defector from the USSR. Kramarov had appeared in over 40 Russian films and was given permission to immigrate to the USA in the early 1980s. Kramarov gave up his Russian film career for small parts and religious freedom in the United States. This was Kramarov's first American movie and ironically he played a KGB agent." (imdb)
  • "The music instrument that Vladimir Ivanoff (Robin Williams) played was a saxophone. Robin Williams spent months learning to play the sax and apparently according to his music tutor, got to a level of accomplishment that would normally take a student two years." (imdb)
  • "In one scene, a cinema is showing An Unmarried Woman, directed by Paul Mazursky, the director of Moscow on the Hudson." (imdb)
  • "Second of four writing collaborations of Leon Capetanos and Paul Mazursky. The pictures are Tempest (1982), Moon Over Parador (1988), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)." (imdb)
  • "One of the film's main movie posters which was an aerial view of New York City [seen here] was the subject of a successful civil lawsuit from artist Saul Steinberg. Steinberg sued alleging that the movie poster infringed the copyright of his renown 1976 ink, pencil, colored pencil, and watercolor on paper "View of the World from Ninth Avenue" illustrative cover of the 29/03/1976 edition of 'The New Yorker' magazine [See Case: Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 663 F. Supp. 706 (S.D.N.Y. 1987)]." (imdb); more background at Wikipedia.
Director: Paul Mazursky
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (3 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have to say this is one of those films that I liked a lot on first viewing, but rewatching it a few years later it looked trite and overly sentimental. Williams's performance carries the film in many ways -- not to slag the supporting cast -- although certainly it was an anomaly among films depicting Russians and even immigrants, up to the present day, which is perhaps worth something.
posted by dhartung at 4:23 PM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Compare and contrast with White Nights.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:33 AM on October 5, 2014

I watched this recently after not seeing it ever and MAN it is not very good.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:54 AM on November 3, 2014

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