The great Russian actor Yury Yakovlev died today. Honorable, many awarded, favorite actor of millions, his movie list consists of 76 films. It would be impossible to describe his professional career and movie roles in one post. So, I’ve chosen one of my favorites – 1973 comedy film “Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession”, where Yury Yakovlev stars as Ivan the Terrible. The film is endlessly quoted, considered by many people the best comedy of the USSR and Russia. The story begins in 1973 Moscow, where Engineer Aleksandr (Shurik) Timofeev (Aleksandr Demyanenko) is working on a time machine in his apartment. By accident, he sends Ivan Vasilevich Bunsha (Yuri Yakovlev), superintendent of his apartment building, and George Miloslavsky (Leonid Kuravlev), a small-time burglar, back into the time of Ivan IV.
The pair is forced to disguise themselves, with Bunsha dressing up as Ivan IV and Miloslavsky as a knyaz (prince) of the same name (who everybody thought was executed by the tsar). At the same time, the real Ivan IV (also played by Yuri Yakovlev) is sent by the same machine into Shurik’s apartment, he has to deal with modern-day life while Shurik tries to fix the machine so that everyone can be brought back to their proper place in time. Building superintendent Bunsha and Tzar Ivan IV the Terrible are lookalikes which results in funny situations of mistaken identity. As the police (tipped off by a neighbor who was burgled by Miloslavsky) close in on Shurik, who is frantically trying to repair the machine, the cover of Bunsha and Miloslavsky is blown and they have to fight off the Streltsy, who have figured out that Bunsha is not the real Tsar. The movie ends with Bunsha, Miloslavsky, and Ivan IV all transported back to their proper places, although the entire thing is revealed to be a dream by Shurik. Or was it?
The original play was written by Bulgakov in 1935 (albeit not published until 1965) and, therefore, used a setting typical to the 1930s. The film, released in 1973, made changes to the setting to make it contemporary. For instance, Shpak’s phonograph was replaced in the film with a tape recorder, and the time machine was envisioned as using more advanced technology such as transistors. In addition, inventor Timofeyev is inspired to travel to Ivan IV’s era after seeing a film about it on television, as opposed to listening to the play Pskovityanka on the radio.
There were other deviations, not related to changes designed to modernize the setting. While the inventor’s surname Timofeyev was retained, he was called Nikolai (nicknamed “Koka” by his wife Zinaida), while in the film, his name is Alexander (called “Shurik” informally). He is presumably an older version of the protagonist of two previous Leonid Gaidai films: Operation Y and Other Shurik’s Adventures and Kidnapping, Caucasian Style, played by the same actor, Aleksandr Demyanenko; this connection, though, is not stated outright and neither of these earlier films are referenced.
In addition, the reason for the time machine malfunction was changed. The original play, Bunsha and Miloslavsky knowingly disable the machine to seal the gateway between the two time periods, but are dragged into the past, along with the key to the machine, forcing Timofeyev to make a replacement key. In the film, the time machine is accidentally damaged by a halberd, and Timofeyev has to search for some transistors to repair it.
Finally, while the “all just a dream” ending is present in both the play and the film, the play ends on a revelation that Shpak’s apartment has been robbed in reality, not only in the dream. This twist is absent in the film. In the play, Ivan Vasilievich Bunsha is the son of a nobleman, something which, as a conscientious Soviet bureaucrat, he tries to hide. This isn’t mentioned in the film, and would have been an anachronism in 1973.
Despite the aforementioned inconsistencies, the film can be considered a fairly faithful and accurate adaptation.