Mister MacKinley’s Flight

[Бегство мистера Мак-кинли]

film still

USSR, Mosfilm Studios, 1975. color. 162 min.
Director: Mikhail Shveitser
Script: Leonid Leonov
Camera: Dil'shat Fatkhulin
Design: Levan Shengeliia
Music: Isaak Shvarts (with many song texts by Vladimir Vysotskii)
Sound: Valentina Shchedrina, Evgenii Bazaonv
With: Donatas Banionis, Zhanna Bolotova, Angelina Stepanova, Boris Babochkin, Alla Demidova, Vladimir Vysotskii

The action of the film is set in a western city that seems by turns to resemble Manhattan, Budapest, or some denaturalized West-European metropolis. The unlivable conditions of western consumer society are made clear at every turn. The story turns around the aspirations of a quintessential "little man," Mr. MacKinley, whose dreams of personal fulfillment and happy family life must constantly be postponed due to the conditions of urban life and the ever-present anxiety of impending nuclear war. Learning of a scientific breakthrough that allows human beings to be put into hibernation to awaken only after the nightmarish realities of the twentieth century have faded into history, MacKinley sets out to take advantage of this procedure, which is of course only available to the very rich. In order to raise the necessary funds, he contemplates the seduction and murder of a rich old widow. The resulting moral crisis forces MacKinley to reexamine how he has lived his life and the choices he has made.

The film is anti-western on two levels. The horrors of western life are banal and are depicted with the stock devices of Soviet ideological discourse. The path of "flight" chosen by Mr. MacKinley leads to a somewhat more subtle examination of the dead-end in which any struggle based on individualistic aspirations must find itself. MacKinley's dream of bourgeois family bliss is not in itself wrong or objectionable. It is his failure to see that such personal dreams cannot be protected from the realities of social struggle that lead him onto his desperate path.

The film is perhaps notable more for the particular assembly of talent involved in its realization than for any aesthetic merits of the final product. Shveitser succeeds in welding together a story by Leonid Leonov, author of the Socialist-Realist classic The Russian Forest with song texts by Vladimir Vysotskii, the famous Russian bard and actor, who plays a street musician in the film and performs most of the songs.

Mikhail Shveitser

director

Mikhail [Moisei] Abramovich Shveitser (1920–2000) was both a screenwriter and director, although many of the scripts were based on works of Russian literature. He was born in the city of Perm' and finished his film studies at VGIK in Moscow where he studied under the direction of Sergei Eisenstein.

He began making films shortly after the end of the Second World War and had a prolific career throughout the remaining years of Soviet cinema. Although most of his films were ideologically correct for the times, his reputation was that of an artist who energetically resisted compromising his artistic integrity. His struggle was decisively unsuccessful in only one case: his film The Tight Knot was edited beyond recognition and released in 1957 as Sasha Enters Upon Life. His output fell dramatically with the end of the USSR and the rapid commercialization of the Russian film industry.

Selected Filmography

1955 Other People's Relatives
1956 The Tight Knot (a.k.a. Sasha Enters Life); restored 1988
1960 Resurrection
1960 Warrant Officer Panin
1965 Time Forward!
1968 The Golden Calf
1975 Mr. MacKinley's Flight
1979 The Little Tragedies
1984 Dead Souls
1987 The Kreutzer Sonata
1992 How's Life, Crucians?

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