The last of the travelogue features created for the widescreen three-panel Cinerama process was this compilation of footage culled from six Russian productions shot in the copycat Kinopanorama process. This offering avoids any mention of Soviet-era politics – and, for that matter, most of Russian history – in favor of benign views of the Russian landscape and timeless slices of Russian culture. And to keep the project user-friendly, the decidedly non-political Bing Crosby offers an avuncular narration that never betrays a hint of Cold War paranoia.
The best aspects of this film involve three of Russia’s great dance entities – the graceful Bolshoi Ballet and the athletic presentations of the Moiseyev Dance Company and the Platnitsky Folk Dance Ensemble – along with a lengthy visit to the Moscow Circus, with a charming pantomime by the celebrated clown Oleg Popov. One of the more amazing sights on display is Moscow’s subway system, where commuters walked through elaborately ornate stations after riding under the city on surprisingly clean trains. There is also an unexpected bit of Soviet-style whimsy involving a group of larcenous bears stealing beehives from a farm and then driving away in a tractor!
But being a Cinerama production, there is a surplus amount of POV camera shots designed to exploit the visual grandeur of this widescreen process. Thus, the camera is placed in long stretches of rapid movement – airplanes, trains, barges and even reindeer sleigh races are used to highlight the Cinerama experience. (Ironically, the film only had a single exhibition in the original three-panel Cinerama process, at its Chicago premiere engagement in 1966 – the rest of its theatrical release was from a composite 70mm print, although a new Flicker Alley DVD/Blu-ray release gets its material from the three-panel version.) There is also a violent sequence involving Russian mariners harpooning and then chopping up a whale – this could be seen as a welcome relief from the seemingly endless POV camera views, although some of today’s more sensitive viewers may need a retreat to their nearest university-based safe space after viewing the bloody dissection of the once-majestic sea creature. But, then again, no one ever said that life in Soviet Russia was all dancing and circuses!