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  • Benjamin May

Gentlemen of Fortune (1971) Review

In the early 1970's, archaeologists at a dig in the USSR make an incredible find: a golden helmet that once belonged to Alexander the Great. Almost immediately, the helmet is stolen and, while the trio of criminals responsible are captured; their loot is not found. In order to find it, authorities enlist the aid of a kindly kindergarten teacher named Yevgeny Troshkin. Troshkin looks exactly like the leader of the malcontents, and goes to prison undercover among his gang to try and source the helmet. Whether or not his deception is successful, and if the missing antiquity is recovered, remains to be seen in Aleksandr Sery's 'Gentlemen of Fortune.' Written by Georgiy Daneliya and Viktoriya Tokareva, 'Gentlemen of Fortune' is a clever crime comedy sure to keep you entertained. The story is wildly engaging, with many unpredictable moments, and rockets along at a fast pace; providing laughs all the while. It is also a film of substance, and has a heart-warming message about the importance of brotherhood at its center. Daneliya and Tokareva's characters are all compelling creations, each with their own idiosyncrasies and charms, and spending time with them is a delight. The film is traditionally played in Russia come New Year's, and holds a special place in the heart of many-a-viewer; as it just may in yours.

'Gentlemen of Fortune' is shot by Georgiy Kupriyanov, who captured brilliantly the atmosphere and realities of then-contemporary Soviet Russia. His photography of the stark streets and battered buildings is couched in the traditions of realism, producing simple, striking images that linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled. As is the case with many 70's era movies from the USSR the film is now something of a 'time capsule' look at a fascinating point in history documented oft-too infrequently by sources outside of cinema.

Many viewers incorrectly assume the film is directed by Georgiy Daneliya, not just because the screenplay and witty dialogue bears his stylistic signature, as it were. Production designer Boris Nemechek worked on many of Daneliya's movies, and his muted, naturalistic approach (especially regarding the visual aspects of the affair) was consistent on all their outings. Here, his work in conjunction with Kupriyanov's cinematography makes 'Gentlemen of Fortune' seem nothing less than absolutely authentic and- like the directorial features of Daneliya- utterly unforgettable.

Also unforgettable are the performances from the cast, especially the great Yevgeny Leonov. One of Russian cinema's all time greatest actors, Leonov was always convincing, whether as a vodka-swilling mushroom-enthusiast in 'Autumn Marathon,' as a match-obsessed alien in 'Kin-Dza-Dza!' or here, in a dual role as Troshkin the kindergarden teacher and Docent the thief. His ease of performance is incredible, and he is utterly believable and charming as both, bringing to Troshkin much dignity, decency and depth. Leading the film wonderfully, his performance is one not likely to be forgotten or disliked by any who see it.

Also of note from the cast are Georgy Vitsin and Saveliy Kramarov, playing two of Docent's fellow thieves. Vitsin plays a man nicknamed Raspy- or Sad Sack, in some versions- and turns in a performance of surprising emotional weight that is most impressive. Kramarov, as Cross-eyes, is more of the comic foil, and his goofiness will have you frequently in stitches. Additionally, Erast Garin and Radner Muratov make the most of their roles, delivering fine performances all round.

A clever comic-caper, 'Gentlemen of Fortune' is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. With a great screenplay from Georgiy Daneliya and Viktoriya Tokareva- in addition to fine cinematography from Georgiy Kupriyanov- the picture is hard to fault. Boasting strong performances from all in the cast- especially the incomparable Yevgeny Leonov- as well as deft direction from Aleksandr Sery, 'Gentlemen of Fortune' is worth its weight in gold.


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