MOSCOW – In 1965 the Soviet government was getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Great October Revolution of 1917. The government invited moviemakers to discuss the prospects of making new films dedicated to the Bolshevik revolution. Among the invitees was 29-year-old Armenian film director Edmond Keosayan, originally from Leninakan (known now as Gyumri), the second largest city of Armenia. He was young and perhaps less experienced than others. However, he was known for unstoppable energy and a temperament for experimentation. More importantly, a few years earlier, Keosayan produced a comedy about a female cook which became one of the most famous comedies of its time. He entrusted the main role of the cook to Svetlanna Svetlichnaya, also born in Leninakan, where her father, a Red Army officer had been stationed at the time. She later became a famous Russian actress.
One of the key problems the Soviet producers were facing with the 50th anniversary was how to prepare films to attract Soviet audiences. Society seemed to be tired of the strict propaganda that saturated the culture in decades following the revolution.
In the days of Nikita Khrushchev’s leadership (mid-1950s to the 1960s) some Western movies began to be screened in the Soviet Union and some literature was translated. To the surprise of the government, many American motion pictures galvanized incredible public interest, much greater than many of their contemporary Soviet films. In 1961 a record number of 67 million movie tickets were sold for the American Western “The Magnificent Seven” by film director John Sturges, surpassing any other Soviet or foreign film screened in the USSR till then.
At the 1965 discussion, Keosayan drew attention to this precedent, suggesting that a new approach be adopted. Per Keosayan, the films on the revolution should focus less on the revolution itself but rather feature adventures, horse riding, shootings and action that would still remain within the scope of the revolutionary context. Keosayan basically spoke in favor of shooting a Western-style movie in the USSR, a totally new genre for Soviet cinematography. According to some sources, there was a moment of hesitation by the supervisors. Emulating an American movie-style in the years of the Cold War was a challenging idea. However, the government finally accepted the initiative.
By the end of 1966 Keosayan’s film about four teenagers (three of Slavic nationalities and one Gypsy) was ready. The magnificent four, despite their young age, were skillfully riding horses, shooting from guns, and engaging in all kind of tricks – helping poor people and chasing the oppressors. In April 1967 in Moscow’s Home of Cinema, the premiere of Keosayan’s “The Elusive Avengers” took place.