September 14, 2020

The Hunt for Movie Russian


The Hunt for Movie Russian
What time does Sean Connery go to Wimbledon? Tennish. IMDb, "The Hunt for Red October." Screenshot by the author.

I was all set for movie night this past weekend. On the docket: Hunt for Red October, the classic thriller about the captain of a Soviet submarine (the Red October, referring to the 1917 revolution) that goes rogue and tries to defect to America, with the help of hero Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin). My wife and I plopped down, popcorn in hand, ready for some great Cold War naval sequences.

And then Sean Connery opened his mouth.

I have nothing against the guy; gotta love the classic, unapologetic 007, but his way of speaking Russian… Yikes.

I’m not one to “Um, actually,” but the use of Russian in this film is definitely subpar. So I thought I'd take a look and see exactly where it diverges from the everyday Russian language we all know and love.

I guess we should have been warned in the title card:

The title card of "Hunt for Red October."
More than one language in a title card; ambitious. | Paramount Pictures; screenshot by the author.

A title in (kind of) Cyrillic letters appears, then proudly shifts into the title of the film, in English: “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER.” The implication being that the Cyrillic means “Red October.” Except it doesn’t.

The first word is fine: /krasniy/, red. The second, though, is a mess.

The Russian word for October is октябрь (Oktyabr’). But here that word is made up of Cyrillic and Latin letters to create a pastiche mildly reminiscent of the English word “October.” 

This reminds me of a meme:

A meme making fun of Russian letters used as English equivalents.
Shegg Ueb, vtst dsttsdggu io! | Facebook user Steve the vagabond and silly linguist

Back to Sean Connery. In the opening scene, Captain Ramius (Connery) and an officer are on the top of the ship’s conning tower. The shot starts on his eyes before panning out. His comrade says, “It’s cold this morning” (the way we know is the subtitle, not necessarily the dialogue). Connery responds with a grunt, before saying some Scottish-sounding word that I’ve never heard among Russians. It’s translated as “Very cold.” The classic "Ochen' kholodna" probably would have worked just fine.

Fortunately (mercifully?), the action onboard the Russian sub switches to English-language. However, the Russian returns when our American heroes come face-to-face with the Russian crew, leading to one of the most awkward sequences in the film in terms of faux-Russian-ness.

A climactic scene of the film.
Captain, prepare for poor Russian pronunciation off the port bow! | Paramount Pictures

Connery's character notices the handgun displayed on the hip of one of the Americans, and quips flatly, "Kakov nipudt pakaru," which doesn't mean anything. I interpret the intended meaning as "Kakoi-nibud' bakaru?," loosely translated as "some kind of cowboy." But why the word "kovboi," Russified "cowboy," wasn't the go-to is beyond me.

Regardless, this leads Jack Ryan to break the ice by commenting on how the captain thinks the American is "some sort of cowboy." In response, Ramius says, "New pa ruhsskey."

What exactly this means, or even its intention, is tough to pin down. I assume the writing was aiming for "Nu, po-russki?" meaning "Well, in Russian?" Or maybe the idea would have been better conveyed with a "Vi govorite po-russki?": "You speak Russian?"

And don't even get me started on the intonation.

With all that said, Hunt for Red October is an excellent movie that you should definitely, definitely watch. And it's far from the only film in which Russian is treated with goofy abandon. Action films are just another reason to learn the language.

You Might Also Like

Spycraft Through Film
  • January 01, 2006

Spycraft Through Film

It would be hard to overestimate the cultural impact of film on Russian culture. We plumb the depths of this phenomenon in this year’s Study Russia section.
The First Master of Russsian Film
  • February 01, 1998

The First Master of Russsian Film

Maxim Gorky once called film "the Kingdom of Shadows." Sergei Eisenstein was one of the earliest kings of this realm.
Spetsluzhb Goes to the Movies
  • November 01, 2006

Spetsluzhb Goes to the Movies

The FSB (heir to the KGB) has been influencing Russia’s recent film releases. Propaganda is new again.
Imagining the Enemy
  • November 01, 2008

Imagining the Enemy

Where we consider how Russians have been portrayed in American film over the past century – from Marlene Dietrich to Sean Connery. It turns out this may tell us more about America than about Russia.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.
Dostoyevsky Bilingual

Dostoyevsky Bilingual

Bilingual series of short, lesser known, but highly significant works that show the traditional view of Dostoyevsky as a dour, intense, philosophical writer to be unnecessarily one-sided. 
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Okudzhava Bilingual

Okudzhava Bilingual

Poems, songs and autobiographical sketches by Bulat Okudzhava, the king of the Russian bards. 
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955