Russian films were all dark and heavy, right? Especially the Soviet one. Well, no. In fact, some of the best belly laughs in silent comedy are to be found in Soviet comedies.
Before we begin, I suppose I should address the hammer and sickle in the room: In United States, jokes tire of you! Mention Russian humor and, well, one tires of Yakov Smirnoff quickly. The irony is that most Russian comedies I have read and seen are quite self-deprecating with a keen eye for human foibles. (This is where I leave my plug for the glorious Evgeny Petrov and Ilya Ilf’s books.)
Russian silent film can be roughly divided into three categories: pre-Revolution films, Soviet films and the films made by the Russian emigres in France. I love all three categories, of course, but I do think that most people tend to associate any Russian film with darker, heavier topics. Not so! While Russian films certainly could head to very dark places, Russians also know how to show audiences a good time.
I hope you will enjoy this little Russian detour and maybe even experience a few belly laughs of your own courtesy of these films.
As an appetizer, here are some Russian comedies I have already reviewed:
The House in Kolomna (1913) is adapted from a Pushkin poem and involves a saucy young lady with a conservative mother sneaking her boyfriend into the house by disguising him as the new cook.
The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912) is a stop-motion animated film about love, adultery and the sexual double standard among insects.
Emigres in Paris
The Burning Crucible (1923) is a mystery-comedy about a detective named Z who is hired by a husband to find and return his wife’s affection. Ivan Mosjoukine (with his pet bulldog) directs and stars.
The Nose (1963) is a pinscreen animation adaptation of Gogol’s short story about a nose that detaches from its owner and sets out to live its own life.
The Girl with the Hat Box (1927) is a comedy about apartment hunting, lotteries and a marriage of convenience directed by Boris Barnet and starring Anna Sten. It is one of my favorite silent rom-coms, bar none.
Chess Fever (1925) is a sharp and witty look at gaming addiction and is every bit as fresh today as it was the day it was released.
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