Tovarich
Page 2


The guests at the Dupont's dinner, left to right: Heather Thatcher, Basil Rathbone, Melville Cooper, Isabel Jeans, Curt Bois, Ferdinand Munier, Grace Hayle, Doris Lloyd, Morris Carnovsky, Claudette Colbert

"Basil Rathbone refers to Tovarich as one of his 'bread and butter jobs.' Lauded for his keen characterization of the commissar Gorotchenko, Rathbone had fond memories of the film, particularly Colbert. In his autobiography, he noted that Colbert had married Joel Pressman, a medical doctor, in 1935, and was constantly searching for any sign of illness among the crewmembers during filming. It was a familiar sight to see her armed with a first aid kit, taking temperatures of cast and crewmembers and administering diagnoses."
Eleanor Quin, Turner Classic Movies


Tatiana wishes she could poison Gorotchenko.

Gorotchenko admits to being the one who burned Prince Ouratieff with a cigarette.

"Basil Rathbone, in the dinner table sequence, as the commissar, stole the scene simply by the intense quality of his voice. Everybody else in the picture was shrill and high-pitched. Rathbone's delivery was a change in pace, and people went out of the theater with an indelible impression of his expert restraint." Ed Sullivan, "Picture-Stealers Spotted," Silver Screen, November 1938, p.77

 

Smart and sophisticated comedy though it may be, "Tovarich" is nevertheless an attraction for all types of audiences. It is one of that type of pictures the deluxe houses like to make a big fuss about; it is also a feature that comes within the ken of those who patronize the wide-spot-in-the-road theatres. It is a combination of many of the elements which all worthy pictures are supposed to include.

The motivating story is richly humorous. Its love story stimulates the most sentimental emotions, carries a bit of drama and present an intriguing picture of post-war European life. Starring Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer, who contribute masterful performances, it features Basil Rathbone, Melville Cooper, Isabel Jeans, Anita Louise and Maurice Murphy as the principal supports. All perform up to the standard set by the leads. Headed by Victor Kilian and Heather Thatcher, the long list of minor players adds to the entertainment value of the film.

While the stage version of Jacques Deval's play is still meeting with success in metropolitan centers, the screen version by Casey Robinson, produced and directed by Anatole Litvak, with ample evidence that Robert Lord had a hand in the proceedings, may be expected to meet greatest favor in the wider field of films.

For once the continental touch has been brought within the field of ordinary American understanding. Though the locale is Paris, for all practical and entertainment purposes it might just as well have been set in Milwaukee. Basically, the plot follows the premise that two people have been born to suffer and love it. Lest a wrong impression may be conveyed, it should be stated that nobody does any heart-rending suffering. The experiences which all meet are amusing to them. They also were amusing to a preview audience.

Miss Colbert and Boyer are an exiled Russian grand duchess and prince in Paris. Though Boyer can sign a check for 40 billion francs entrusted to him by the late Czar, he is the soul of honor and will not touch it. They live by what Miss Colbert steals. Poverty-stricken, they get jobs in the home of Cooper and Miss Jeans, whose children are Louise and Murphy. All is peaceful, although Boyer ahs trouble fighting off the flirtations of Miss Jeans and Miss Louise, and Miss Colbert has her hands full thwarting the amorous ambitions of Cooper and Murphy until at a reception they are recognized as royalty.

At first they fear only the loss of their jobs. Another menace arises in the person of Rathbone, Soviet commissar, who had put them in torture during the Revolution. But as the dialogue takes sly digs at the modern political-economic setup in Europe Boyer signs away his billions so that Russian territory may be preserved intact. Broke, they remain as servants, ostensibly until others as good can be found, but everyone knows that this will never happen.

As adapted, acted, staged and directed, the picture preserves and embellishes the full comedy quality of the original. the writer, actors and producer-director have extracted the full amusement value of everything provided. "Tovarich" should prove a desirable attraction in any kind of a house.

Motion Picture Daily, December 2, 1937

 

"Smart lines, neat comedy situations and two of the most engaging players in movies combine to make a comedy of lip-smacking satisfaction." Finn, Philadelphia Record


Mikail looks under the couch for M. Dupont's shoe. The sword hidden in his pants prevents him from kneeling.

Georges and Helene drink a toast with their servants after a late night poker game.

"The plot is completely improbable but under Litvak's direction, and with the aid of more than competent actors, it becomes almost entirely believable. Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer (who must assuredly have illusions of grandeur by now, having played the parts of a Crown Prince, an ordinary Prince and an Emperor in his last three pictures) are charming in the leading roles, but the outstanding acting is done by Basil Rathbone as Commissar Gorotchenko and Melville Cooper as Banker DuPont. The production is filled with very bright little scenes, not the least effective of which is one where the DuPont's cook tells Tatiana and Prince Ouratieff to join the Domestic Workers Union to preserve their jobs. Good idea that." Columbia Daily Spectator, 6 January 1938

 

With a distinguished record ... in legit theatres, both here and abroad, [the play] "Tovarich" emerges from its Warner Bros. filming as a piece of popular entertainment, plus the very considerable drawing value of Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer in the starring roles. ...

Persons familiar with the play will discover some departures from the original. Story changes are not radical (one or two modifications being prompted by censorship restrictions), but the overemphasis of the comedy side of the play, almost to the point of occasional slapstick, will be regarded generally as an unnecessary concession to film audiences. It is this aspect of Anatole Litvak's direction which makes the picture something less than superlative, lacking the keen polish of Gilbert Miller's stage presentation.

Critics who are prone to say that studios seldom are content to leave well enough alone, will cite "Tovarich" as a case in point. The larger public, however, which never saw the play, will judge the film favorably. ...

The story of the royal refugee couple, who enter domestic service in the household of a Paris banker, is a yarn of charming and finely shaded characterizations. Both humor and heart appeal spring from intimate acquaintance with the background and motives of the players. ...

Experiences of the [royal] couple when they enter service as housemaid and butler in a French home comprise the entertainment. Their identity is unknown to their employer, but revealed by guests, one of whom is a representative of the Soviet. In a scene with the latter, their one-time cruel persecutor, the couple assign [the Czar's] funds back to the Russian government to be used for the common good. This passage is excellently played by the stars and Basil Rathbone, as the commissar.

Of the supporting cast Melville Cooper, as the banker, and Basil Rathbone contribute splendid characterizations.

Flin.

Variety, December 31, 2017

 

"Gallant, gay and sentimental ... Bright bit of high comedy ... Has plenty of pace and color." Murdock, Philadelphia Record


Gorotchenko asks Mikail for a favor.

Gorotchenko appeals to Mikail, saying that Russia is on the verge of losing the Baku oil fields.

"Sets a new standard for high comedy on the screen." Kanour, Baltimore Evening Sun

 

TOVARICH
In Which Some Royal Russian Emigres Capture Our Hearts - W.B.

At long last now the muchly discussed "Tovarich" comes to the screen. Claudette Colbert is nothing less than perfection itself as the gay, irresponsible Grand Duchess Tatiana who can be as imperial as hell one minute and blithely snitch artichokes for dinner the next.

The romantic Charles Boyer plays Her Highness' husband and the story goes on to relate how these two delightfully mad emigres eventually take jobs as servants in the Paris home of the nouveau riche Duponts, where they are having a merry time of it washing dishes and teaching the younger Duponts how to play poker, until one evening they encounter their old enemy of the Revolution. Commissar Gorotchenko is excellently played by Basil Rathbone.

Melville Cooper and Isabel Jeans are priceless as the screwy Duponts who adore their crazy Russian servants. Anita Louise and Maurice Murphy are the snobbish children who go Russian in a bog way. It's directed by Anatol Litvak and handsomely produced, and Warner Brothers can take a deep bow.

Silver Screen, February 1938

 

"The comedy ... of Russian royalties glad to get a job as servants in a Paris household is clearly Americanized into simple homespun humor such as we all grew up with. ... Basil Rathbone adds a nice note." John Mosher, The New Yorker, January 1, 1938


Dupont is shocked to learn that his butler has 40 billion francs.

The Dupont family talks with the butler in the kitchen.

"You will go a long way before you will find a screen play so charming ... a really swell picture!" L.A. Examiner

 

ENTRANCING! "Tovarich" is original, refreshing film fare. It presents the two most endearing leading characters you have seen in many movie moons: a Grand Duchess of the Imperial regime and her consort, penniless in Paris, who "go into service" to provide their vodka and caviar. They are artless, engaging, childlike Russians, and as they are written and acted they become memorable screen portraits. Charles Boyer and Claudette Colbert co-star, surrounded by a splendid cast. You'll follow with keen interest and sympathetic amusement their adventures as lady's maid and butler in an erratic banker's household; you'll rejoice with them in their new-found domestic felicity; you'll darn near weep with them when they are confronted by a charmingly sinister commissar who recalls none too pleasantly their tragic exile. Charles Boyer, comedian, turns out to be as perfect as Boyer the tragedian; he is, once more, a revelation in subtle, shimmering acting. Miss Colbert is, as always, a delightful personality; but she falls far short of realizing the potentialities of her priceless part. She is always Colbert, seldom the character. Melville Cooper is the new comedy sensation as the banker. Basil Rathbone is fine, too.

Screenland, February 1938

 

"A fascinating and novel picturean unusual event of the motion picture screen!" L.A. Times


Prince Ouratieff writes a check for Gorotchenko.

Gorotchenko thanks Mikail and Tatiana.

"The film is one you'll not want to miss!" Hollywood News

 

Showmen setting out to sell this merchandise to their customers do not start from scratch. "Tovarich" is the beneficiary of a singularly fortuitous sequence of legitimate stories that have conspired to acquaint the public widely and well with the product from play purchase to premiere. These have been of variety and kind ... the title changes and causes therefore, the legal action arising out of a principal casting. The vaguely grounded but engaging speculation about possible political connotations ... to whet public anticipation to keen edge. It is written in the book of showmanship that pictures brought to the screen under such circumstances as these are promptly terrific or terrible, never less. It is written here, therefore, at once and bluntly, that a mixed audience attending the Hollywood preview, without a discernible prejudice or public notification of the picture to be screened, expressed its opinion in all the known synonyms for terrific and none of the opposite significance.

The showman who chooses to accept this evidence as assurance that a group of individually notable draftsmen have combined their separate talents successfully in a distinguished demonstration of craftsmanship will find his hands full of powerful ammunition when he proceeds, as it would seem he needs must, to shoot the works.

There is, atop the cast, Claudette Colbert, who may be billed as in her most congenial role since "It Happened One Night."

Next in order, although his role is equally stellar, there is Charles Boyer, lately come to peak eminence as the Napoleon of "Conquest" and mentionable here as proving that was in no sense a fluke triumph.

Players meriting special billing, selected from the 26 named on the screen, are Basil Rathbone, whose handling of a commissar assignment keeps the plot from going partisan, Anita Louse, Melville Cooper, Isabel Jeans and Montagu Love. It may be safely promised, incidentally, that more than one of the new players in the cast will become well knowns in short order because of what they do to it.

The stage play, of course, is widely known as a consistent success as to call for factual data relating to its hardihood.

The fact that Robert E. Sherwood, whose name is potent in the American home as a fashioner of fine play ware, wrote the English version of Jacques Deval's play, which Casey Robinson adapted, is good for extra ticket sales in almost any community.

The story, in common with that of most or all comedies, is a thing to be suggested rather than told, since it is the telling of it rather than the plot which matters. In short, two impoverished members of the Russian royal family enter domestic service in Paris rather than give to the Soviets or use for their own purposes some forty billion francs given them by the late Tsar. After many amusing and satirically significant experiences they donate the fortune to what they consider their Russia and find happiness in continued menial duties. The nationalistic motif is touched upon but briefly and in excellent taste.

Anatole Litvak's direction is in the better Continental manner and happily free of the so called touches commonly expected in material of the kind. Robert Lord adds to his statute as the associate producer who marshaled in harmonious working company the highly specialized talent represented.

Previewed at Warners' Hollywood theatre in Hollywood. There was occasional spontaneous applause for impressive acting, and laughs of the right kind came in precisely proper places. Comments from press, profession and public were emphatically on the favorable side.

William R. Weaver

Motion Picture Herald, December 4, 1937

 

"Will have strong general audience appeal and will be a substantial profit maker!" Hollywood Reporter


Gorotchenko says good-bye to Tatiana.

Tatiana and Mikail are dressed up to take Georges and Helene to a party.

 

Back to Page One of Tovarich review. See Page Three for pictures of posters, lobby cards and promo photos.

 

A DVD of Tovarich can be purchased from Roberts Hard to Find Videos. The film can also be downloaded for free from rarefilm.net.

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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2017