Balalaika (1939)

Balalaikabalalaika poster
Directed by Reinhold Schünzel
Written by Charles Bennet, Jacques Deval et al

First viewing/Warner Archive Collection DVD


Prince Peter Karagin, aka Peter Teranda: [singing] Blood and fire, not for me. / Blood and mire, not for me / Lovely ladies, six or seven / Luscious lips, I’m in heaven.

Well, I guess I needed to see this to find out that Ilona Massey is no Jeanette MacDonald. This musical is OK but not more.

Lydia Pavlova Marakova (Massey) is a radical and singer at a club for officers.  Prince Peter Karagin (Nelson Eddy), a Cossack officer and son of a hated general, spots her there.  It is love at first sight.  He finds out that she has a weakness for students and poses as one.  She falls for him and he gets her a singing gig with the Petrograd opera.  Then one night, Lydia is out at some kind of protest that gets charged by Cossacks and her brother is killed.  Peter, the leader of the Cossacks, is outed.  He apologizes and swears he will quit the army.  In the meantime, the radicals have plotted to assassinate Peter and his father at Lydia’s opera debut.  The father is killed, but not before he announces that Germany has declared war on Russia.  Broken-hearted, Peter heads off to WWI.

Segue to post-Revolution Paris where all the aristocrats we saw are now working at a night club called The Balalaika and Peter is employed as a singer.  How will Peter and Lydia be re-united?  Not terribly convincingly that’s for sure.  With Charlie Ruggles as Peter’s orderly turned nightclub owner, Frank Morgan as an opera impresario, and Lionel Atwill and C. Aubrey Smith as aristocrats.

I guess MGM was grooming the Hungarian Ilona Massey for stardom but the remainder of her screen career looks to have been spent largely in Universal horror films.  So I may not be alone in my failure to appreciate her singing voice or acting.  Nelson Eddy remains Nelson Eddie.  The story is all over the place and my beloved Charlie Ruggles overdid it in his part here.

Balalaika was Oscar-nominated for Best Sound Recording.

That does it for my 1939 viewing.  I’ve seen all the Oscar-nominated films I can get my hands on and, while there are maybe 30 more films I could catch on-line, it seems to be a matter of diminishing returns.  On to 1940!!!




2 thoughts on “Balalaika (1939)

  1. Nelson Eddy was only tolerable when he was with MacDonald………they both could sing beautifully but he couldn’t act so she covered his rear. Their glorious voices made those movies worthwhile and I usually liked them (I must admit that a couple of them I really liked). Then we come to this one………………his acting shortcomings are more apparent and Ilona Massey couldn’t carry the film. Eddy as a Cossack!!!!!! …..I don’t think so. This is not a star in anyone’s crown.

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