Tag Archives: Joe Versus the Volcano

Katya Orlova Versus the Volcano?

Once upon a time, 1990 to be exact, it would have been difficult to say who was the more charismatic couple, Barley Blair and Katya Orlova or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Indeed the charisma quotient went off the index when these cinematic superpowers paired off; not only thawing East-West relations but generating a Krakatoa-like eruption of cinemagic, lunacy, love and laughter.
Joe Versus the Volcano like The Russia House follows in the footsteps of Casablanca, but instead of Soviet spies we get Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in a magnificently goofy film in the vein of Carole Lombard’s Nothing Sacred.
After learning that he has a ‘brain cloud’ and only six months to live, Joe Banks (Hanks) quits his job, and accepts an offer to “live like a king, die like a man” instead of waiting for the inevitable. To fulfil his end of the deal Joe must jump into a volcano on the island of Waponi Woo in order to appease the volcano god.
What follows is an odyssey Homer would have been proud of, which takes our eponymous hero from a shopping spree in Manhattan, to a cruise on a yacht, to a typhoon, to an erupting volcano, along the way meeting a parade of eccentric characters straight out of a 30’s melodrama; three of them played by Meg Ryan.
In The Russia House the mood is distinctly more pragmatic, as Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer bring their charisma to an extremely pleasant espionage drama set in the era of glasnost. Ditching the sophisticated, glamorous world of James Bond, Connery plays a hard drinking British publisher who finds himself entangled in a web of subterfuge involving MI5, the CIA, Soviet scientist Dante and mysterious Russian go-between Katya Orlova.
Connery is imperious as the bedraggled, boozing Barley, creating a touching chemistry with Pfeiffer’s Katya. You could imagine these two sharing a life after the credits roll. As Katya brings meaning to Blair’s waning life for the first time in a long time, the espionage plot becomes a backdrop for their love story.
I see a lot of myself in Connery’s Blair and Hanks’ Joe. I’ve had the years resigned to a life free of happiness. Now I’m just waiting to meet my Katya. Here lies the central conceit that gives this post its title, an ongoing debate that now juxtaposes the “rare quality” of Pfeiffer’s Русская, with the multiplicity of Meg, renewing a man’s joy in life, even as he journeys toward death.
The journey to Joe’s date with destiny fully explores Ryan’s remarkable range as she gets to play all of the women in Banks’ life. From mousey secretary DeDe, to red-headed, heiress Anjelica and finally Patricia, Anjelica’s delectable, soul sick, half-sister, who captains the schooner Tweedledee on the sail to the volcano.
brain-cloudPfeiffer in some ways takes as many chances with her role as Katya. For one thing, she maintains an authentic Russian accent throughout, and though Hanks and Ryan set off palpable fireworks once they set sail together, Michelle, ever the chameleon, would have been equally at home in any of Meg’s three roles.Her Katya is more luminous than the moon that Joe marvels at, with “the class that only nature can bestow.” I’d have happily leapt into a volcano with her.



Filed under Retrospective