Released December 29, 1939.
Directed by Reinhold Schunzel.
Produced by Lawrence Weingarten.
102 minutes.

Spanish title: En el Balalaika (At the Balalaika)

Based on the London operetta that had music by George Posford and Bernard Grün, with book and lyrics by Eric Maschwitz. Screenplay: Leon Gordon, Charles Bennett, and Jacques Deval. Photography: Joseph Ruttenberg and Karl Freund. Music Adapta­tion and Score: Herbert Stothart. Orchestrations: Murray Cutter, Paul Marquardt, and Wally Heglin. Conductor: Dr. William Axt. Choreography: Ernst Matray. Russian Cossack Choir conducted by Anatol Frikin. Recording Director: Douglas Shearer. Art Director: Cedric Gibbons. Art Associate: Eddie Imazu. Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis. Gowns: Adrian. Men’s Costumes: Valles. Makeup: Jack Dawn. Editor: George Boemler. Assistant Director: Dolph Zimmer. Screenplay Contributions: Vincent Lawrence, Richard Connell. Ballet Choreography: Albertina Rasch, assisted by Florence Nelson. Technical Adviser: Count Andrey Tolstoy.

The stage musical Balalaika opened at the Adelphi Theatre in London on December 22, 1936 after several postponements. It starred Muriel Angelus, Roger Treville, Clifford Mollison, and Betty Warren, and ran more than 446 performances.

Nelson Eddy (Prince Peter Karagin, AKA Peter Fedorovitch Taranda)
Ilona Massey (Lydia Pavlovna Marakova)
Charlie Ruggles (Private Nicki Popoff)
Frank Morgan (Ivan Danchenoff)
Lionel Atwill (Professor Marakov)
C. Aubrey Smith (General Karagin)
Joyce Compton (Masha, Lydia’s maid)
Walter Woolf King (Captain Sibirsky)
Dalies Frantz (Dimitri Marakov)
Frederick Worlock (Dr. Ramensky)
Abner Biberman (Leo)
Charles Judels (Batoff, the café owner)
Phillip Terry (Lieutenant Smirnoff)
Arthur W. Cernitz (Captain Pavloff)
Roland Varno (Lieutenant Nikitin)
George Tobias (Slaski, the counterman)
Paul Sutton (Anton)
William “Willy” Costello (Captain Testoff)
Marla Shelton (Olga)
Kay Sutton (Nina)
Erno “Ernst” Verebes (Danchenoff’s secretary)
Eddy Conrad (Peasant)
Monte Vandergrift (Corporal)
Al Ferguson, George Volk, Bob Stevenson, Earl Seaman, Feodor Chaliapin, Charles Brokaw, Rand Brooks (Soldiers)
John Bleifer (Sailor)
Andrew Tombes (Wilbur Allison)
Florence Shirley (Mrs. Allison)
Lee Phelps (Doorman)
Jack Luden, John Gubbins, Rex Post, Dirk Thane (Imperial Guard officers)
Boris Glagolin (Customer in Slaski’s)
William Royle (Police detective)
Ellinore Vanderveer, Constantine Romanoff (Café extras)
Jac George (Violinist)
John Holland (Musician)
Harry Semels (Man in square)
Hector V. Sarno, Michael Mark, Demetrius Alexis, Harry Lamont (Workmen)
Dorothy Ates, Irene Colman, Linda Brent (Women in café)
Zeffie Tilbury (Princess Morodin)
Mildred Shay (Jenette Sibirsky)
Alma Kruger (Mrs. Danchenoff)
Harry Worth (Karagin’s aide)

Opera sequence:
Sigurd Nilssen (Sultan)
Irra Petina (Nadine)
Douglas Beattie (Markov)
David Laughlin (Prince Igor)

Tiny [Paul] Newland (Policeman)
Frank Puglia (Orchestra conductor / Ivan, the café proprietor)
Maurice Cass (Prompter)
Alexis Davidoff (Man)
Eddie Hart, Edward Payson, Art Miles (Sailors)
Paul Irving (Prince Morodin)
Russian Cossack Choir

Cut from Release Print:
Albert d’Arno (Austrian aviator)
Harold Hoff (Austrian observer)
George Meeker (Sugar daddy)
Judith Allen (Blonde)
Rafael Storm (The Argentinean)

Oscar nomination for Best Sound Recording: Douglas Shearer


There is no rarer blossom than a British operetta successfully transplanted to American soil. With the exception of the Gilbert and Sullivan works of the 1880s, they could be counted on one hand: Edward German’s Tom JonesFlorodora and The Geisha, both by Sidney Jones; and The Quaker Girl by Monckton; all making the journey before World War I.

Noël Coward’s 1929 Bitter Sweet, a border­line operetta, was the last to cross the Atlantic. America had begun breeding its own unique hybrid, the combination of operetta, revue, minstrel show, vaudeville, and jazz that would become the American musical.

The British still clung to their beloved operetta, and the 1930s saw long successful West End runs of confections by Ivor Novello and Walter Leigh that would have emptied a Broadway theatre. In shows like Glamorous NightPride of the Regiment, and Careless Rapture, princes loved ravishing commoners in mythical European kingdoms surrounded by gypsies, secret love children, enormous choruses, and exotic stage effects (such as sinking an ocean liner on the stage of the Drury Lane every night).

A rather conservative example of this was Balalaika, a 1936 success in London that went straight to Hollywood without stopping in New York. The operetta was shorn of all but its title song (but unfortunately not of its plot) to make a vehicle for Eddy and Ilona Massey.

Miss Massey was one of Louis B. Mayer’s European finds. On that same 1937 tour, he signed actresses Greer Garson and Hedy Lamarr and directors Victor Saville (who produced Bitter SweetThe Chocolate Soldier, and Smilin’ Through), Julien Duvivier (The Great Waltz), and Reinhold Schunzel (Balalaika), among others.

Hungarian-born Ilona Hajmassy had gotten her first break in the tradition of the backstage film musical. A noted singer, Maria Nemeth, became ill and Ilona substituted. Her performance brought her to the attention of the head of the Vienna Statsoper. In Hollywood her name, which means “garlic,” was shortened to “Massey,” and she was featured in Rosalie. Despite her superb reviews, it was two years before film audiences got another look at her. It was a charming look, although the studio might better have emphasized her Dietrich-like sexiness than her smoky but occasionally drifting soprano. She was also done a disservice by the photographer. In an apparent attempt to emphasize her blonde beauty, he so overlit her close-ups that most emotions as well as imperfections were washed from her face.

Balalaika reflected the new interest of Hollywood in non-czarist Russia, already our potential ally against the rising threat of Nazi Germany. Films like Tovarich (1937), Ninotchka (1939)—both dealing with Czarist expatriates meeting party members in Paris—and Comrade X (1940) showed our somewhat schizophrenic attitude toward pre- and post-revolutionary life in that exotic country. Czarist and Communist were lauded, ridiculed, and ultimately made to blend in a tidy Hollywood ending. Balalaika, as a musical, refrains from commenting on the struggle between the nobility and the revolutionaries despite making it the center of the action. And, although the irony and nostalgia of royal expatriates working as waiters and tailors is beautifully handled, the conflict of the drama is never realized. We do not thrill when the heroine wanders back into the hero’s arms, just wonder why it took so long.

This is not to say that Balalaika is dull. It is richly mounted, excitingly photographed, and full of tender and funny moments. Eddy is in especially good voice and delivers some outstanding numbers. But the departures from the stage plot don’t seem to add anything to the story. The action jumps from St. Petersburg to the wartime trenches to postwar Paris with no sense of dramatic thrust. No musical piece binds the separated lovers together or helps them to find each other. The crucial bit of hokum necessary to a successful operetta is missing.

The stage Balalaika made the two fathers protagonists, their children innocent victims of the passions of the time. This dramatic confrontation between the two opposing old men, the old order and new, is missing from the film. The stage Lydia was a ballerina, her “Count” Peter a bodyguard to the Czar. When her father tosses a bomb at the Czar, Peter saves his life. The “Stille Nacht” sequence ends Act II. In the film, we must assume that the heroine’s father is executed, but in the play he becomes the Russian ambassador to France after the war, and his daughter is quite well off.


The play opens in 1924 in Paris, and then does a flashback to Russia before the revolution. The film, however, begins in 1914 in a village near St. Petersburg. The peaceful scene is disrupted by Cossacks, who gallop through the town, doing acrobatics on their charging horses while pretty girls thrill as their irate husbands and fathers drag them indoors. The leader of the two hundred or so uniformed men is Prince Peter Karagin (Nelson), looking splendid in his Cossack uniform and leading his men in the spirited “Ride, Cossacks, Ride.” Unlike the rear-projection Mounties that Eddy had to lead in Rose Marie, these are flesh and blood men who actually appear to be singing with him. The exciting camera work on the sequence gets the film off to a fast start.

Their destination is the Café Balalaika in the heart of gay St. Petersburg, a nitery that makes Maxim’s look shabby. The Cossacks are soon getting their fill of wine and obliging women. Only one thing is missing, and that is provided by a new songstress, Lydia Pavlovna Marakova (Ilona Massey). Her dark, brooding brother, Dimitri (Dalies Frantz), is a pianist in the café orchestra, and her father, Professor Marakov (Lionel Atwill), is the conductor. Dimitri is disgusted that they must perform for these drunken saber rattlers, but the Professor points out that they must eat. There are no other jobs.

Lydia, in a black sequined gown split to the thigh, delivers a high-powered number, “Tanya,” with most of the Cossacks joining in. Prince Peter watches from an upstairs dining room. He is fascinated and sends his orderly, Nicki Popoff (Charlie Ruggles), to summon the lady to the officers’ private party.

Unfortunately, Nicki has been too busy with two Balalaika belles to notice what Lydia looks like. He goes to her dressing room and mistakes the maid, Masha (Joyce Compton), for the mistress. She disillusions him, giggling at his flowery compliments. He pleads for a date. Can he dance? she asks. He points proudly to the medals on his chest. “Only one is for bravery. The rest are for dancing.”

Masha delivers the Cossacks’ invitation, but Lydia has no intention of putting herself at their mercies. The café owner (Charles Judels) orders her to go. She refuses. Very well, he says. She and her family think they are too good to perform in a café? Well, they can all get out. Lydia quickly relents.

In a modest gown, she enters the crowded room and finds herself clutched and pawed by the revelers. The officers insist that she choose a “favored one” by drinking from one of their glasses. They close in, eagerly thrusting their glasses at her until there is no escape. Suddenly she sees a single glass on the table. The owner of that glass will be her favorite she says, pushing out of the circle. It belongs to the absent Prince Karagin, and the men fall back.

Lydia sings “At the Balalaika,” a haunting tango, and tells them that her father was a Cossack too. He died fighting. Where did he fall? they ask. “In the streets of Kiev, battling against factory workers…a glorious death!” Peter has entered just in time to catch this bit of sarcasm.

One dashing officer, Sibirsky (Walter Woolf King, star of early film musicals and the singing villain of A Night at the Opera), decides to claim her for himself. She has an inspiration and turns on him in horror. Has he forgotten what he did to her sister? How the poor girl died of a broken heart? She rushes out the door, sobbing bitterly. Peter grins broadly at her successful deception.

He questions the café owner about her and learns that her father is a live conductor, not a dead Cossack. She is a talented performer, the owner concedes, but unfortunately she is an intellectual. She can actually read and write. She puts on airs, ignoring the officers and befriending the scruffy students who hang about the café.

Peter decides his uniform might be a hindrance in pursuit of the lady. He offers one of the students fifty rubles to change clothes with him and follows Lydia to a modest restaurant, where he sits beside her and tries to strike up a conversation. He is a poor voice student, “Peter Fedorovitch Taranda,” just arrived in the city, he tells her. Reluctantly she smiles at his flamboyant attentions. He tells her his dear aunt has sent him some money for his birthday, and for one hour he is a millionaire. Lydia must join him in caviar and champagne.

The skeptical counterman (George Tobias) brings his order and demands payment. Unfortunately, Peter has left his money in his uniform. Lydia coldly pays the check and heads for the door. He must be careful when he picks his next victim, she tells him. That girl might need a new coat more than champagne. Peter wants to know where he can find her to pay her back. “I can’t afford to meet you again,” she says stonily and slams the door. “What a woman!” he cries.

At the Karagin house, Nicki the orderly is on the phone ordering roses for the many ladies who have been pining for Prince Peter while he was away on maneuvers. Nicki adds a bouquet of his own to the order: “From Masha’s Nicki to Nicki’s Masha.” He reminds the florist of his usual kickback. Peter overhears and orders Nicki confined to barracks for thirty days—“and thirty nights!”

Peter’s father, old General Karagin (C. Aubrey Smith), welcomes his son home. He wonders if Peter’s men have been acting unusual in any way. One of them has been caught with revolutionary pamphlets. The General holds one out: “Rise against Karagin, the butcher.” They must find out who is printing them. Dissolve from pamphlet to a shabby sign: “Professor Marakov, Vocal and Instrumental Lessons, Terms Moderate.” Inside, Lydia’s brother, Dimitri, plays Chopin on one grand piano while the Professor and Leo (Abner Biberman) operate a hand printing press hidden inside a second piano. The room is full of shabby, somber men. The maid Masha (for even revolutionaries must have maids, it seems) sweeps in with tea, and the piano lid drops into place, hiding the press. Just in time, for Nicki follows Masha, carrying a tray of biscuits. The Professor wants to know why she has a uniformed Cossack in the kitchen and she explains that he is her cousin. “Another cousin?” asks Lydia smiling. “Since last night I’m the only cousin,” Nicki replies happily.

The Professor tells Nicki that they all love soldiers and want to help them. The only help Nicki can imagine is enough rubles to open a restaurant. That isn’t quite what the revolutionaries had in mind, and they lecture him on freedom and brotherhood.

Outside, Peter asks directions of a passing constable (Paul Newland). There are no numbers on the houses. The officer explains that the new numbers are on brass plates. “That’s progress. The janitors sell the brass plates for vodka. That’s Russia.”

Lydia opens the door to Peter. He tells her it is his duty to call the police. High treason is being committed in her apartment. Her face grows pale. “Against Beethoven,” he continues happily, indicating the hastily organized rehearsal in the next room. He returns half of her money and asks to pay the rest in daily installments. “Mail it,” she snaps and tries to ease him out the door. Professor Marakov stops her and boldly invites Peter to join them. They will soon be able to tell if he is a music student or a member of the secret police. The unsuspecting Peter sits down at the piano housing the printing press and picks up some sheet music into which they have stuffed revolutionary pamphlets. Lydia quickly pulls him to the middle of the room, and the men close around him. He must audition.

“What will you sing?” demands the Professor. Without accompaniment Peter begins “The Volga Boatman” in Russian. Slowly the men in the room join in, embellishing the chant with voice and instrument into a driving rhythm. Then, one by one, they drop out until Peter is singing alone, still facing Lydia in the center of the room.

Everyone relaxes. He is obviously one of them. Masha enters with more tea, and Peter turns to find his orderly, Nicki, passing out biscuits. Their mutual double take is so obvious that Peter hastily explains that Nicki is from his hometown. They were boys together. Nicki stutters his agreement, then warms to the task. He elaborates on their boyhood pranks and Peter’s many romances. Peter grimly promises that they will get together later for a good long talk.

Lydia tells Peter she loves his voice. He ought to sing at the opera. No, he replies, she is the one who should be in the opera. The Professor explains that Lydia doesn’t have a chance. Only girls who have the favor of a count or prince are hired.

Dissolve to the Imperial Opera House where a harried, elaborately mustachioed little man named Danchenoff (Frank Morgan) is on the phone. It is absolutely impossible! They cannot hire another singer! They have sixty too many already, all feminine and all protégées of prominent men. “Make it sixty-one,” orders Prince Peter.

Still posing as a student, Peter drags Lydia bodily into Danchenoff’s office and demands an audition. Danchenoff decides to let the supposed nightingale humiliate herself publicly. He leads her to the center of the opera stage, where a rehearsal is in progress. “Play some­thing from Carmen and make it fast,” he instructs the orchestra. In the kind of scene that reduces opera devotees to tears, the conductor instructs his men to play “the second act from the beginning.” There follows a quick set of highlights from Acts II and IV, sung very well by Eddy and Miss Massey.

Lydia is hired. To celebrate, Peter makes reservations for a private room at his favorite country inn. He and Lydia drive there in a troika, through exquisitely-photographed sunlit woods, reminiscent of the “Vienna Woods” sequence in The Great Waltz, also photographed by Joseph Ruttenberg.

Lydia asks to stop at a roadside church. There she sits beside her mother’s grave and tells her that their dream has come true. She will sing at the opera, and it is Peter who has made it all possible.

Overhearing, Peter regrets his plans for their evening and tries to take her back to St. Petersburg. Her curiosity is aroused, and she insists they go on to the inn. Peter tries to get them a table on the terrace, but the proprietor (Frank Puglia) assures him their private room is ready. Over Peter’s protests, Lydia sweeps up the stairs.

Everything is perfect, she tells him, surveying the flowers, the food, and the enormous cushioned couch. Peter must be a very rich student. It is certainly the equal of any other private dining room she has been taken to. Peter’s mortification changes to pained anger. He didn’t know he had to equal his predeces­sors. If she has had so much experience, then his efforts haven’t been wasted after all. He grabs her and kisses her arrogantly. “How did that measure up?”

She struggles to leave. “All the others let me go,” she explains, “as soon as I made it clear I didn’t appreciate private dining rooms.” Peter apologizes, and so does Lydia. (A few bars of “Magic of Your Love” are heard teasingly in the background. The song’s use as the finale love theme would have been much more effective if the lovers had enjoyed a reconciliation waltz and sung its lilting strains at this point.)

Lydia tells Peter she was more hurt than angry. She knew he loved her when she saw the room and realized he had changed his mind and tried to take her back to St. Petersburg. Their kiss dissolves to a “bridal bouquet” of lilies-of-the-valley.

Lydia is arranging the vase of flowers sent by Peter. She wears a bolero with padded shoulders, a popular 1939 fashion. In fact, costumer Adrian’s only concession to the 1914 setting was to lengthen the skirts of the otherwise very 1939 styles.

One of the revolutionaries, Leo, bursts in drunk and tells the Professor that his son, Dimitri, is making a speech to the factory workers in the square. Father and daughter rush to the square to stop Dmitri just as the Cossacks arrive with the same idea. From a doorway, Lydia sees Peter leading them. In a beautifully edited sequence, the crowd scatters frantically, falling under the hooves of the charging horses.

Dimitri knocks a soldier from his horse with a well-aimed rock. Another Cossack turns his horse and runs Lydia’s brother down, sword swinging. Dimitri crumbles to the cobblestones.

In her horror at the death of her brother, Lydia agrees to lure both Peter and his father, General Karagin, to the opera to hear her sing. There they will be assassinated. Peter comes to tell her how sorry he is about her brother. He has further news. He has submitted his resigna­tion from the army so they can be married. She is torn between grief and happiness. She cannot tell him why, but he must not come to hear her debut at the opera. His father too must be kept away. She pretends she would be too nervous and Peter promises.

The opera is an Arabian Nights tale con­trived from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Miss Massey’s jeweled gown with midriff cutouts is in Adrian’s most exotic Mata Hari vein.

To Lydia’s dismay, the General appears in his box. He has come despite his son’s objections. Unexpectedly, Peter appears beside him with a dispatch. Leo and the Professor are waiting in the balcony. Slowly the Professor raises the pistol concealed by his program. Suddenly the General raps for silence. Germany has declared war on Mother Russia, he tells the stunned audience. There is a pause, then the orchestra strikes up the national anthem. Professor Marakov lowers his gun. Russia will need soldiers now more than she needs revolutionaries. This infuriates Leo, who seizes the gun and fires madly at the box. The General falls and, in one of the many beautiful crowd scenes in the film, the audience flees in terror.

Peter finds Lydia trembling in her dressing room. There is nothing to be afraid of, he says, putting his arms around her. His father will recover and the assassins will be caught. When he returns from the war, they can be married. They are interrupted by soldiers. The gunmen have been arrested. One of them is Lydia’s father. Peter is to arrest her at once. He is stunned and refuses to believe she is part of the plot, but she proudly declares her guilt. She believes as they do. “Including murder?” asks Peter. For an answer she wraps a cape over her costume and marches toward the door.

Dissolve to snow falling softly on the trenches. In a singularly clumsy bit of exposi­tion, Nicki informs us that Lydia has gotten out of prison and is roaming the countryside “from café to café.” He and Sibirsky decide not to tell the Prince.

The officers gather in an earthen dugout for an improvised Christmas dinner and reminisce about the old days. Sibirsky produces a balalaika and softly sings “At the Balalaika.” Outside, Peter, in a dashing fur-collared coat and officer’s cap, scolds a sentry who has com­plained his wife and children are going hungry. This is war, Peter says sharply. He enters the dugout and finds his fellow officers exulting over their only remaining bottle of vodka. Peter seizes it and takes it outside to the sentry. “Merry Christmas,” he says and returns to the party. The sentry stares sullenly at the bottle, then smashes it, his face twisted with hatred.

The officers are protesting that Peter has taken their only bottle. “That’s what makes it a Christmas gift,” he tells them cheerfully. Their feast of borscht with “almost beef” is interrupted by distant voices. The Germans are saluting the Russian Christmas by singing “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”). The men stand in the softly falling snow and listen to the carol coming across the stretch of barbed wire and shell holes. Peter takes up the song, and the distant voices sing with him, a very nice scene indeed.

Biplanes fly over, and everyone dives for cover. They are Russian planes, dropping leaflets telling the soldiers to go home and join the revolution. When orders come to attack, many of the men won’t move. Lt. Nikitin (Roland Varno) pulls a gun to make his troops go. He falls in a burst of gunfire that may be from the enemy—or his own men. A sound­stage battle follows with lots of explosions, smoke, and falling bodies.

Dissolve to a smoky café where Lydia is entertaining in a gypsy costume, singing “Otchi Chornia.” Someone bursts in to announce the end of the war. The men are shooting their officers, he shouts happily. A close-up of Lydia’s horrified face dissolves to the Eiffel Tower in the rain.

A very American couple in evening clothes (Andrew Tombes and Florence Shirley) is discovered arguing about where to go next. A cab pulls up, and its driver, our old friend Captain Sibirsky, suggests the Café Balalaika. Its doorman turns out to be Danchenoff of the opera. The venerable old General Karagin is the one-armed wine steward, a greying Peter is the strolling singer who accepts tips from the customers, and the owner is none other than the lowly orderly, Nicki Popoff. Tonight is Russian New Year, and Nicki’s wife, Masha, is happily totaling the receipts. Nicki is pleased, but somehow it isn’t as he always imagined it. He always expected to serve the nobility, but now they are serving for him. Prince Peter, in full uniform, is singing “At the Balalaika” for the patrons, including the insulting Americans. At the request of some Russians, he sings wistfully of their past glories.

At 11:30, the club closes for a private Russian New Year party. The battered nobility gather in full court dress, discussing their tailor shops and flower stands. (Eddy smokes his only screen cigarette in this scene.) Everyone grows nostalgic, reminiscing about the old days, and Danchenoff, the former opera impresario, sings wistfully of their past glories.

A face appears at the rain-spattered kitchen window. Masha turns to find Lydia, dressed in a shabby trench coat and felt hat. Their tearful reunion is interrupted by the General. Lydia and Masha stand fearfully before him until he goes to Lydia and kisses her. Peter’s voice comes from the next room in a happy drinking song. The General tells Lydia there has been no joy in Peter’s heart.

A traditional game begins before the restaurant mirrors. The players hold candles in each hand and chant a rhyme, asking the mirror to disclose their true love. When it is Peter’s turn, Lydia appears behind him. (She is wearing Jeanette’s Czaritza dress from Maytime with new sleeves.) “The Magic of Your Love” waltz booms excitedly, and Peter takes Lydia in his arms for a chorus and a kiss.


Generally reviewers dismissed the plot, but praised Ilona Massey. “Miss Massey is a dream to see and hear,” said William Boehnel in the New York World-Telegram. He added that “Eddy is first rate. [The film] says something nice about the workers and it also says something nice about the Holy Russians. That it says nothing of any consequence on behalf of either or both, may, perhaps, be excused on the ground that it is an operetta, and no one expects much from an operetta.”

Variety called it “a sumptuously produced operetta in the opulent Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer tradition. With Nelson Eddy and a new personality looker topping the cast, it has enough marquee value…to carry it nicely for strong business. Miss Massey, the Magyar import, is as heady as tokay for the b.o. Eddy is hemannish and dashing, well suited to his rôle.”

Frank S. Nugent said in the New York Times that, “In these propaganda-searching days, we know the comrades are going to howl bloody Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The picture is long on formula and short on originality. Listening to Mr. Eddy’s baritone enriching ‘Song of the Volga Boatman’ and ‘Holy Night, Silent Night’ [sic] is our idea of killing time so pleasantly that it dies with a smile on its face.”

The New York Post reported: “Consider and then reserve a niche in your dreams for the blonde Hungarian, Miss Massey.”


Eddy recorded a 78 RPM album of songs from the film:

“At the Balalaika”
“The Magic of Your Love”
“Ride, Cossacks, Ride”
“Silent Night”
“Song of the Volga Boatman”
“Chanson du Toreador” [The Toreador Song] from Carmen)

Music in the Film

In listing performers after each title, “and” denotes a genuine duet, while commas between names indicate a sequence of singers. Some or all of the “male chorus” listings are the Russian Cossack Choir, conducted by Anatol Frikin.

Overture: “At the Balalaika” verse, “Tanya,” “At the Balalaika” (chorus) INTO:
Russian religious chant copyrighted as “After Service” (chorus) – arranged by Herbert Stothart,
“A Life for the Czar” fragment (male chorus) – Mikhail Glinka, A Life for the Czar, Act III,
“Ride, Cossacks, Ride” (male chorus, Eddy, Walter Woolf King, male soloists, whistling by Sergei Protzenko) – music by Herbert Stothart, lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, INTO:
“A Life for the Czar” reprise (Eddy and male chorus)
“Tanya” (Massey, male chorus) – music by Herbert Stothart, lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet
“Gorko” (male chorus, Massey) – Russian drinking song adapted by Stothart
“At the Balalaika” (Massey, male chorus) from the original London production – music by
George Posford, lyrics by Eric Maschwitz, with new lyrics by Wright and Forrest
Chopin’s Polonaise in A Flat, Opus 53 (Dalies Frantz at the piano)
“El Ukhnem” [“Song of the Volga Boatman”] (Eddy, male chorus) – traditional, arranged by
Feodor Chaliapin and Feodor Feodorovich Koenemann
“Chanson Bohème” from Carmen, Act II (Massey) – music by Georges Bizet, libretto by
Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy
“Chanson du Toreador” [“The Toreador Song”] from Carmen, Act II (Eddy) – music as above
“Si Tu M’Aime” from Carmen, Act IV (Eddy and Massey) – music as above
“Tanya” (a very exciting orchestral reprise)
“Scheherazade” (Massey, Sigurd Nilssen, Irra Petina, Douglas Beattie, David Laughlin) – by
Nickolas Rimsky-Korsakov, arranged as an opera by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest. Miss
Massey’s solo copyrighted as “Shadows on the Sand.”
“God Save the Czar” [“Boze Carja Chrani,” Russian National Anthem] (chorus, Eddy, C. Aubrey Smith, and Massey) – music by Alexei Fedorovich Lvov, lyrics by Vasili Andreevitch
“At the Balalaika” reprise (King)
“Stille Nacht” [“Silent Night”] (Eddy and male chorus) – music by Franz Gruber, lyrics by
Joseph Mohr
“Otchi Chornia” [“Dark Eyes”] (Massey) – traditional Russian gypsy cabaret song
“At the Balalaika” reprise (Eddy)
“Flow, Flow, White Wine” [lyric: “Bubbles in the Wine”] (King, Frank Morgan) – arranged by
Stothart, lyrics by Kahn
“Wishing Episode” [lyric: “Mirror, Mirror”] (Alma Kruger, Mildred Shay, Eddy) – arranged by
Stothart, lyrics by Wright and Forrest
“Magic of Your Love” (chorus, Eddy and Massey) – music by Franz Lehár, new lyrics by Gus
Kahn and Clifford Grey. The song was originally “The Melody of Love” from Lehár’s
Gypsy Love. With new lyrics it was sung as “The White Dove” in MGM’s 1930 musical
The Rogue Song with Lawrence Tibbett.
Finale: “Song of the Volga Boatman” (orchestral)

The only song definitely used from the London production was “At the Balalaika.” In addition, a number of songs were copyrighted for the film but apparently not used:

“My Heart Is a Gypsy” – Bronislau Kaper and Gus Kahn
“You and I” – Stothart, Wright, and Forrest
“How Many Miles to Go” – M. Glinka, Stothart, and Kahn
“Lovelight in Your Eyes” – Franz Lehár theme with lyrics by Gus Kahn
“Soldier of the Czar” – Romberg, Kahn (This does not appear to be “A Life for the Czar”)
“Your Heart and My Heart” – words and music by Gus Kahn
“In a Heart as Brave as Your Own” – Tchaikovsky theme arranged by Romberg, words by Gus Kahn

Script History

Contributed by Mary Truesdell

Unfortunately, there are precious few production notes for Balalaika at the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study in Los Angeles. The script for the original London operetta begins with the Imperial Cossacks doing a naked bathing scene by a river after their battles and before their leave. Their dialogue indicates they are far from honorable about women. The stage hero, Peter, is definitely a playboy.

The files do contain many rewrites of the troika and inn scenes, indicating that the writers were struggling to portray the encounter between Peter and Lydia as romantic and with a degree of integrity, rather than a one-night stand. Peter’s character must be adapted to show that “true love changes man to faithful lover.” His film dialogue should be “bantering, but an underlying seriousness and softness… charming eroticism, not glittering glinting.”

Fanny Brice was the original choice for Masha!

Movie Goofs

As Lydia’s father opens the door to his vesti­bule, he tucks his violin under his right arm and reaches for the doorknob with his left hand. When the door opens a split second later, he has the violin dangling in his left hand. (Joan Woolley)