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Film / Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession

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A Soviet comedy movie released in 1973, and still immensely popular in The New Russia — like most Leonid Gaidai movies from that era. Based on a 1935 play by Mikhail Bulgakov, with a setting update — moving the "present day" action from the 1930s to the 1970s — but generally staying faithful to the original, with most of the funny lines taken directly from the play. One of the most promiment changes in the film was the merge of the Timofeyev character with the protagonist of two of Gaidai's previous films to form the so-called "Shurik trilogy".

Engineer Alexander Sergeyevich "Shurik" Timofeyev (named Koka, from Nikolay, in the play) invents a time machine, which he uses to open a rift to the 1500s Moscow, straight into the palace of Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible. In the chaos that ensues, the time machine is damaged (in the play, it stays intact but its key is lost, forcing Timofeyev to seek a keymaker for a replacement), leaving the Tsar stranded in the present day while his namesake and look-alike, Soviet bureaucrat Ivan Vasilievich Bunsha, is stuck in the past with Gentleman Thief George Miloslavsky. The two are forced to dress as the Tsar and a noble, until their ruse is eventually exposed and they are rescued into the present just in time when Timofeyev fixes the time machine.

Meanwhile, back in the 20th century, Ivan IV hides in Timofeyev's apartment until he encounters the inventor's wife Zinaida, an actress who had left Timofeyev for her director Yakin, and later Bunsha's wife, who mistakes him for her husband. She and Timofeyev's neighbor Shpak (previously robbed by Miloslavsky) call the police and ambulance, resulting in the two Ivans being taken away and Miloslavsky being forced to flee from the authorities — although the Tsar escapes and returns to his time with Timofeyev's help.

In the end, it is revealed that it was All Just a Dream. Zinaida returns to Timofeyev, saying that she didn't even have a director named Yakin, and while the time machine didn't work in reality, the two reconcile. In the play, it further turns out that Shpak was robbed in reality, not just in the dream.

Provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: In the movie, inventor Timofeev is named Alexander ("Shurik") instead of Nikolay, as it was in the original Bulgakov's play. The name change was made to connect the movie with previous Gaidai's works that have the character named Shurik who is played by the same actor.
  • All Just a Dream: The whole plot played out in Shurik's subconsciousness while he was knocked out and didn't actually happen.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • The Tsar sells his date of birth as "1533 since the birth of Christ", while a more historically accurate answer would be "7038 since the creation of the world". Russia only adopted the BC/AD calendar in Peter the Great's time.
      • And Ivan IV was born in 1530, not in 1533. In 1533 he became the Grand Prince of Moscow.
    • The eggplant caviar that's shown before the fest has actually been brought to Russia from Iran in the seventeenth century, that is, the century after the events of the movie.note  Same can be said about the sceptre Bunsha holds while he's on the throne.
    • Ivan the Terrible's wife Marpha died on November 13, 1571, two weeks after the wedding from an unknown sickness (or poison). In the film, she is shown to be alive and well, and the weather outside clearly doesn't look like it's November.
      • Additionally, the presence of Marpha means that Moscow was recently sacked and burned by the Crimean Tatars. So the minstrels would not be singing about the victory over the Crimeans until the following year.
    • In the tsar's elevator scene, where he thinks the demons have entombed him, he crosses himself with three fingers. However, until 1653, those of the Russian Orthodox faith only used two fingers.
    • When being interrogated by the cops, Ivan the Terrible lists his major conquests, including Kazan, Astrakhan, and Reval (modern-day Tallinn, the capital of Estonia). However, in Real Life, Ivan besieged for two months but never took Reval. It's also strange that he fails to mention his conquest of Polotsk, an achievement the real Ivan was extremely proud of.
      • Technically he was not wrong about Reval: he says "Брал" [Bral], so his statement can be translated as "I have taken (successfully)" OR "I was trying to take (successfully or unsuccessfully)".
    • Dyak (clerk) Theophan hands the faux-tsar Bunsha a decree to sign. However, tradition forbade Russian royalty from using quill and ink, and the tsar would usually only apply his seal.
    • The tsar's army is shown to consist of clean-shaven men, but it was against the law in those days for a commoner to shave. Most of the male servants in the palace are also clean-shaven.
    • Miloslavsky puts on a heavy suit of armor ridiculously quickly, even though it was a very time-consuming and complex process. Then again, this is clearly the Rule of Funny.
    • The great hall of what is supposedly the Moscow Kremlin citadel doesn't look like the actual, very recognizable medieval great hall of the Kremlin - the Hall of Facets, built under Ivan the Terrible's grandfather Ivan III. It's just a generic great hall of a kremlin. Justifiable, since the authorities were (and are still) pretty anal about letting filming crews into the Hall of Facets.
      • The Moscow Kremlin actually did look like the kremlin in the movie (the Rostov Veliky kremlin) before the major overhaul by Ivan III.
    • The triangular balalaika is a 19-century invention.
    • Granted, all that can be handwaved as Shurik's subconsciousness basically painting him a Theme Park Version of Ivan The Terrible's Russia. And the credits in the beginning acknowledge that the film is "non-scientific fiction, not quite realistic and not strictly historical".
  • Artists Are Attractive: When Zina tells Shurik she's leaving him for Yakin, her director, she says, dreamy-eyed: "Yakin... Yakin is talented"! When she quarrels with Yakin, her ultimate insult towards him is "And you are a mediocrity!"
  • Black Comedy: Ivan IV finds creative punishments/executions really funny. Modern characters think he is just cruel.
    Ivan IV: You are the one who made this machine?
    Shurik: Yes, I did.
    Ivan IV: I also had someone like that - made wings.
    Shurik: (interested) Well-well-well.
    Ivan IV: Well what? I had him put on a barrel of gunpowder - let him fly!
    Shurik: (chokes) Why so harsh!?
    • Truth in Television: Real Life Ivan IV did view public executions as a form of entertainment — as did a lot of his contemporaries. What's interesting, however, is that this notion was much less widespread in Russia than in the Western Europe, which was one of the reasons of his grisly reputation with his subjects.
    • In fact, some of the Tsar's lines in this dialogue were lifted verbatim from historical documents.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: When robbing Shpak's apartment, Miloslavsky directly addresses the audience, telling them to put their money in a bank... if they have any.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Yakin initially thinks Ivan IV is an actor, and in the film, makes guesses at his identity — naming three real Soviet actors of that time, but not the one who actually played him. Those actors were tried for the roles of Ivans Vasilieviches before director chose Yuri Yakovlev.
  • Coat Full of Contraband: The only place where Shurik can get triodes.
    • The only place he can get them at lunchtime, as all the electronic stores in the neighborhood are closed.
  • Credits Gag: "Experimental Creative Association shows this unsci-fi, not quite realistic and not strictly historical film"
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The "real life" segments in the beginning and end, as opposed to Shurik's extended dream scene that takes most of the film, which is in color.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The residents of the Soviet Union show their disgust the liberal application of execution practised by Tsar Ivan, as well as his contemporaries, and how lightly he boasts about it.
  • Depraved Dentist: When Shpak operates on a patient's mouth, jackhammer sounds are dubbed in.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Although not too surprising in the time period of Ivan IV, but boiling the interpreter alive for being drunk on duty is rather harsh. The same goes for blowing up an inventor for making wings.
  • Emergency Impersonation: The two Ivans Vasilieviches.
  • Eternal English: Bunsha and Miloslavsky have no problems communicating with 16th-century Russians, save for a few archaic words thrown in for no good reason. They also have no problem writing in Old Russian, which used a somewhat different Cyrillic script, the Old Church Slavonic, and a different system of spelling. By the same token, most people understand Ivan IV in the 20th century. Even his use of Gratiutous Old Russian is just treated as a quirk.
    • Some people just assume he's a method actor preparing to play Ivan IV.
    • The tsar also quickly learns criminal slang, despite not being exposed to it, unless he heard "busted by the cops" ("в милицию замели") somewhere else.
      • He did listen to some of Vysotsky's songs while Shurik was out buying transistors. Given Vysotsky's style he may have heard it there. He also seemed to like the songs, so he may have quoted them.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: The original play has one, when Bunsha's rant causes Timofeyev to realize that he was operating the time machine with its mechanism locked, and he subsequently fixes it.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Ivan IV, Bunsha and Miloslavsky.
  • Future Me Scares Me: Subverted: Ivan IV comes across the famous painting showing the tsar holding his son's body after killing him but doesn't recognize himself.
  • Give Geeks a Chance: Shurik and Zinaida.
  • Gossipy Hens: One of Shurik's neighbors drops by to tell his wife a long story involving their neighbors and a fur coat.
  • Gratuitous German: Swedish ambassador talks in a rather broken German instead of Swedish during his audience with Bunsha. Bunsha, in his turn, doesn't understand what he is saying and has no clue how to answer him at first aside from "Hitler kaput".
    • Somewhat Truth in Television as German was the lingua franca in the Baltic during this period. Of course an ambassador from Sweden would speak it much better.
  • Gratuitous French: Courtesy of Yakin: "This is my professional duty, profession de foi." (The phrase actually means "declaration of faith" and has nothing to do with professionalism.)note 
  • Gratuitous Russian: Ivan IV tends to switch between modern and 16th-century Russian. When he finds out the truth, Yakin tries to use archaic Russian words (which most modern Russian would never understand) but gives up quickly. He also uses them incorrectly, which infuriates Ivannote .
    • Yakin's attempts at speaking Old Russian amount to phrases that translate to "Again, again, that are the cherubs" and "Very much because of", though he does get "poyeliku" (since, because) and "zelo" (very) right.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: The time machine connects Timofeyev's apartment to the Tsar's throne room.
    • Although it's justified - Shurik was inspired to travel to Ivan IV's throne room after seeing a film about him on television.
    • Also, Miloslavsky claims to be Prince Miloslavsky in the past, not realizing that there really was a Prince Miloslavsky, except he was recently executed by the order of Ivan IV.
  • Karma Houdini: Miloslavsky appears to escape scot-free, despite being a well-known thief and burglar. Except in a Deleted Scene, where he is apprehended while on a ferry (he's sitting between two attractive ladies; the boat passes under a wide bridge, drowning the passengers in darkness; when Miloslavsky can see again, he notices that the ladies are now uniformed male cops; he just looks into the camera and sighs in an "oh well" manner).
  • A Little Something We Call "Rock and Roll": Miloslavsky singing a popular 70s Russian song during a feast with the minstrels playing along. Naturally, everyone gets on the floor and starts dancing.
    • Nobody thinks it strange when he pulls out a pack of Marlboro while singing.
  • Identical Stranger: Bunsha and Ivan IV.
  • Insult Backfire: After telling a neighbor his wife has left him:
    Neighbor: You are a strange character. If I were your wife, I'd have left too!
    Timofeyev: If you were my wife, I'd have hanged myself.
  • Jerkass: Yakin.
  • Knight's Armor Hideout: Miloslavsky gets into a suit of armor to hide. He then takes out the unwitting Streltsy one by one with his armored fist.
  • Lovable Rogue: Miloslavsky, especially in the movie. Although at first Miloslavsky appears as an ordinary thief caught in an extraordinary situation, he later shows himself as a rather lovable and patriotic statesman who saves the day for impersonator Bunsha and refuses to give the Russian territories to the Swedish ambassador while Bunsha happily agrees to grant it to the Swedish king. In the original play, it was the other way around, with Miloslavsky telling that he agrees to leave the Kemskaya vololst.
  • Married to the Job: Shurik is so obsessed with his invention in his dream, he doesn't even care that his wife Zina decides to divorce him and go for Yakin.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: Ivan Bunsha pretends to be part of a sculpture when fleeing the Streltsy.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Ivan Bunsha's response to just about everything is "get permission from the authorities". Even when his only hope of getting out of the past alive is to impersonate the tsar, he complains that he doesn't have permission, and signs official documents as "Acting for the tsar, I. Bunsha". It comes to bite him not long after.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted for plot purposes. Ivan Vasilyevich Bunsha and Tsar Ivan IV Vasilyevich not only have a similar physical appereance, but also share the same first name and patronymic. Similarly, Miloslavsky shares his surname with a Russian prince who was executed before his arrival to the XVI century, causing confusion for one of Tsar Ivan's courtiers.
  • Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: Sturgeon caviar and salmon roe are available in the Tsar's court in great amounts, which is realistic given that back then they weren't scarce. However, the eggplant caviar, a commonplace food for the Soviets, is treated as something very rare in the XVI century, something even the tsar can eat only in small amounts.
  • Phlebotinum Breakdown: one of the palace guards throws a halberd (which Shurik calls a bardiche) at the time machine and it breaks down, trapping Ivan the Terrible in the twentieth century and Bunsha and Miloslavsky in the sixteenth.
  • Public Execution: When Miloslavsky tries to pass himself off as a prince, he's told that Prince Miloslavsky was recently hanged by order of the tsar. Miloslavsky turns to Bunsha (impersonating the tsar) and quietly (and in a menacing tone) asks why he did that.
  • Reusable Lighter Toss: During the final onslaught from the Streltsy, Miloslavsky pulls out a lighter and tosses it at the kitchen table, causing a small explosion as a distraction.
  • Roman à Clef: Carp Yakin the director is long speculated to be a rather thinly veiled parody of the former Mosfilm boss Ivan Pyryev. A top-notch director himself, he was a somewhat vain and arrogant man, and was infamous for his dictatorial style. Moreover, while both were the undisputed masters of the comedy, Gaidai's irreverent style often clashed with Pyryev's straitlaced sensibilities.note 
  • Rooftop Confrontation: The Streltsy are closing in on Bunsha and Miloslavsky on the rooftop. Then the two pretend to jump off and the Streltsy follow suit.
  • Royal "We": Averted, for the most part. However, when the tsar is being interrogated by the cops and asked for his last name, he replies "We are Rurikids" (i.e. of the Rurik dynasty).
  • San Dimas Time and Meanwhile, in the Future…: The present day events take place "simultaneously" with the old Moscow.
  • Serial Spouse: Shurik's wife claims to have gotten divorced three or four (apparently one of them didn't count) times already. While the whole thing ends up as All Just a Dream, it's implied that it's still true.
    • Historically, Ivan The Terrible had been married seven times (although, the last few weren't authorized by the Church, and a couple are considered 19th-century frauds).
  • Setting Update: The play takes place in the 1930s, the movie is set in the 1970s.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Operation "Y" and Kidnapping, Caucasian Style.
  • Technicolor Science: The liquids in the time machine.
  • Undercrank: The chase scenes with the guards are sped up for comic effect.
  • Zeerust: The vacuum-tube-and-transistor-driven time-machine.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Ivan Vasilievich


To Send an Army

Time travelers, posing as a prince and the tsar, send the tsar's army on campaign. Less than three minutes pass between the decree getting signed and the army leaving, complete with weapons, horses, and artillery.

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