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."
Tatiana wishes she could poison Gorotchenko.
Gorotchenko admits to being the one who burned Prince Ouratieff with a
"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,
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
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
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.
—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
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
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!"
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 picture—an
unusual event of the motion picture screen!"
Prince Ouratieff writes a check for Gorotchenko.
Gorotchenko thanks Mikail and Tatiana.
"The film is one you'll not want to miss!"
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.
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
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
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
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
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.