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Film / The Diamond Arm

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The Diamond Arm (Бриллиантовая рука, Brilliantovaya ruka) is a 1968 Soviet comedy film by Leonid Gaidai, starring several famous Soviet actors. Like many movies of the time, several of the characters end up performing impromptu songs. Both the film and the songs have attained cult status in the former Soviet republics.

The Everyman named Semyon Gorbunkov goes on a cruise to Istanbul. On the way, he meets a younger gentleman named Gennadiy. Unbeknownst to Semyon, Gennadiy ("Gesha") is actually working for The Mafiya, being sent by the Chief (the only name given to the mob boss) to Turkey to smuggle jewelry into the USSR. The Turkish contacts don't know what the courier looks like, only the secret phrase he is supposed to use (they don't even speak Russian). Semyon ends up accidentally speaking the phrase and receives an orthopedic cast full of jewelry on his arm. After returning home, Semyon immediately goes to the cops (or, more precisely, reports it to the ship captain and later attacks an undercover police agent, thinking he was a criminal), and they decide to use him as bait for the smugglers. Hilarity Ensues as the two inept henchmen (Gennadiy and Lyolik) hatch various schemes to retrieve the contraband without killing Semyon or attracting unwanted attention.

Unfortunately, the "undercover" operation ends up taking a toll on Semyon's personal life. After catching him with a woman who appears to be his mistress (she is actually working for the Chief as well), his wife leaves with their children. Trying to get to her, Semyon ends up being taken by Lyolik (who is disguised as a cop) to an abandoned car wash to retrieve the jewelry no matter what. Semyon gets away from them and happens upon a man who is driving through the woods, for some reason. Both get captured and tied to a tree. Gennadiy and Lyolik cut open the cast and take it. Semyon realizes that the man he has just met is the Chief and explains that the cops have had the contraband all this time. The criminals stuff Semyon into the trunk and drive off, intending to kill him later. However, a police helicopter finds them and picks up the car. Not realizing it, Semyon manages to open the trunk and falls out. The criminals are caught, and Semyon is reunited with his family, who now know the truth. Unfortunately, Semyon's leg is now broken for real.

You can watch this legally with English subtitles on Mosfilm's Youtube channel.

The film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • And Starring: Parodied, with "and finally starring Yuri Nikulin" (who plays the leading role and has the most screentime of all actors) in the very end of intro, after listing all other actors (including those who only appear in small episodes).
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Semyon isn't much of a drinker. So, naturally, Gennadiy tries to get him drunk at the restaurant, so he goes outside to the bathroom (in a separate building), where Lyolik can grab him.
    • Unfortunately to him Gennadiy is also a lightweight, and gets similarly blind drunk, blowing the whole operation.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Gennadiy wakes up roughly from a nightmare in which he goes to retrieve the cast, but the arm detaches from Semyon, and starts to attack Gennadiy.
  • Character Tics: Gennadiy is known to occasionally jerk his head back slightly. This turns funny when he's standing with his back to a wall of a phone booth.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A man bearing no relation to the main plot keeps appearing in the background. First, he finds treasure while planting trees on the street, then he's reading a newspaper with the event on the front page, then he's celebrating finding the treasure and buying a car, then he's learning to drive when Semyon and criminals run into him. He is the Chief.
  • Churchgoing Villain: Gennadiy keeps a crucifix and an icon of the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus in his bedroom. While stranded on an islet in the middle of the sea, he assumes he's going through a religious experience when he sees a boy who seems to have a Holy Halo walk on water. He prostrates himself at the sight, respectfully tucked his cross pendant into his shirt, and followed the boy with a visibly ecstatic expression on his face while holding up a stick with his comrade Lyolik's swimming trunks (It Makes Sense in Context) like a holy banner... until it turns out he's walking on a sandbar and he slips.
    • The screenplay contains a fuller explanation of their contraband op they're smuggling icons and religious items out of the USSR, and the Turkish jewelry in. Most of the religious stuff in Gennadiy's apartment is actually their ware. Though he's apparently still the believer.
  • Cliffhanger: Parodied. The film is split in two parts: 92 and 6 minutes long. Part one ends with Semyon in a narrow passage (in a car wash) with armed enemies approaching from both sides. Part two starts with Semyon at the end of the passage with enemies approaching from the other end, but this time he is near a control box and can make the approach very unpleasant.
  • Creator Cameo: Gaidai himself shows up as an alcoholic (uncredited).
  • Even the Subtitler Is Stumped: Two foreign smugglers speak nonsensical gibberish with voiceover Russian translation. Eventually they get into a heated debate, obviously starting to call each other names (with rude gestures), and the translator says in a deadpan voice, "What follows is untranslatable wordplay using local idiomatic expressions."
  • Evil Laugh: Lyolik often ends his speeches with an exaggerated laugh.
  • The Faceless: The only thing we see of the Chief for most of the film is his hand opening the peephole on his door and then the door itself to let his henchmen in. He never speaks in those shots. His hand is shown to have expensive-looking rings with large gems. Obviously, the smuggling business is going well.
    • The Chief's official persona is a simple pensioner, as we learn in the finale. He uses "finding" a treasure to legalize his wealth.note 
  • Hurricane of Aphorisms: Lyolik quotes the Chief at least once per conversation. In Chief's only scene with words the Chief repeats some of them and adds some more:
    If a man's an idiot, that's gonna last.
    Time is money. When you see money, waste no time.
    Strike the iron by the pay desk.
    At the others' expense, even abstainers and ulcer patients will drink.
    There's no faithful husband, who never wished to be a bachelor for a while.
    An acquaintance of mine, a deceased one, used to say: "I knew too much."
  • The Mafiya: The villains appear to be a softer version of these. They tend to stay away from "wet jobs", as those attract too much attention, and stick to smuggling.
    • The screenwriters later revealed a lot of details that didn't end in the film mostly for the pacing reason (Gaidai hated the things that slowed the action and ruined "the beat", exposition first and foremost). The Chief is a speculator and profiteer who got rich from the Black Market during the WWII, and is sort of a Retired Monster now, running a low-key smugling ring mainly to finance his expensive habits, Gennadiy is an ex-Stilyaga and a small-time underground fence who "grew up" to a proper smuggler, and Lyolik is a former low-rank artillery officer demobbed by Nikita Khrushchev's downsizing of the Soviet Army, who turned to crime being a car mechanic in The '60s USSR this automatically implied the Black Market connections.
  • Laughing Mad: Gennadiy laughs for a bit during his breakdown below.
  • Malicious Misnaming: In one scene Lyolik insistently calls Gennadiy "Koz_l_odoyev" instead of "Kozodoyev" despite being corrected. "Kozodoy" means goatsucker (nightjar), but "kozlodoy" probably refers to a proverb that milking a billy goat is no good.
  • Mistaken for Badass: The story of The Ditz (played by the famous Soviet clown turned comic actor Yuri Nikulin) who, due to a series of coincidences, was mistaken by a smugglers' gang for a fellow smuggler, and had diamonds hidden inside a fake injury cast on his arm by them. Hilarity Ensues.
    • However in a small aside Semyon notes that he never handled weapons "since the war". The man is in his forties, so he obviously was a frontline fighter during the WWII (just like Nikulin himself). So that could be also a case of a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Semyon's wife catches him in a compromising position with Anna, not being privy to the details of Semyon's "mission".
  • Mr. Fanservice: Gennadiy. Justified, since his day job is modeling. We even see him on the runway, trying to show off a pair of "convertible" pants. Unfortunately, he suffers a Wardrobe Malfunction, and he is stuck standing there, looking uncomfortable, as he's trying to unjam the zipper. Meanwhile, the announcer is sounding like a broken record ("The pants turn... The pants turn... The pants turn... into elegant shorts").
  • Not My Driver: This is how the smugglers try to trap Gorbunkov: they are aware that a taxi (driven in fact by a policeman) is going to pick him up, so one of them makes sure to arrive at the place earlier.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Lyolik's impersonation of a cop, complete with a fake mustache that later peels away.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": The courier is supposed to identify himself to the Turkish contacts by slipping on a puddle outside their shop, falling, and speaking a particular curse (something like "Damn it to hell!"). Of course, they really should have chosen a better code word, since it's a commonly-used Russian curse, and Istanbul is a popular tourist destination for Russians. And anyone can slip on a puddle and fall. It's a wonder there aren't so many false positives.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Yakov Kostyukovsky read in a newspaper that a few Swiss people tried to smuggle jewels in an orthopedic cast. He took that idea, and the result was this film.
  • Streetwalker: One tries to bodily yank Semyon into her apartment.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: The Chief can't seem to get Gennadiy and Lyolik to do anything right, even when he sends The Vamp Anna as help. Semyon is only captured when the Chief himself intervenes.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: Like many other Soviet films of that period, this one features several characters randomly bursting into song. It only really makes sense once, when the (very drunk) Semyon gets on the stage at a restaurant and starts singing about rabbits, with the music making sense, since there's a live band playing. However, when Gennadiy is singing on the cruise ship, the music is coming from nowhere. For reference, Andrei Mironov, the actor playing him, was an accomplished singer.
  • Too Dumb to Live: After discovering the Chief's identity, Semyon lets the Chief know that he knows. The crooks who were willing to let him live now realize that He Knows Too Much and decide to kill him.
  • The Vamp: Crosses with Sensual Slavs in Anna's case. A young, attractive blonde who is hired by the Chief to seduce and sedate Semyon, while the two henchmen are waiting outside in the car. She invites Semyon claiming to have the gown he's looking to buy, puts on romantic music, sets out wine (both knowing that Semyon can't hold his liquor and planning on putting a sleeping pill in his glass), and then takes off the gown "to show it to him". She then starts dancing to the music until the clasp of her bra suddenly flies off... just as Semyon's wife bursts in.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Gennadiy has one when he explains to the Chief that Semyon is leaving, still with his bandaged arm.
  • Voiceover Letter: Semyon's wife leaves him one after the Mistaken for Cheating event above, letting him know that she is taking their kids and moving in with her mother.
  • Walk on Water: Gesha is stranded on an islet about a kilometer from the shore. Some boy asks him what's wrong and walks away after being told to get lost. Then the criminal notices the boy walks on water, becomes a born-again Christian and follows him to the shore. But his faith doesn't live long after he discovers it was just a strip of shallow water.