comscore PBS film recounts USSR's Krushchev barnstorming U.S. | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

PBS film recounts USSR’s Krushchev barnstorming U.S.

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    Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev tasted his first American hot dog, complete with mustard, in 1959. “Cold War Roadshow,” on “American Experience,” recounts the 13-day U.S. tour taken by the Soviet leader.

In his best-known films, such as "Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst" and "Oswald’s Ghost," documentarian Robert Stone has focused on riveting bursts of violence in U.S. history. His appealing new film does the opposite, looking at a moment of ad hoc diplomacy that may have made America safer at a time when the ultimate violence — nuclear war — seemed to be just one misunderstanding away.

"Cold War Roadshow," Tuesday night on PBS’ "American Experience," recounts the 13-day U.S. tour taken by the Soviet premier, Nikita S. Khrushchev, in September 1959. It’s not the most obvious choice of subject, but the Cold War clearly has a hold on Stone: He’s already gone there in films such as "The Satellite Sky" and the Oscar-nominated "Radio Bikini" — and the renewed tensions between the United States and Vladi­mir Putin’s Russia give it some timeliness.

The 52-minute "Road­show" sketches in the background — duck-and-cover drills, bomb shelters — and then briskly traces Khrush­chev’s progress from Washington to New York, the West Coast and through Iowa, where his visit with the crusty corn farmer Roswell Garst became the trip’s enduring image.

Light analysis and reminiscence are supplied by historians and a pair of eyewitnesses: Susan Eisenhower, whose grandfather Dwight had made the risky decision to invite Khrush­chev to America; and Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita’s son, who also made the trip. The younger Khrushchev is funny and poignant, recalling his father’s response when the question of his safety came up: "If they kill me, of course it will be big problems."


9 p.m. Tuesday on PBS

The story of Khrush­chev’s charming of America, through quick wit and a common touch, is familiar. The real pleasure of the film is its evocation, through nearly constant archival film, of the 1950s milieu and the U.S. response to the mysterious Khrushchev, a reaction that looks both more mannerly and more hostile than you might expect today. Those who decry the discourteousness of our current cable-news outlets may be taken aback by the clip of Dave Garroway, the jaunty host of the "Today" show, asking, "How did this bulky fellow with the rotund face that might be that of a clown reach his present pinnacle?"

By Mike Hale, New York Times

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