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Out of the Cold

Keith Carradine plays a Yank song-and-dance man trapped behind the Stalinist Iron Curtain in "Out of the Cold." Muddled international production sprawls across nations and decades, but first-time director Sasha Buravsky finds no arc or rhythm to make this episodic jumble come alive.

Keith Carradine plays a Yank song-and-dance man trapped behind the Stalinist Iron Curtain in “Out of the Cold.” Muddled international production sprawls across nations and decades, but first-time director Sasha Buravsky finds no arc or rhythm to make this episodic jumble come alive. An obvious play for the Western marketplace, dreary feature looks unlikely to win more than scattered global tube sales.

Russian stage veteran Buravsky’s awkwardness in his new medium is immediately evident as the bedraggled, wooden-legged “Skolky” (Carradine) repeatedly attempts to access the U.S. Embassy in late-1950s Moscow. At last hurling himself across Ambassador Bards’ (Brian Dennehy) windshield, he pleads that he’s a U.S. citizen — one Dan Scott — without papers. Granted temporary protection, he tells how he got here, and a series of clumsy, disjointed flashbacks commence.

“Magic Legs” Scott was a tap dancer of some renown, but womanizing, arrogance and the bottle torpedoed his career by the late 30s. He’s rescued from boozy oblivion by industrious manager Axelrod (Judd Hirsch), a friend of his mother’s. While he may be kaput in the U.S., Scott’s fleeting Broadway fame and Estonian heritage means he’s still considered a big deal in the maternal homeland. The duo hopefully launch a European tour in Tallinn, where Scott — his confidence, if not his sobriety, restored — wows the locals. He also develops a lusty interest in Deborah (Mia Kirschner), the delectable young daughter of a wealthy Jewish manufacturer. Bitten by the stage bug herself, she signs on for flirtatious “dance lessons,” despite disapproval of her straight-arrow fiance (Bronson Pinchot).

But the brash Scott is oblivious to Estonia’s fragile political independence on the brink of WWII; he stupidly offends a rude Nazi official, which results in a thrashing and the termination of his club gig. Soon the Russians occupy the city; now pregnant, Deborah escapes to New York, while Scott unknowingly continues to search for her until he’s shipped to Siberia, where his U.S. identity is “erased” with a passport burning. Only Stalin’s death at last frees him to reach Moscow.Narrative jerks back and forth in time with little grace or emotional involvement, introducing and then dropping characters at will. Direction seems hapless to impose the desired epic breadth on choppy scenario, leaving individual segs marooned and tonally at odds despite production’s often impressive physical scale. Indeed, Russian and Estonian locations, costuming and other design elements set a reasonably consistent period flavor otherwise absent from overall atmosphere and some perfs.

Kirschner is particularly out of her depth; Carradine struggles to carry the film on an essentially dislikable wise-guy protag’s shoulders. Other U.S. thesps deliver pro turns, including Mercedes Ruehl (amusing but underutilized as an Estonian cabaret chanteuse) and a barely-glimpsed Kim Hunter.

Pic shows all the classic characteristics of a multinational pudding, with a tin ear for English-language dialogue and haphazard pacing that suggests production or editorial woes. Typically effortful but inept are the pseudo-Tin Pan Alley song bits: A flurry of cutaways makes it unclear whether Carradine did all his own dancing, while the singing strikes some painful notes. Tech qualities are variable. Zoom-inclined lensing and a generic score add to the general aura of grand ambitions undermined by directorial inexperience.

Out of the Cold

U.S.-Estonian-Russian

  • Production: An Old Town Pictures/Maksla Prods. presentation in association with Norah Films. Produced by Roee Sharon, Leonid Zagalsky. Executive producer, Irina Borisova. Co-producer, Daniel M. Stillman. Co-executive producer, Danil Pukhov. Directed by Sasha Buravsky. Screenplay, Alex Kustanovich, Buravsky.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Vladmir Klimov; editor, Roger Bondelli; music, Maxim Dunaevsky; production designer, Leslie Mcdonald; art directors, Ann Lumiste, Harry Lepp; set designers, Malle Jurgenson, Krista Lepland, Tea Tammelaan; set decorator, Gilbert Johnquest; costume designer, Mari-An Ceo; sound, Itamar Ben Yacob; choreography, Miriam Nelson; associate producer, Heidi Levitt; assistant director, Daniel M. Stillman; casting, Lillian Kleimjoonova, Susan Peck, Joyce Nettles, Ly Pulk, Ina Shlionskaja. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (World Cinema), Aug. 28, 1999. Running time: 111 MIN.
  • With: Dan Scott - Keith Carradine Deborah Berkowitz - Mia Kirschner David Bards - Brian Dennehy Leon Axelrod - Judd Hirsch Tina - Mercedes Ruehl Max Kaplan - Bronson Pinchot Elsa Lindepu - Kim Hunter
  • Music By: