Moscow on the Hudson (Blu-ray)

July 30, 2018 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Twilight Time recently released Next Stop, Greenwich Village and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice – two very different films by director Paul Mazursky. I enjoyed both films (with a preference for Bob and Carol) and looked through my collection of Twilight Time films and realized I had not seen another film by Paul Mazursky in the collection. Moscow on the Hudson is a comedy with dramatic elements and a central performance by Robin Williams. I sat down to watch it and found my assumptions about what the film would be challenged in smart ways.

The film begins in Moscow (keep in mind this was filmed in 1984 while the iron curtain was in full effect) where people must get in long lines in the freezing cold to receive any types of goods for their households. Beggars can’t be choosers and people grab what they can – including shoes that are too small or too big. Toilet paper is considered one of life’s most precious luxuries. Saxophonist Vladimir Ivanoff (Robin Williams) performs with a well-known Russian circus. His close friend Anatoly, a clown in the circus, plans to defect when their company goes to America. Vladimir tries his best to dissuade his friend while KGB agents constantly monitor their activities. Vladimir lives in a small apartment with his whole family in squalor, but they all laugh and love one another. When the circus goes to America to perform in New York, they are granted one hour to visit Bloomingdales. Ivanoff has one goal – to purchase blue jeans for his girlfriend back in Moscow. While walking around the Bloomingdales, he realizes that he does not want to go back to his previous life and he chooses to defect in the middle of the store. Escaping his KGB handlers, he befriends an African-American security guard named Lionel Witherspoon (Cleavant Derricks) and an Italian immigrant at the perfume counter named Lucia Lombardo (Maria Conchita Alonso.) His friend Anatoly is not so lucky and is forced back into Russia. As the media circus descends upon Ivanoff for defecting in Bloomingdales a Cuban lawyer named Orlando Ramirez (Alejandro Rey) chooses to represent his cause. The FBI watch over Ivanoff to keep him from getting kidnapped by the KGB, while Ivanoff begins to live the American dream and fall in love with Lucia.

Moscow on the Hudson is an excellent comedy. While I would argue that the first half is more entertaining and funnier than the second half (which drags a little), I really enjoyed this film. The central performance by Robin Williams is fantastic. Williams embraced the role and learned Russian to portray the character as accurately as possible. Robin Williams was at his best whenever he played more subtle characters in films like Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society. Mazursky directs Williams towards one of his most complex and nuanced performances. I can’t think of another comedian that could do this role justice without making the film feel like parody. Williams puts so much heart into the character that he feels very real and his problems become very real for the audience.

This is a film that could easily serve as a time capsule for how much our culture’s attitudes have shifted in the last thirty five years. In 1984, at the height of the Reagan era, immigrants were held as heroes for overcoming their adversities and joining our country. There was nothing more inherently American than to come to our country and make a life for yourself. This film is representative of that time in which we were celebrating our differences in order to come together as a country. This is not to say that this was a better time for our country since we were still in a Cold War and people still worried that the Russians would drop the big one. It was a time where the nation seemed more patriotic and there was more love for the country itself than now. In the current climate we are in, a perpetual state of fear induced by the 9/11 attacks, this movie probably would not be produced. That’s a shame, because the way we have handled immigration is one of the fundamental differences historically between the USA and the rest of the world.

Overall, while I think the film has a few hokey moments that age it and the second half is not as wonderful as the first half, I really enjoyed this movie and the sentiment behind it. It is a strong reminder that we need to get back to the moral compass that guided us as a nation a quarter century ago.

Video: How’s it look?

Columbia Pictures have provided a transfer in 1080p in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This transfer looks great. The cinematography by Donald McAlpine fits the time period really well and has some great shots of New York City. The recreation of Russia that they filmed in Munich works well and looks believable. Fine detail is very good and the presence of grain is only noticeable occasionally. Overall, fans should be very pleased with how this film has aged.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Twilight Time have provided a very competent DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track. I never had any trouble understanding anything that was said by the principal characters. This film has an enjoyable score by David McHugh that elevates the proceedings in the film. There are no problems whatsoever to report with the audio on the release.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Commentary with Paul Mazursky – Mazursky was a great storyteller and seems to have good recollections of each of his projects. A really enjoyable track that fans will love.
  • Commentary with Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo – recorded in 2015 while the election for president was still in the air, Nick and Julie do a solid job of discussing the film and the sentiment behind it. Julie has Russian ancestry and Nick immigrated to America from London, so they have some good insights into the film.
  • Isolated Music Track

The Bottom Line

Moscow on the Hudson is a great little film by Paul Mazursky. While the second half has some pacing issues and can’t hold a candle to the first half of the film, I really enjoyed the movie. Robin Williams delivers one of his best performances. For fans of the film, Twilight Time have provided a great looking and sounding transfer and two solid commentary tracks.

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