Blu-ray Review: Moscow On the Hudson - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Viewing Moscow On the Hudson today, 32 years after its 1984 release, it's hard to believe it didn't immediately lead to Robin Williams being taken seriously as a dramatic actor. While the late legend's first Oscar nomination would come a few years later (for Barry Levinson's iconic Good Morning, Vietnam), Williams' could've just as easily been recognized for Moscow. Director Paul Mazursky (1930-2014) draws a nuanced, sweet, funny performance from the man still best-known at the time as Mork from Ork. Williams plays saxophonist and Russian defector Vladimir Ivanov. Revisiting this role more than two years after the unspeakably sad passing of Williams, we're reminded once again of just how easily he could tap into universally-relatable emotions.

Twilight Time has issued Moscow On the Hudson as part of their Limited Edition Series. That means only 3,000 units available, so if you're interested proceed to distributor Screen Archives or to the official Twilight Time website. The high definition, 1080p transfer (of Donald M. McAlpine's warm, earthy cinematography) is clean and sharp. Audio is presented in two lossless options: DTS-HD MA 5.1 or DTS-HD MA 2.0. As is customary for TT releases, the film's score is available as an isolated track. There are two audio commentaries—one "vintage" track (from a previous DVD edition) by Mazursky and one brand new by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. 
moscow on the hudson robin williams.jpg The movie itself survives primarily as a showcase for Williams. As Kirgo and Redman discuss in their engaging commentary, the theme of immigration in the U.S. is as important and timely as ever. Mazursky's approach to the topic is simple yet sincere, focused specifically on the waning days of the pre-perestroika Soviet Union. Williams' jazz-loving Vladimir arrives in the U.S. as part of the Moscow circus' band. His circus clown buddy Anatoly (Elya Baskin) is hellbent on defecting during the U.S. stopover—so much so that KGB operatives accompanying the travelling troupe have tapped Vladimir to spy on his friend. Vlad is himself under surveillance due to the anti-Soviet outbursts of his grandfather. These early scenes in Russia are among the film's most effective, depicting massive lines for basic fundamentals like toilet paper and shoes, each populated by hardworking people who silently crave more freedom. 
rsz_moscowonthehudson_bdbookletcover.png Moscow actually peaks relatively early during the circus' New York City trip, during which it is Vladimir and not Anatoly who seizes the moment and impulsively decides to leave his entire life in Russian behind him. In some ways, by the time Vladimir settles into his new U.S.-based life Mazursky has said all he really needs to say. Vladimir doesn't wind up taking the jazz world by storm (in fact, he feels inferior to the genre's vets he now has the opportunity to jam with). He juggles multiple low-level jobs—driving a limo, selling vitamins, even working at McDonald's. At times it seems as if Williams is on the verge of breaking out into one of his patented improvised riffs but Mazurky wisely keeps him reigned in. One can only imagine what might've been left on the cutting room floor (a scene in which Vladimir sits down at his host family's table for a breakfast of Cocoa Puffs cuts abruptly just as we're expecting Williams to crack wise).

Moscow ultimately carries on for too long, tracking Vladimir's relationship with Lucia (a bubbly, energetic MarĂ­a Conchita Alonso in her debut role) and his gradual assimilation into U.S. culture (one of Vladimir's key moments is when he's finally comfortable enough to tell off someone who thinks his sax practicing is too loud). While Mazursky's overall restraint is commendable, it's too bad he doesn't dig just a bit deeper into Vladimir and Lucia as characters or give them just a little more to do. And the film is a bit manipulative in its rather simpleminded portrayal of America as an ever-welcoming land of immigrants from all over the world. Mazursky somewhat glosses over the real trials and tribulations facing these newly sworn-in citizens. But the film is so well-meaning, well-acted, and generally agreeable that it remains engaging and very much worth watching.


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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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