I vaguely remember going to a drive-in movie in 1966. My mom and dad were up in the front seat. My dad, with an omnipresent cigarette dangling from his lips, would adjust the hook on the back of that big, gray, metal speaker so it hung on the driver’s side window to allow for optimum audio fidelity. My mom would make sure my brother and I were plodded with snacks in the back seat. She also made sure I didn’t annoy my brother too much. I recall bits and pieces of the evening’s feature as it flickered in the twilight across that massive screen, It was The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!, a frantic comedy based on America’s fears of the Cold War. My mom and dad were very amused by the antics of the film’s ensemble cast, as evidenced by their peals of laughter. I was more interested in the various cookies that were available in the little bag that my mom packed. It wasn’t until years later when I saw a television broadcast of the movie that I fully appreciated the humor… especially the earnest and deadpan performance turned in by Alan Arkin, as the somewhat bewildered but militarily-obedient Rozanov.
Nobody played bewildered like Alan Arkin. His acting style, as displayed in such films as The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Freebie and the Bean, The In-Laws and even as part of the bleak and angry Glengarry Glen Ross, was realistic, poignant and very, very believable. He embodied every character he played. And those characters each included a small part of Alan Arkin. Sure, there were departures from his “established persona,” specifically the vicious Harry Roat in Wait Until Dark. But, for the most part, Alan Arkin brought a true, fully-formed, gentle personality to each character he portrayed — a little confused, a little overwhelmed, but a lot of charm.
In a recent interview with the actor, he revealed that when he wasn’t acting or talking about acting or watching acting, he felt lost. He said acting made his life worth living.
He made good movies and he made bad movies. But, in my opinion, he never gave a bad performance.
Alan Arkin passed away in June 2023. He was 89 years old,