Alan Arkin, 1934-2023

Alan Arkin was a part of my childhood.

He lived in Chappaqua, where I grew up. His son Tony was in my grade. Arkin used to come to our elementary school, I’m guessing, though I can’t remember for sure, for something like career day. He’d be spotted around town.

More important to me was “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.” Not only was it one of my favorite movies as a kid; it was also one of my dad’s. It’s one of the few movies where I remember my dad laughing out loud. The other was Mel Brooks’s “Spaceballs.” Anyway, I have fond memories of my dad and I laughing through “The Russians Are Coming.”

In memory of Arkin, who died a few days ago, I watched “The In-Laws” last night. A movie where I still laugh out loud.

What struck me this time is how much the movie is about the Latin American debt crisis of the 1970s. I mean, it’s not really about that. It’s about the falling in love of two fathers with each other. That’s the real marriage in any marriage: the one between the in-laws. But the sovereign debt crisis is the story’s backdrop. There’s a lot of discussion of hyper-inflation, and at one point, the Peter Falk character, who’s in the CIA, predicts that if the crisis continues, there’ll be things like “atonal music.” It’s a nice touch. It really does capture the anxiety of the late 1970s over countries in the Global South defaulting on their debt and the fear that inflation was trending toward Weimar-levels.

In one of the last lines of the film, Falk’s character says that he’s getting out of the CIA. The reason? Once upon a time, when he and his comrades were fighting communists, he felt like the CIA meant something. But now, in the era of Carter and the IMF, he feels like he’s risking his life for “the international monetary system.”

After I finished the movie, I did a little reading up on Falk and Arkin. Falk had tried to join the CIA out of college. He got rejected because he had been in a union that was dominated by Communists. It was the 1950s. Arkin’s parents were in the CP orbit, and his father, it seems, was blacklisted.

Just one of many stories of the many actors whose lives intersected with communism and whose careers were shadowed by that early encounter. And though Falk and Arkin were not particularly political actors later in their lives, the intensity of that earlier political specter seems to live in on the intensity of their acting, particularly Arkin’s.

Farewell to a wonderful actor who gave me and my father so much laughter and joy. May his memory be for a blessing.


  1. Jonnybutter July 2, 2023 at 3:10 pm | #

    I loved Alan Arkin. “The Russians..” was a big one for us too, as was “Catch 22” RIP.

  2. Oh_Aquitaine July 2, 2023 at 10:07 pm | #

    Recently saw him in “Love the Coopers”. Great, as always.

  3. Michael Lichtenstein July 3, 2023 at 5:54 pm | #

    Thank you ☺️
    Not bad in little miss sunshine
    Peter Falk quite the character

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