Moscow on the Hudson is a sweet movie written and directed by Paul Mazursky, a light comedy about Vladimir Ivanoff (Robin Williams), a saxophone player for the Moscow Circus. The Circus goes to New York City, and one of the other musicians is planning to defect to the US while they are there. But in the end, it’s Ivanoff who defects instead, in Bloomingdale’s Department Store, causing a media sensation.
Ivanoff assimilates to the American way of life in his work and relationships, with plenty of humour along the way. Williams does a comical turn, but there was always a lot of warmth to his performances, even in the bad films he appeared in. It was one of his first films to go beyond his zany TV personality to show a serious side, paving the way for later roles like his work in Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King. It’s nice to see Williams in an early role that has a bit of depth and showcases his talents, it was only his 4th leading role in a film.
The film came about Mazursky’s grandfather had been a Ukrainian immigrant who came to the US via Russia, and he envisioned it as a kind of tribute to him and his experiences. He researched for the film by talking to local Russian immigrants and travelled to Russia for the first time himself to come up with ideas that formed the basis of the script. Williams picked up the saxophone for the film, and even did a crash course in Russian so he could deliver some of the dialogue convincingly.
Unfortunately, the film feels a little unfinished, but it’s an enjoyable watch. It helps that it’s centred around a strong performance from Williams.
The disc includes an audio commentary from Mazursky, as well as an extended interview with the director and Williams at the National Film Theatre, a collection of publicity photos, and the original trailers. The limited edition comes with a booklet that features a new essay on the film from Monica Castillo, a contemporary article about making the film, Mazurksy’s own notes about his Russian research for the film, contemporary critical writings.