Tovarich is the story of two Russian aristocrats exiled in Paris,
France, after the Russian Socialist Revolution in 1917.
The Grand Duchess Tatiana, niece of the Czar, and her beloved husband,
Prince Mikail Ouratieff were living in poverty. They had run through their
own funds and now had to steal food in order to eat. They owed money to
the landlord. They were two penniless refugees, not counting the forty billion
francs, of course.
Before the Revolution, the Russian Czar had seen fit to give Mikail the major
portion of his gold, instructing him to place it in the Bank of France
under his own name until better days. The interest had mounted and today,
that money totaled something like forty billion francs, all in Mikail's
account. But of course they couldn't use for themselves, even though they
were hungry and on the verge of eviction.
Chauffourier-Dubieff, Governor of the bank of France, tried to
talk them into using that money to finance the
campaign of a pretender to the throne (Count Brekenski) to reconquer Russia. But Mikail believed that a counter-revolution was doomed to failure, so
he refused Chauffourier 's plea. Count Brekenski warned them, "The
representatives of the other Russia are also concerned about those forty
billion francs. Commissar Gorotchenko has just arrived in Paris and I have the distinct feeling that
this money is beginning to place your very life in danger."
Gorotchenko. He had faced Mikail and Tatiana at the head of a Bolshevik board
of inquiry. He had tortured Mikail and forced himself upon Tatiana. They were
terrified of him. One night it would happen. Gorotchenko's men would waylay Mikail. They would take him
somewhere, torture him to make him sign, destroy utterly the one person in
the world whom Tatiana loved with consuming passion.
Brilliantly devised from the famous play, and with
many additions from the inventive Hollywood mind, this combines the
suavest sort of dramatic story with comedy in the new padded-cell
Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer, appreciative of each
other's talents and superbly matched, create together the characters
of basically simple design, despite the direction of Anatole Litvak
who often is inclined to the rococo.
With a leisurely beginning but without a perceptible flaw, there
is unrolled an incident in the lives of two happily married White
Russians of royal birth, who now after the Revolution live in the
poverty of a Paris garret. Boyer, the husband, is custodian of some
forty billion francs entrusted to him by the Tsar, but
idealistically saves the fortune. He and Claudette, to be able to
eat, hire out as butler and maid to a wild family. Then ensues a
merry and highly amusing interlude when the employer, a loony
banker, his gabby wife and tow youthful offspring all fall variously
in love with the two new domestics. In the end both drama and
buffoonery are climaxed at a dinner party at which Boyer and Miss
Colbert are recognized by guests, and a Soviet Commissar makes a
desperate plea for the imperial millions.
Melville Cooper impresses solidly and Isabel Jeans does fine
work. Basil Rathbone is morbid, with polish, as the Commissar. You
must see it.
As they struggled to figure out what to do, Tatiana read a classified ad
in the paper:
"Number four, Avenue de Tourville. Butler and Housemaid. Married couple
wanted. Two rooms of their own. Luxurious surroundings. Central heating."
"Central heating," Tatiana breathed. "Absolute Paradise." She began to clap her hands. "Mikail, we
They wrote references for "Tina and Michel," a couple who worked for
the Grand Duchess Tatiana and Prince Mikail Ouratieff. And then they
headed to the Dupont home as Michel and Tina to apply for the jobs of
Butler and Housemaid.
After a bizarre interview, Mikail and Tatiana were hired. The Duponts
had no idea that their new servants were actually Russian royalty. Shortly
afterwards, Mikail lay on the bed in the servants room, ravenously
munching on a chicken bone. "The paper did not exaggerate," he breathed.
"This is indeed paradise." Tatiana added, "We have been blessed with a home at last, Mikail,
after all these long years."
Charles Boyer and Claudette Colbert
Isabel Jeans and Melville Cooper
Michel and Tina
soon endeared themselves to the Duponts. They were efficient and good in
On the morning of New Year's eve, Madame Dupont was telling Michel and Tina about the guests who were coming
to dinner that night. Mikail and Tatiana were taken aback when they learned that Madame Dupont had
invited the Soviet Commissar, Commissar Gorotchenko. Puzzled by their
reaction, Madame Dupont asked, "Why,
what's the matter? Do you know him?"
"Yes," Mikail answered. "We do know of him,
Madame. He is a most cultivated man with a lively wit. And he has
two eccentricities. Cigarettes and women."
That evening the house was festively lighted and most of the guests had
already arrived. Mikail and Tatiana walked into the room with the cocktail
trays. As Tatiana served the guests, she was recognized by Lady Cardigan.
Tatiana had not even a
moment to collect herself as the titled English woman faced her squarely
and swept to the floor in a deep, ceremonial curtsey. Tatiana gasped, "Please
don't!" She stood back against the wall and waited for the heavens to
"Lady Cardigan," Madame Dupont said, astounded, "just why did you do that?
Curtseying to a housemaid."
"Housemaid? That's ridiculous. She's the Grand Duchess Tatiana Petrovna."
And suddenly, another voice spoke from the doorway. It was Chauffourier.
He strode toward Mikail. "Excellency! I had no idea you were to be here."
Mumbling apologies, Mikail turned and bolted.
And then the storm broke. With
great glee, Chauffourier proceeded to tell them of Mikail's forty billion
francs. Why, the Duponts' butler was the richest man in France!
With the names of Claudette Colbert and Charles
Boyer decorating the marquee this thoroughly delightful comedy
should do excellent business at the box-office. The Deval stage play
has been given greater scope on the screen, due to skillful
direction, and clever script, able acting and capable production.
Director Anatole Litvak has overlooked no opportunities in winning
laughs, while Casey Robinson's scenario is an able writing job.
Robert Lord rates credit as associate producer. Boyer, usually cast
in dramatic roles, proves equally at home in light comedy, while
Claudette is her capable self opposite Boyer. An important factor in
winning laughs is Melville Cooper, playing the part he created on
the stage. Basil Rathbone, Isabel Jeans, Anita Louise, Maurice
Murphy, Morris Carnovsky, Fritz Feld, Gregory Gaye, May Boley and
Curt Bois are among the other important principals who do excellent
work. Boyer and Claudette are "white" Russian refugees, members of
Nobility, living in poverty in Paris. Boyer has been entrusted with
a huge sum of francs by the Czar, and he will not touch one "sou"
thereof. Boyer and his wife, Claudette Colbert, become servants in
the home of Melville Cooper and Isabel Jeans, parents of Anita
Louise and Maurice Murphy. The members of the Cooper family become
very fond of them and it is not until the night of the Coopers'
dinner in honor of Rathbone, Soviet Commissar, that the Coopers
learn their servants are members of Royalty. Although Rathbone had
persecuted Boyer and insulted Claudette, he pleads with Boyer to
turn over the francs to the Soviet so that valuable Russian oil
fields should not have to be leased to foreigners. Their love for
their mother country is so strong that they turn over the money to
Daily, December 4, 1937
And then Commissar Gorotchenko arrived. Tall, lithe, and wearing a
humorous, cynical smile, Gorotchenko was an incisive blade
of a man, a civilized barbarian. The buzz of conversation stopped as Mikail
approached Gorotchenko. "A cocktail, Commissar?" Gorotchenko reached for a cocktail, saying, "Thank you." He must have
recognized Mikail, but he said nothing.
The evening went on like a nightmare. Gorotchenko's presence was like a burning
brand, Madame's eyes a steady, sorrowful reproach. Finally, with dinner
over, Tatiana stood over the dishes, washing them.
She had been alone for a few moments when she heard a light footfall.
Whirling around, she beheld Gorotchenko. Fear replaced astonishment, but
she said, quite calmly, "What have you come here for?" He
smiled and said, "I came to see his Excellency." The
man's poise was breathtaking, harrowing. Remembering his past abuse, she wanted to scream.
Instead, she said, evenly, "You will please
leave this room, Commissar."
Mikail opened the door and stopped short. "Oh! What are you doing in
"I want you to do me a
favor, your Excellency. I want you to write me a check for forty billion
"Now you can kill him, Mikail,"
for two hours I have been closeted in there with those bourgeois
worshippers of the great god Petrol. They want me to sign over to them the
Baku and Petrovolsk oil fields for the next fifty years. I have been
fighting to avoid it, and this is why. Think back to your map of Russia.
If I sign this agreement, part of that map will have to be torn away."
"Then don't sign!"
"I must. If I don't find credits in gold
for tractors and agricultural machines, some five million wretched
peasants will starve to death. Your people as well as mine, General.
Consider it. Fifty years of English, Dutch, French and Americans,
digging Russian oil, capitalizing Russian resources, drawing life
blood from the veins of our country."
Tatiana knew that Gorotchenko
had won before he had finished. This was their country, for which Gorotchenko
pleaded, part of their very blood and bone. The man was a villain but within the stony wall of his heart lay Russia and all its
future. Mikail asked Tatiana,
"Do you want me to do it?" "Yes, Mikail."
Slowly, he sank into a chair and took up a pen. "The first and last
check," he murmured as he signed his name to forty billion francs. Then,
handing the slip of paper to Gorotchenko, he said, "You will inform the
Soviet Government that this is tendered in the name of the Czar. And now,
if you will excuse me, I must serve the lemonade." Mikail exited the
kitchen. Gorotchenko turned to Tatiana and said, "Good-bye, Serene
Highness." She moved to the door and held out her hand to Gorotchenko. "Good-bye, Tovarich."
The Duponts greet Commissar Gorotchenko.
The guests had all departed. Dressed in full court regalia, Mikail and Tatiana
stood in the kitchen. They had promised to take Georges and Helene to a
little Russian cafe for a New Year's Eve party. Despairingly, they took one last look around the room. They
knew they would lose their jobs because of their deception.
The door opened and Monsieur and Madame stood there, gaping at
began tearfully, "Oh, why did you have to be born a Grand Duchess and
Prince when good servants are so hard to get!" "It just happened, Madame,"
Mikail said weakly. "Well, it's a great pity," Monsieur sighed. "By the way,
what will you do?"
Tatiana begged, "Oh, Monsieur, if you will allow us to stay until
morning. Not that we want to inconvenience you." "Inconvenience us!"
Monsieur threw up his head like one who sees the light. "I should jolly
well say you won't. You'll have to stay until we get other servants servants who are every bit as good as you are."
Mikail and Tatiana stared. Servants as good as they were? Where would they find
such people? It might take years and years. Quite right, Madame and
Monsieur concurred. It might take a whole lifetime. That was the general
idea. When the Duponts had left, Mikail and Tatiana clung tightly
to one another, marveling over their good fortune. The film ends with the
couple putting the trash out and the empty milk bottles as they leave for
their New Year's Eve party.
They had 40 billion francs in the bank, but the
Grand Duchess (Claudette Colbert) was stealing the dinner, and her
husband, the Prince (Charles Boyer), was spending the day in bed
because there was no fire in the miserable apartment under the eaves
of the Paris pension.
That is the beginning of the gay, charming
tale of the two proud exiles from Russia who defend a sacred trust
against all comers. The trust is the fortune, confided to them for
safe-keeping by the Tzar in the parlous days when his throne was
beginning to totter. And, though the Tzar was dead, they have
defended his property with fanatic honor. They will not use the
millions for themselves. And they are disdainfully amused at all
suggestions from selfish parties who bring pressure upon them for
Things look pretty black when Her Imperial Highness is detected
filching artichokes and caviar for dinner, but hope comes in the
form of an advertisement. They apply for positions as maid and
butler in the home of a banker (Melville Cooper). There they so
enchant the daughter (Anita Louise), and the son (Maurice Murphy),
and are in turn so delighted with the warmth, the food, the freedom
of Thursdays off, that their problems seem solved until a Soviet
Commissar (Basil Rathbone) is invited to dinner.
There is delightful dialogue in this photographed play, sturdy
drama, and enough gay comedy to make it one of the outstanding
attractions. You'll like it for the surprise ending, as well as for
the plot which keeps you guessing from the start.
Hollywood, March 1938
Warner's acquired the film rights to the 1936 translation of Jacques Devals
play, and hired Anatole Litvak to direct the film. Tovarich was the first of nine films that Litvak made for Warner Bros.
between 1937 and 1942.
When the film went into production, the title was Tonight's Our Night.
The title was later changed to Tovarich, the title of the
successful play upon which it was based. The word tovarich is
Russian for "comrade."
Initially, Allan Conrad and Roland Young were in the cast. Allan Conrad
(Georges Dupont) was replaced by Maurice Murphy.
Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer, neither of whom was under contract to
Warner Bros., were cast in the lead roles. Charles Boyer and Claudette Colbert had
previously worked together in The Man
From Yesterday (1932) and Private Worlds (1935), both at
Paramount Pictures. Tovarich was the third and last pairing of
these two stars.
Claudette Colbert was under
contract to Paramount, and her contract allowed her to make a few films at
other studios. When Claudette was cast as Tatiana in Tovarich, Kay
Francis sued Warner Bros.
to get out of her contract. Kay claimed that she had
renewed her contract with Warners in 1935 because she
was promised the lead in Tovarich. In late December 1937 Kay
dropped the suit without explanation.
According to Screenland magazine (January 1938), Greta Garbo
also wanted the lead in Tovarich.
Mikail is visited by Chauffourier-Dubieff, Governor of the bank of
France, and Count Brekenski, the pretender to the throne.
Chauffourier-Dubieff and Count Brekenski greet the Grand Duchess.
Associate producer Robert Lord was also unhappy with the casting choices.
He put his objections in this letter to to Hal Wallis (executive
producer), dated January 29, 1937:
I have been studying the play Tovarich very closely and I am
more convinced than ever that it can be made into an outstanding picture.
I saw announced in the newspapers that the following people have been
engaged for it: Claudette Colbert as Tatiana, [Charles] Boyer as Prince
Mikail, and [Basil] Rathbone as the Commissar. This is probably just
another false newspaper rumor; but if it is true, two of the people are
quite wrong for the parts.
The ideal actor, in fact the inevitable actor, to play the Commissar is
Edward G. Robinson. He must be gross, earthy, coarse, brutal, from the
gutterbut a brilliantly educated man. Everything about Rathbone suggests
the aristocrat. Rathbone playing the Commissar will throw your piece
completely off balance.
Now about Boyer: He is a sad, meek, little man, about five feet, seven
or eightunless I am completely misinformed. Prince Mikail is a Russian
cavalry officer, big, dashing, aristocratic and handsomeeverything that
Boyer is not. Freddy March, Brian Aherne, Rathbone, or even Ian Hunter is
much closer to the character than Boyer. I know that Boyer has a good name
and is adored by women; nevertheless this is one of the best stories we
have had in years and it would be a shame to weaken it by casting the
wrong man for Prince Mikail.
I am sorry to start my association with the picture by making trouble,
but I sincerely feel that these matters deserve serious consideration.
Source: Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951) by Rudy Behlmer, Viking
Penguin Inc., New York, 1985 (pages 32-33)
In the letter, Robert Lord expressed a preference for Fredric March
over Charles Boyer because Boyer was a "little man." Charles Boyer was in fact five
feet nine, a little taller than Lord thought he was. Fredric March was
five feet tenonly one inch taller
than Boyerand yet he seemed more regal to
Lord. Rathbone and Aherne were over six feet tall.
In welcome contrast to the current trend of "goofy"
comedy, TOVARICH, with its legitimately humorous situations
concealing a moving dramatic story, is superb screen entertainment.
Designed for more general appeal than the stage play, unfortunately
the screen version still retains two of the original's most glaring
faults; an opening which warms up too slowly and a tottering
reception scene near the finish which is only rescued by the
dramatically amusing conclusion. But even these defects do not deny
that this is a fine piece of work; sharp in its farcical situations,
tender in its love passages and screamingly funny in its comic
moments. A natural money getter in the deluxe and better nabe
houses, word-of-mouth advertising will help it in the subsequents.
Actions and rurals will find it difficult to sell.
Colbert and Charles Boyer are the owners of forty million francs,
given them by the Czar before the revolution to be utilized in the
best interests of Russia. However, the exiled nobles live poverty
stricken in Paris, where they are the target of various officials
who want them to convert the cash into government bonds and other
interests. They decide it is best to go to work and, under assumed
names, they become butler and housemaid to Melville Cooper and
Isabel Jeans, the daffy parents of two equally insane children,
Maurice Murphy and Anita Louise. How this odd family changes under
the spell of its two charming servants forms the rest of the story
until a dinner to which comes Basil Rathbone, an official of the
Soviet Republic. Their identity is revealed and Rathbone prevails
upon them to turn over the money to save Russia from losing certain
oil interests coveted by other countries. Contrary to their
expectations, the disclosure of their royal birth does not cost them
their jobs. And thus happy that they can remain in the kitchen as
two servants, the exiled Prince and Princess depart for a Russian
New Year's celebration, putting out the milk bottles and garbage en
Boyer again exhibits his splendid talents, eloquently shading his
characterization so to extract from it full value. Colbert, while
not the Russian princess type, succeeds admirably in a difficult
role to which the slightest affectation would be ruinous. Melville
Cooper's expressive face gives a good comedy note to his role as the
banker. Basil Rathbone, briefly seen, is expertly menacing and
Anatole Litvak has wisely chosen to stick to filmic technique
rather than merely photograph a stage play. His clever bits of
business lend added humor to the story.
Film Bulletin, December 4, 1937
Tovarich was the only film in which both Basil Rathbone and
Claudette Colbert appeared. It was also the only film in which both Basil Rathbone
and Isabel Jeans appeared.
Charles Boyer and Basil Rathbone acted together in The Garden of Allah
(1936), and then again in Tovarich.
Heather Thatcher and Basil Rathbone had acted together once before, in 1933, in the
film Loyalties. And they would appear together again in If I Were King
(1938) and in Above Suspicion (1943).
Melville Cooper played the role of Dupont in the stage play of
Tovarich, which opened in London in 1935. He reprised the same role
for the film. Basil Rathbone and Melville Cooper acted together for the
first time in Tovarich. They would appear together again in The
Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Dawn Patrol (1938), and a
couple of episodes of the Schlitz Playhouse in 1954: "Volturio
Investigates" and "The General's Boots."
Gorotchenko recognizes Mikail, who is serving drinks.
Tatiana and Mikail serve the dinner guests.
According to the
Movie Database, Claudette Colbert fought with the director over Charles
Lang, the cinematographer. She "didn't feel that Lang was photographing
her according to her wishes, and demanded that he be fired. Litvak
refused, setting off almost constant battling between the two that lasted
the entire length of shooting."
But other sources contradict that statement. In his book Claudette Colbert: She Walked in Beauty,
Bernard F. Dick wrote that Claudette insisted on having Charles Lang as cinematographer. Picture Play
(January 1938) reported that Charles Lang took extra time, which was putting the
film behind schedule, so Warner Bros. fired him. Claudette Colbert personally paid the
studio the cost of delays ($80,000) in order to get Charles Lang back as
Variety (August 25, 1937) reported, "Although Claudette Colbert
had a verbal agreement with Warner Bros. that she could have her Paramount
cameraman, Charles Lang, handle the photography on 'Tovarich,' he was fired without her consent after picture
had been in production for three weeks. In order to reinstate him, Miss
Colbert had to relinquish two weeks of her won salarythe first time on
record that a star of Miss Colbert's calibre was forced into such a
One of the most successful plays of our generation
comes to the screen as exceptional entertainment, a picture of such
warmth, humanness and wit that I can imagine no one remaining immune
to its charm. It is easy, glowing charm that comes from interplay of
character and a fresh, lively sequence of events as well, of course,
as from intelligent writing, sensitive acting andoh, see "Tovarich"
for yourself! It is about a couple of Russian refugees of royal
blood in Paris and their adventures as butler and maid in an
unconventional household. That tells little or nothing but it is all
you need know. There hasn't ever been a pair of royalties like them,
nor has there been a household like the one they serve. Nor, for
that matter, a scene to equal that memorable moment when Prince
Mikail and Grand Duchess Tatiana are recognized and pursue unruffled
their task of waiting on table, serving their enemy the Soviet
commissar who pursues them to the kitchen and succeeds in persuading
Mikail to turn over forty billion francs in gold entrusted to him by
the czar. The noble butler does it for the good of the Russian
people. Right on the heels of his fine Napoleon in Garbo's
"Conquest," Charles Boyer adapts himself with brilliant ease to the
lighter requirements of this other royal role. More than that, he
gives the character depth and compassion and serene repose.
Claudette Colbert is no less ingratiating in what is perhaps the
finest acting she has ever disclosed Basil Rathbone is superb as the
commissar. The picture of the month!
Picture Play, March 1938
Anita Louise got the flu during production, but it didn't hold up
production. Director Anatole Litvak filmed scenes with Boyer and Colbert while Anita was
sick. According to the
Internet Movie Database, Claudette Colbert
also became ill during production, and her illness did cause the
film to fall behind schedule.
Litvak insisted on lots of rehearsals. After 66 days of shooting, the production hit a budget figure of $1,400,000.
The managing director of Radio City Music Hall hosted a cocktail party
in honor of Anatole Litvak, director of Tovarich, on the day before the
premiere (December 24, 1937). A special "Tovarich" cocktail was created by Oscar of the
Tatiana leaves the apartment to steal some food for lunch.
Tatiana and Mikail try to sneak past the landlord to get into their
Reminding readers that Tovarich is a movie, and not historically
accurate, author Bernard Dick wrote, "With the industrialization of the Baku
oil reserves, Gorotchenko could not have been authorized to sell them. And
the peasants starved anyway, once Stalin enforced collectivization, which
led to widespread famine in Ukraine and the extermination of the Kulaks.
Baku would become an issue in 1943 after Hitler set his sights on the oil
fields, never realizing that the Russians would fight as heroically as
they did at the battle of Stalingrad."
Bernard F. Dick, Claudette Colbert: She Walked in Beauty
(University Press of Mississippi, 2008) p. 126-131
There is no doubt as to the drawing power of this
picture, first, because of the popularity of the stars, and
secondly, because of the fame of the play from which it was adapted.
Its appeal, however, will be directed mostly to high-class
audiences. Those who saw the play will be somewhat disappointed, for
in its transition from the stage to the screen it has lost some of
its charm. The first half is spoiled by too much burlesquing; but it
gets much better in the second half, where there is plentiful comedy
and human appeal. The best situation is that which takes place
during a formal dinner party to which the Soviet Commissar had been
invited; the comedy arises from the fact that the host was unaware
that his butler and maid were Russian nobles, and that the Commissar
was their worst enemy. Human interest is awakened by the eagerness
of the butler and of the maid to hold on to their jobs, which meant
their security and peace of mind:
Although he had forty million francs deposited in his
name in the Bank of France, Boyer, a former Russian Price, refuses
to touch one cent of it because the money had been entrusted to him
by the Czar to be held until he would return to the throne. He and
his wife (Miss Colbert), a former grand Duchess, live in squalid
surroundings and even resort to stealing for their food. They
finally decide to seek employment as butler and housemaid in the
home of wealthy Melville Cooper, without divulging to him their
social rank; they are overjoyed when Cooper engages them. In a short
time Cooper, his wife (Isabel Jeans), his daughter (Anita Louise),
and his son (Maurice Murphy), come to adore their two servants,
because they display talents as musicians, fencers, and poker
players. At an important dinner party given by Cooper, at which the
Soviet Commissar (Basil Rathbone) had been invited, one of the
guests recognizes both Miss Colbert and Boyer and bows to them.
Cooper and his wife then learn who they are and are terrified at
what might happen upon the Commissar's arrival. But the dinner
passes off smoothly. After the dinner Rathbone pays a visit to the
kitchen and pleads with Boyer to help Russia by turning over the
money so as to stave off the avaricious attempts of other nations to
gain control of Russia's oil wells. Although they despise Rathbone
and everything he stood for, they turn the money over to him for the
sake of Russia. And their happiness is restored when Cooper tells
them they could remain in his employ.
Harrison's Reports, January 1, 1938
Watch the trailer for Tovarich:
Go to Page Two for more reviews and pictures. See Page Three for pictures of posters,
lobby cards and promo photos.