Balalaika (1939)

Well, I missed one day out of the year already, but I’m going to just shrug that one up.  Its the holiday weekend, I can give myself a break.  Besides of all the things to worry about, posting on this blog is not going to be one of them.  But enough about that, lets go on to today’s actual post subject.

For this post, I decided I wanted to talk about one of my favorite classic films.  Balalaika is a 1939 musical based on stage musical produced a few years earlier.  It stars Nelson Eddy and Ilona Massey.  It also has some notable character actors in the background including Charles Ruggles (The Grandfather in Parent Trap) and Frank Morgan (better known as the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz).

The plot of the movie is an interesting alternative history of Russia.  Instead of the Romanovs, the royal family of Russia is the Karagins, but that doesn’t mean the people of Russia are any less likely to try and rebel.  Eddy plays the Prince, Peter Karagin who falls in love with a singer he hears at the Balalaika, a club in St. Petersburg.  He disguises himself as a student to romance Lydia Marakova, who is secretly a revolutionary along with her father (a  music professor) and brother (a pianist).  They do the local work of the Party from their home where Professor Marakov also teaches music.

Peter manages to fool Lydia and her family into believing he’s just a music student by singing a great rendition of The Volga Boatman, a Russian folksong.

 

Suitably impressed, Lydia decides to give Peter “Teranda” a chance.  He in turn decides to use his princely influence to get her a interview with the head of the Russian Opera. The two fall in love but things of course don’t go as planned.

Lydia’s brother turns out to be a hothead who is not willing to just wait for the right moment, and goes to hold a revolt in town.  Unfortunately he is killed when the Cossack (led by Peter) come to break up the crowd.  This leads her father to agree to be part of an assassination plot of General Kargin, Peter’s father.  I’m guessing Peter is probably a son of a younger son, thus not actually high on the line of succession as they both make it out of this movie alive, and we all know what happened to the Romanovs

While Paval Marakov can’t do it in the end, a family friend does shoot the General.  This of course ends Lydia & Peter’s relationship.  For one, Lydia is arrested at her debut at the Opera for participation in the General’s not-so-fatal shooting.  Also, Peter is off to war.

Things don’t go so well for our pair as the movie continues.  There is a revoltion in Russia which makes Peter and many of his aristocratic friends (and fellow Cossacks) flee to Paris where they now live much less effluent lives.  Lydia, freed from prison by Peter as one of his last acts before going off to war, finds herself struggling to keep a job.

The movie ends with them all joining together for a New Years day party years after the war.  Peter’s former valet Nicki and his wife Marsha (who was Lydia’s maid when she sang at the original club) have opened a Russian themed club called the Balalaika and have decided to serve the Aristocracy of Russia one more time as many of them have become their close friends.

They both watch sorrowfully as Peter continues to be heartbroken, and they worry about Lydia who has disappeared for awhile.  However they both end up at the Club that night, and through some careful scheming, Marsha and Nicki get the two lovebirds together while singing a New Years wish to a mirror, and thus reuniting them for a happy New Year.

Its a good movie, in my opinion and one of my favorites of Nelson Eddy.  Its full of great songs.  I wish I could find a video of Nelson Eddy singing Silent Night in German with the German troops as the two sides hold a truce for Christmas.

The only regret I have is since this was never a book (to my knowledge) we don’t really get to see what happened with Peter & Lydia during the years they were apart.  It also doesn’t really give you a good idea of the passing of time.  Just that you get the feeling years have passed.

If you are in the mood for a classic musical or for operettas, I suggest watching this movie.  It has wonderful singing and a good love story.

 

 

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