Friday, November 25, 2011

A Mormon Helps End The Cold War

One more mild Mormon I have known came to mind as I rewatched one of my all-time favorite movies, "The Яussians are Coming! The Яussians are Coming!" This was the first film for child actor Johnny Whitaker (credited as "Johnnie" Whitaker). I knew him as a missionary heading for Portugal when I taught in the MTC (the LDS Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah). He was a very nice Elder and an example of the rare successful survivor of childhood stardom. He had his troubles later as an adult, and he still came out a survivor now counseling those with substance abuse problems.
Johnny Whitaker circa 1966
His most famous role was as Jody in "A Family Affair." Sure, a little syrupy, but not bad for a family show of the 1960s. Apparently, Brian Keith, the star of that show, was impressed by Johnny in his brief appearance in the "Яussians" movie and encouraged him to try out for the part in "A Family Affair."

His first movie appearance is in a good film. It is well written and well acted. Some of the great comic actors of the 60s appeared, Brian Keith, Jonathon Winters, Carl Reiner, Paul Ford, and Alan Arkin. The story has a Russian submarine captain, distracted by his first view of America through the periscope, run ashore on a New England Island full of interesting characters. Alan Arkin, because he can speak passable English, is sent ashore with a squad of sailors to find a boat to pull the sub off the sandbar. They meet Carl Reiner, as a playwright with his family at a rented summer home. There follows a lot of comedic miscommunication and confusion with the local townspeople stirred up in patriotic minuteman fervor and the Carl Reiner character trying to protect his family and prove his bravery to his young son and at the same time prevent the breakout of World War III. It all leads to a tense scene when the rather thick-headed submarine captain prepares to fire on the little harbor town when a small boy, played by Johnny, climbs up the church tower with a friend to get a better view and falls, caught by his belt and dangles from the tower. The Russian sailors scramble in cooperation with the townspeople to rescue the boy. The townspeople then take to their boats to escort the submarine out to sea to shield it from attack by the US Air Force. Comedy had a happy ending in the 60s and this friendlier version of the Cold War.

There is one line that really caught my attention this time through. Carl Reiner's character, Walt Whitaker (a.k.a. "Whitaker Walt") after several encounters throughout the movie, ends up firing the Russian tommy gun at the Alan Arkin Russian character. The little, black Volkswagen he was driving crashes into a fence post and Whitaker runs up in concern shouting, "Are you OK? I didn't mean to hurt you. Well, I did, but I didn't mean it personally." It was a clear message of the writers promoting humanity over the dehumanizing aspect of any war. Even without shots being fired, we often do the same dehumanizing thing in our political disputes.

The most moralizing is done by the young Russian sailor and the Whitaker's babysitter who fall in "a great affection" for each other. But it's a good moral! As recorded by IMDB:

Alexei Kolchin: In Union of Soviet, when I am only young boy, many are saying, Americanski are bad people, they will attack Russia. So all mistrust American. But I think that I do not mistrust American... not really sinceriously. I wish not to hate... anybody! 
[He throws a stone into the sea
Alexei Kolchin: This make good reason to you, Alison Palmer? 
Alison Palmer: Well, of course it does. It doesn't make sense to hate people. It's such a waste of time. 

It reminds me of that sweet kid, Johnny Whitaker. Hang in there, Johnny!

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