Ivan Petrovsky, a decent and hard-working blue-collar man, toils at his menial position as head-waiter at a Moscow hotel in order to provide for his wife, three children, mother-in-law and ...
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Orphaned in his childhood and treated abusively by higher-ranking Boyars, Tzar Ivan was a mercurial ruler who committed his first murder at the age of 13 and was feared for his random acts ... See full summary »
Ivan Petrovsky, a decent and hard-working blue-collar man, toils at his menial position as head-waiter at a Moscow hotel in order to provide for his wife, three children, mother-in-law and Cuban exchange student, all of whom live together in a small one-bedroom apartment.Written by
Marty McKee <email@example.com>
'Ivan the Terrible' was a grossly unfunny comedy which at least featured a highly original central premise. Basically, it was one more 'honey, I'm home' sitcom, with the minor distinction that it took place in pre-glasnost Moscow. Whereas "Hogan's Heroes" tried to convince us that life in a Nazi prison camp was a barrel of laughs, 'Ivan the Terrible' took a similar view towards the side-splitting antics of communist Russia. Both premises were equally tasteless, but "Hogan's Heroes" had the redeeming virtue of being (often) hilarious. 'Ivan the Terrible' was, erm, terrible.
I've never found Lou Jacobi funny. He was a grossly undisciplined performer, of great vulgarity. Jacobi had the annoying habit of playing clean material as if it were dirty. Just occasionally, when kept in hand by a strong director (as in 'Irma La Douce' or 'The Diary of Anne Frank'), Jacobi gave a good performance. In 'Ivan the Terrible', as in most of his career, Jacobi was just cheap and vulgar.
Ivan Petrovsky (plain old 'John Peters' in English) is a put-upon schlub, working as a headwaiter to support a wife, three kids and his mother-in-law. Their walk-up flat in Moscow is also home to Raoul Sanchez, an exchange student from Cuba. As much as I despise communism, I was impressed by the performance of Manuel Martinez (who?) as Sanchez. The various Russian characters in this sitcom are played mostly as buffoons, but Martinez (in Cuban fatigues and beard, costumed and coiffured to look like international thug Che Guevara) gives an absolutely sincere and straightforward performance as a dedicated Marxist guerrilla. In the same way that Chaplin's film 'The Great Dictator' was anchored by Henry Daniell's performance as the only Nazi in the movie who projected any genuine menace, any merit that 'Ivan the Terrible' possesses is down to Martinez's performance. Why hasn't this actor gone on to anything better?
Even granting that this is a comedy, 'Ivan the Terrible' makes no attempt at an accurate depiction of life under a totalitarian regime. I visited Moscow on business at about the time that this show was in production in Hollywood, and I can vouch that the real Soviet Union was much, much worse than this. Telephone directories were nonexistent, typewriters had to be registered with the police, and photocopiers were illegal. Shortages of food (and everything else) were so chronic that Muscovites tended to get into any queue they encountered, without even knowing what they were queuing for, on the assumption that (whatever it was) it had to be worth standing in line for.
As performed by Jacobi, Ivan had a wisecrack for every situation. When a customer in Ivan's hotel restaurant asks why the price of bread has gone up in Moscow, Jacobi smugly explains that it's because the price of wheat has gone up in America. Jacobi's wisecracks are faintly amusing but fatal to the premise of this sitcom. I assure you that citizens of Moscow in the 1970s did *not* make glib wisecracks about Soviet policies or shortages, especially not in the presence of strangers. The KGB are everywhere, comrade.
In a typical episode of 'Ivan the Terrible', an American documentary crew got permission to film a 'typical' Moscow family for US television. Naturally, they pick the Petrovskys. When Ivan's family learn they're going to be on American TV, they all get stage-struck. Ivan's son Nikolai puts on a top-hat and cape, and tries to do conjuror's tricks. Daughter Svetlana dresses up in a swan costume and attempts to do a ballet. (The clumsy and graceless Svetlana is played by Nana Visitor, a very talented dancer indeed... although you'd never know it from this show.)
If you're wondering why I watched a show that was so awful, full disclosure is in order. I was a friend (and occasional business associate) of actor George S. Irving and his wife Maria Karnilova, fondly known to her wide circle of friends as 'Marouschka'. A talented actress and brilliant dancer, Marouschka Karnilova (accent on the surname's second syllable) made almost no attempt to draw upon her own Russian family's heritage in her performance as Ivan's overworked wife Olga. I guess she knew this series wasn't worth the effort. Also, Peter H. Hunt directed one of my all-time favourite films (the musical '1776'), so I had high hopes for his directorial efforts on this series. He disappointed me. Meanwhile, Lou Jacobi and Phil Leeds (as Ivan's sidekick) perform their roles as if they were a couple of Yiddish tummlers in the Borscht Belt of the Catskills. Not for one instant did I believe they were Russians living in Moscow. 'Ivan the Terrible' is so terribly unfunny, I can barely rate it one point out of 10. Vladimir Lenin will jump out of his coffin in Red Square and whistle 'Hava Nagila' before this show becomes funny. Nyet, comrade!
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