Monday, 14 March 2011

Grigori Aleksandrov: Jolly Fellows - Весёлые ребята (1934)

Directed by Grigori Aleksandrov
Written by Grigori Aleksandrov
Nikolai Erdman
Starring Lyubov Orlova, Leonid Utyosov
Music by Isaak Dunayevsky
Cinematography Vladimir Nilsen
1934, 96 min.
Soviet Union

When the Muscovites produce a film which does not mention Dnieprostroy, ignores the class struggle and contains no hint of editorial Marxism, it immediately becomes one of the great events of the international cinema. The new Soviet jazz comedy at the Cameo, in its uniquely Russian blend of syncopated music and straightforward slapstick, is no more politically minded than a Laurel and Hardy picture. Written and directed by the hitherto orthodox Gregory Alexandrov, who assisted Eisenstein on "Potemkin," it is a loud and brawling carnival, unashamed in its imitation of the bourgeois Hollywood technique, and curiously attractive even when it is being as subtle as a side of beef.

"Moscow Laughs" has its decided faults, quite apart from the antiquity of a major proportion of its humor. The lighting of the interiors is wretched, the recording is frequently inferior, and the film is at least twenty minutes too long for complete comfort. Yet the fact of the matter is that the film bursts with vitality and is sometimes uproariously side-splitting.

If Mack Sennett could see how many of his pre-war nifties have been borrowed for the occasion he would have difficulty in convincing himself that the year is 1935. There is the comic who, upon viewing a plaster Venus de Milo, inquires how the lady manages to scratch herself. There is the comedienne who slaps her partner vigorously across the face on the pretext that a mosquito has landed on his nose. There is the invasion of a dignified house party by a herd of farm animals, occasioning such comic inventions as the attachment of a rope to the guest's trousers, the other end being tied to an enraged bull; the animals drinking out of the punch bowl and thereupon indulging in a drunken spree, the lady who climbs innocently into a bed which is al ready occupied by a cow, and the goat which gets tangled up in a tiger's skin, causing grave consternation among the guests.

Then, in the knockabout musical burlesque which is the final and most consistently amusing section of the picture, there is a jazz orchestra which might give our local Frank and Milt Britton boys a few ideas on mass slaughter. Apparently inspired by the Brittons, this Muscovite outfit goes in for a joyous breaking of instruments and skulls with an enthusiasm which ought to correct any false impressions concerning the solemnity of the Bolsheviki.

The story of "Moscow Laughs" is about as unimportant as the critical stew into which it is sure to plunge the dialectical materialists on the Left. You ought to be told, though, that it concerns a rustic fellow who is always being mistaken for a celebrated musician and who finally arrives on a Moscow concert stage, to the vast detriment of Beethoven and Liszt. According to the program, the excellent theme song of "Moscow Laughs" is singing: "Hurrah for Life! Hurray for Happiness and Love!" Lubov Orlova, a handsome and expert comedienne, excels among the performers. Relating "Moscow Laughs" to the class struggle ought to become a favorite indoor sport for the local comrades. For the rest of us it is an engaging slapstick, even if the film sometimes seems to be more of a credit to Hollywood than to Moscow.

The New York Times, March 25, 1935

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