Musical Monday: Balalaika (1939)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Balalaika (1939) – Musical #227


Reinhold Schünzel

Nelson Eddy, Ilona Massey, Charles Ruggles, Frank Morgan, Lionel Atwill, C. Aubrey Smith, Joyce Compton, Phillip Terry, George Tobias

Beginning in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1914, Lydia Pavlovna Marakova (Massey) is a singer in a cafe and the daughter of a political activist. She meets and falls in love with Prince Peter Karagin (Eddy), who poses as a commoner. World War I begins the same day it’s revealed that Lydia’s family had a plot to kill the prince and his father (Smith). The war seperated Lydia and Peter.

-Ilona Massey’s first starring Hollywood film role
-Based on a 1936 London stage play of the same name. It ran 569 performances
-Miliza Korjus was originally offered the leading role of Lydia
-Based on a 1936 stage play of the same name.
-Balalaika and Let Freedom Ring (1938) were the only two films Nelson Eddy made without Jeanette MacDonald from 1935 to 1940.

Notable Songs:
-“Ride, Cossack, Ride” performed by Nelson Eddy
-“Carmen” performed by Nelson Eddy and Ilona Massey
-“Tanya” performed by Ilona Massey
-“At the Balalaika” performed by Ilona Massey and Nelson Eddy

My review:
Starting in 1935, every film Nelson Eddy made co-starred Jeanette MacDonald. “Balalaika” is only one of two films Eddy made in a five year time frame without MacDonald (the other film was 1938’s Let Freedom Ring co-starring Virginia Bruce).

Ilona Massey and Nelson Eddy

Eddy’s co-star here is opera singer Ilona Massey and it was her first starring role in Hollywood. Massey is a capable leading lady with a lovely voice. But coming off the heels of Jeanette MacDonald, I don’t feel like Massey and Nelson Eddy have outstanding chemistry.

The story is entertaining and I particularly enjoy that we fastforward several years in the story. It feels a little long at an hour and 42 minutes, but it’s entertaining throughout.

Along with our two leads, the real highlight of the film is the supporting cast. Frank Morgan, C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Ruggles and Joyce Compton — it’s hard to get better than that!

If you only know Nelson Eddy with Jeanette MacDonald flanking his side, give this film a try. You will see that he can sing and deliver lines just as well on his own.

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