The Defection of Simas Kudirka (1978)

Alan Arkin in The Defection of Simas Kudirka (1978)

Day of Shame

"The Defection of Simas Kudirka" is the sort of movie which you watch either already knowing the true story on which it is based or if you have stumbled across it will go looking for information before hand. As such it almost seems ridiculous to say spoiler alert but technically I should so if on the of chance you feel a burning desire to watch "The Defection of Simas Kudirka" with no knowledge, in which case what are you doing looking for reviews anyway, just watch, it will entertain you.

So as to the story well the simplified version is it is the story of Lithuanian merchant seaman Simas Kudirka, an easy going chap, who on the 23rd November 1970 attempted to defect to America. Whilst the Russian ship he was working on was anchored in American waters near Aquinnah, Massachusetts he leapt 400 feet to the USCGC Vigilant but with poor radio signals and after a 10 hour stalemate Commander Ralph E. Eustis was ordered to allow the KGB to board the boat to remove Kudirka resorting to forceful methods to remove him. Taken back to Russia he was sentenced to 10 years in prison but on further investigation it was discovered that he could claim American citizenship and so in 1974 was released and allowed entry into America.

George Dzundza in The Defection of Simas Kudirka (1978)

Now I don't usually tell you the whole story but the story of Simas Kudirka is easy to find and in many ways there is a lot more to it than just this basic story with it being nicely elaborated on in the TV movie "The Defection of Simas Kudirka". To just give you an idea of that elaboration we learn early on that due to Kudirka refusing to rat on his brother-in-law when he was younger he was on the KGB watch list, something which really got to him. There are more of these little things which build up this bigger story of Kudirka but of course the focus is on his attempted defection and director David Lowell Rich handles this nicely so it does have impact but doesn't feel like it is trying to just entertain through the power moments. In fact Rich goes down the route of starting at the end as we see Kudirka being taken out of prison, kept in the dark as to why and left to wonder whether he is going to become another "missing person".

Kudirka's story is fascinating but this TV movie benefits from a great cast with Richard Jordan, Donald Pleasence and George Dzundza all putting in solid characterisations. But the star of "The Defection of Simas Kudirka" is Alan Arkin who manages to create a multi layered character who is easy going but also sick of the system he is forced to live with where his actions are watched by the KGB. It isn't that the character is a complex one; just that Arkin gives him the different layers to make him feel like a real person and someone we feel for.

What this all boils down to is that "The Defection of Simas Kudirka" probably doesn't sound that much of a movie, the story of a defection which goes wrong but it is beautifully directed, wonderfully acted and surprisingly entertaining without losing the impact of the story.