RUSSIA HOUSE (MGM ,1990) spy thriller. 123 minutes. Color. Rated R Released by Twilight Time $29.95 http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/russia-house-the-blu-ray/
MGM was undergoing another one of the spasms of change that it had been experiencing ever since Kirk Kerkorian got his hands on it in 1969. After losing its distribution arm, they had been releasing their films through United Artists. Ironically had also gotten involved with producing U.A. ‘s successful James Bond franchises The Bond films made money but not enough to keep both studios out of the red, so a variety of different people bought, stripped pieces away for resale, and then sold the studios once again. By 1990, Pathe and Giancarlo Parretti defaulted on loans, and French Bank Credit Lyonnais, to whom the studio had the biggest debt, took over. The studio produced only ONE films that year, THE russia house(MGM was only involved with video distribution of MISERY, which was a Castle Rock/Columbia Production).
RUSSIA HOUSE was a film that harkened back to the intelligent spy thrillers that were made in the wake of the action packed James Bond films in the 1960s. Films like THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (1965, Paramount) and THE IPCRESS FILE (1965, Rank/Universal) showed that spying was unglamorous and often deadly.
Based upon one of John LeCarre’s novels, THE RUSSIA HOUSE (Hodder & Stoughton, Uk, June 1, 1989), the film began production shortly after the book was published, being only the second American film to be filmed in the Soviet Union before its dissolution in 1991 (the first was RED HEAT (Tri-Star,1988).). Locations included Moscow, Leningrad, Lisbon, Portugal Vancouver, British Columbia and London.
(the director and two of his stars )
Bond superstar Sean Connery plays Bartholomew “Barley” Scott-Blair (Connery, need I mention what he has done?), the head of a British publishing firm. When Katya (Michelle Pfeiffer (LADYHAWKE, WB,1985)), a young Soviet woman passes a package along to another book publisher, Nicky Landau (Nicholas Woodeson, recently in SKYFALL (MGM ,2012)) to deliver to “Barley”, Landau instead delivers it to British Secret Service. The “Russia House” is a nickname for a division of British Secret Service that focuses all their attention on Soviet activities.
The package, supposedly a book, is in fact a document detailing Soviet nuclear capacities. “Barley” is intensely interrogated by British agents, including Ned (James Fox (KING RAT, Columbia,1965) and Walter (Director Ken Russell, a nice touch as he had directed the spy thriller MILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (U.A.,1967)). Interest is also aroused by the CIA in this document, and the British keep American Agents Russell (Roy Schneider) and Brady (John Mahoney) updated. “Barley” denies knowing Katya or why she would want to deliver such a document to him.
Eventually, the British agents decide to have “Barley “spy for them, and teach him what to say when he meets Tanya. They also want to know who or what the mystery man Dante (Klaus Maria Brandauer, who had co-starred with Connery so brilliantly in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (WB,1983)).
The cast is top notch, and all seem to relish their roles, though Ken Russell gets the choicest line: “You live in a free society; you have no choice. “
Well directed as always by the great Fred Schepisi (including the wonderfully moving ICEMAN(Universal,1984)as well as the delightful IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY (MGM,2003)), the film unfolds in a leisurely fashion, with each level a new question arises as to who is really the good guy and who can you trust? The score by Jerry Goldsmith is an interesting mix of Russian music and jazz (at one point Connery joins in playing at a Russian jazz session), and never overpowers the story, but compliments the action. The screenplay by Tom Stoppard (one of the co-screenwriters of BRAZIL, Universal,1985) is a good encapsulation of the novel, though some reviewers at the time of the film’s release felt that his dialogue was a bit clunky.
The film was a modest success upon its initial release on December 25,1990 (doing over $22,000 in domestic box office) as well as subsequent video and cable releases.
TWILIGHT TIME has once again done a magnificent job on their Region free (A, B, C) 1080p High Definition Blu Ray release. The film in its original video release seemed somewhat grainy and the colors somewhat muddy. Here, the colors seem to reflect the environment around them (Lisbon has very bright colors, while the Russian sequences lean more to a gray scale). The sound (English 2.0DTS-HD) is quite lean and noise free, with dialog very easy to understand. The English only subtitles follow the action and reflect the dialogue fairly accurately.
Extras are limited but interesting. There is BUILDING THE RUSSIA HOUSE, a behind the scenes featurette that was made during the movie’s production, with interviews by many of the cast and crew), the original theatrical trailer, and most entrancing, Jerry Goldsmith’s score on an isolated track. The music as released on an MCA cd back in 1990, but it if you do not have it in your collection, here is a good way to hear it. There is also once again a well written little booklet (by Twilight Time in house writer Julie Kirgo) that has a few interesting tidbits about Goldsmith’s reworked motif that had been dumped from two films!
This release, like so many of TWILIGHT TIME’s titles, is only available for a limited run of 3,000. If you enjoy an intelligent spy thriller, add this to your collection.
-Kevin G Shinnick