Director: Grigory Alexandrov
Production Co.: Mosfilm
Screenplay: Mikhail Volpin, Nikolay Erdman & Grigory Alexandrov
Cinematography: Boris Petrov (uncredited: Volodya Nilsen, V. Pereslavtsev?)
Design: G. Grivtsov, M. Karyakin & K. Yefimov
Music: Isaac Dunayevsky
N.B. no definitive technical credits for Volga-Volga exist, with different combinations of people credited on different prints and in contemporary publicity. The dark reason for this is that many of the filmmakers who worked on the film at various stages were out of favour or dead (variations on a theme) by the time of the film's release.
Strielka: Lyubov Orlova
Byvalov: Igor Ilinsky
Pilot: Vladimir Volodin
Uncle Kzya: Pavel Olenev
Alyosha Trbyshkin: A. Tutyshkin
Yard Keeper: S. Antimonov
Byvalov's Secretary: M. Mironova
Black & White
After Jolly Fellows (1934), subtitled 'A Jazz Comedy', Alexandrov tried to transplant a revue melodrama onto home soil; but Circus (1936) was not particlarly successful. So, the director returned to some of the motifs already used in Jolly Fellows, and created a kind of satirical multi-character comedy, of course richly adorned with music.
A bureaucratic manager of a balalaika factory (a hilarious character, a real descendant of Gogol's revisors) receives an invitation to send a team to the Moscow Musical Olympiad. There are two musical societies in the factory willing to go: light (led by Strielka, a musically talented girl, at present employed as a postwoman) and operatic. Both groups sail down the Volga, in separate paddle-boats, causing a lot of fracas even before the competition proper starts. The bureaucrat also causes a lot of trouble, but these efforts are doomed since youth always wins.
This time the script was not, as in previous films of Alexandrov, "a collection of attractions," but was solidly based on the classical dramatic axis of a journey. Former eccentricity was likewise replaced by a certain discipline in the madness presented, subordinated to the dancing rhythm at which events develop, swaying like the waters of the Volga which carry the protagonists. The result is the best of all Soviet comedies, very populist in character, very typical of its country - and very funny.
- Adam Garbicz & Jacek Klinowski, Cinema: The Magic Vehicle, Journey One, New Jersey, 1975
Another unpronounced credit to Shumyatsky's administration, and another musical comedy that improved on all its maker's previous work was Alexandrov's Volga-Volga. Writing his own scenario this time, Alexandrov based it on the recently increased effort to reveal the rich theatrical talents among the non-theatrical workers - amateur singers and dancers who earned their living as farmers, miners, book-keepers. This was a more original and profitable field for humour and entertainment than the foreign jazz of Jolly Fellows and the worn excitements of Circus. Supported by new situations, the fantastic style of the Meyerhold comedian, Igor Ilinsky (as a bureaucrat) and the music of Dunayevsky, both Alexandrov and Orlova were at their best in Volga-Volga. Their work before and since never showed them as so worth the support of the film industry and the film audience. Alexandrov celebrated this merited triumph by supervising the colour filming of the May Day parade this year.
- Jay Leyda, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film
Comedy, the production of which had been encouraged in various ways, including comedy script competitions, had improved considerably since the beginning of the 1930s, but it has always been regarded as one of the most difficult and least successful genres in Soviet films. In Volga-Volga Alexandrov and his unit had a typical modern theme - the activities of an amateur musical society. They created some simple, but quite natural characters, and made good use of the Volga countryside. The film was full of gaiety and had some very funny slapstick. It also had some of Dunayevsky's delightful music. This film was a successful example of the kind of socialist comedy Alexandrov had been aiming at, with a typical optimistic background and the laughs often at the expense of something or someone unpraiseworthy.
- Catherine de la Roche, from Dickinson & de la Roche, Soviet Cinema, London, 1948
The two great directors of Soviet musicals were Grigory Alexandrov and Ivan Pyrev. The former had worked with Eisenstein in the 20s, visiting Hollywood with him... Alexandrov's wife Lyubov Orlova [was the] star of all his films... Alexandrov and Orlova had their greatest success with The Circus (1936), in which Orlova plays an American circus artiste nearly lynched for having a black child... [The pair] offered variations of the formula in Volga-Volga (1938) and The Bright Path (1940), and Orlova became the greatest star of Soviet cinema.
- Julian Graffy, 'Kino', Sight & Sound, April 1997
At least as I see it... Volga, Volga is one of the most absurd pictures in the history of Soviet cinema, a point that I assume [director] Alexandrov did not suspect in the least...
The town of Melkoretchensk, which is shown in the first half of the picture, is one of the most amazing parodies in the film. During the twentieth year of Soviet power (the film was being prepared to commemorate the jubilee), what do we find in Melkoretchensk? There is a general flourishing of people's talents and a universal idiocy... The telegraph was practically unknown in the town. Let's recall how the joyful Strelka delivers a telegram to Byvalov that announces a parade of folk talent. The fastest means of information comes across the slowest means of transport, which is the ferry boat that is stuck in the middle of the river, and the telegram has to be delivered by means of song as in past days: Civilization stumbles on the town of Melkoretchensk. The telegram is being taken to Byvalov, the official object for satirical exposure, by a water carrier who is unthreatened by unemployment, for in this town they have not only no telegraph, but no water pipes as well. The only telephone in town that night connects Byvalov sitting in his office on one floor with someone on the next floor, but even this is shown not to be working.
The whole town is so busy doing only one thing: singing and dancing... In Volga-Volga, not a single institution in town minds its business: They don't feed you in the local diner. A janitor doesn't look after the building or clean the yards or streets because everybody is singing and dancing under the leadership of the indefatigable Strelka, the letter carrier. Musical fusions of classics and balalaika, also representing a high degree of parody, are brilliantly realized by Dumayevsky.
- Maya Turovskaya, 'The strange case of the making of Volga-Volga' in Horton (ed.), Inside Soviet Film Satire: Laughter with a Lash, Cambridge, 1993
Volodya Nilsen was exiled: He was the director of photography, and Zahar Doretsky was exiled as well during the shooting: He was one of the best production managers. People kept disappearing. And sometimes it happened just like that: You would be sitting with your friends, three of you, and one of them told a joke. Your other friend laughed and you didn't. The next day the friend who told the joke was missing. Which of us informed on him? Maybe some of the rooms were bugged. My husband always had a briefcase ready in our hall with a toothbrush and so forth.
So people were gradually disappearing from our film. When we finished shooting, the cameraman was gone. Alexandrov was not too brave a man, as you know. And if he only understood what had happened. By the way, I thought about it then too. If he understood, maybe he wouldn't have made the picture at all. This crazy ensemble was too much of a parody...
My part ceased to exist. Alexandrov cut it out. It was a love story with Jutyshkin, a parallel romantic story, but it was impossible, of course.
Zahar Daretsky disappeared as early as during preproduction. He was a famous production manager. I have no doubts that the script was written as a parody. But if Grigory Vasilevich understood that, he wouldn't have directed the picture.
- M.V. Mironova, actress