Lubov Orlova: Virtual Museum

Shining Path

Enigma Orlova

Life, and love, and tears ...

1933 – Lyubov Orlova’s first role in a movie.

1933–1947 – she worked as a film-actress only.

From 1947 – she worked also as an actress of the Academic Theatre named after Mossovet.

Even though she appeared in several other films, Orlova is almost exclusively remembered for her roles in the famous Soviet musicals directed at the height of Stalinism by her husband, Grigoriy Aleksandrov (1903-1984). In these films, a singing and dancing Orlova typically represents a girl of humble origins who attains high ranking in Soviet society through the right combination of talent, hard work, assertiveness, politically correct ideas, and an unshakable faith in a bright future. The plots traditionally made use of classical Cinderella and 'ugly duckling' storylines that gave Orlova the opportunity to shine at the end, not unlike Ruby Keeler in 42 nd Street (Lloyd Bacon, 1933).

Aleksandrov began as an assistant to Sergei Eisenstein and collaborated on Bronenosets Potemkin/Battleship Potemkin (1925), Oktyabr/October (1927) and Staroe i novoe/ The General Line (1929). Sponsored by American writer, Upton Sinclair (who turned producer for the occasion), in the early 1930s, Aleksandrov and Eisenstein spent a number of months in the United States ( New York and Hollywood) and in Mexico. They researched, wrote and shot the film ¡Que Viva Mexico! (1932), a remarkable avant-garde project that mixed fictional and documentary sequences but remained unfinished due to prolonged copyright disputes.

During his stay in America , Aleksandrov came to appreciate Hollywood 's entertainment output and was particularly fascinated by Busby Berkeley's elaborate lavish choreography for the musicals directed by Mervyn LeRoy, Leo McCarey and others. Back home, Aleksandrov set out to develop a Soviet version of the musical genre, one that would successfully combine entertainment with ideological functions. He put together a more or less permanent team comprised of lyricist, Vassilii Lebedev-Kumach, and cameramen, Vladimir Nilsen and Boris Petrov. Most importantly, however, a permanent member of the team was composer, Isaak Dunayevsky, who authored some of the most prominent popular Soviet melodies of all times. Each musical which Aleksandrov and Dunayevsky made together contained at least one melody that was so popular it is still known today by every Russian (and maybe even former Soviet) citizen.

Aleksandrov never managed to find a male actor who would become the Soviet Bing Crosby. However, he succeeded with a female lead. His wife, Orlova, became the shining star of these musical comedies, gradually attaining popularity and breaking all records toward the end of the 1930s. Originally fashioned after Marion Davies (as seen in Going Hollywood [Raoul Walsh, 1933]), Orlova can be best described to Western audiences as a cross between Mary Pickford (who had been particularly popular in the Soviet Union during the 1920s) and Ginger Rodgers (even though she looked more like Marjorie Reynolds).

Music and Slapstick, But No Propaganda, in ' Moscow Laughs,' the New Soviet Film at the Cameo.

Published: March 25, 1935

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.

MOSCOW LAUGHS, a Russian film written and directed by Gregory Alexandrov, with music by I. O. Dunayevsky; produced by Kinocombinat. At the Cameo.
Kostia . . . . . Leonid Utesov
Aniuta . . . . . Lubov Orlova
Helena . . . . . M. P. Strelkova
Helena's mother . . . . . E. A. Tiapkina
The coachman . . . . . F. N. Kurikhin


Filmography of Lyubov Orlova (1933-1940)


1933 «Song about a Woman called Alyona» («Alyona’s Love»), a silent movie, director Boris Yurtsev, the episodic part of a fabric director’s wife Missis Ellen Hetwood. (the movie did not survive intact).

1934 «Petersburg ’s Night», directors Vera Stroyeva and Grigori Roshal, the part of Grushenka, a singer of a provincial theatre.

1934 «Jolly Fellows», director Grigori Alexandrov, the part of Anyuta, a housemaid.

1936 «The Circus», director Grigori Alexandrov, the part of Marion Dixon, an American vaudeville performer.

1938 «Volga-Volga», director Grigori Alexandrov, the part of Dunya Petrova, a mailwoman.

1939 «Engineer Kochin’s Error», director Alexander Macheret, the part of Kseniya Lebedeva, Kochin’s neighbor.

1940 «Shining Path», director Grigori Alexandrov, the part of Tanya Morozova, a housemaid, later on becoming a famous weaver.

Love and circuses drive this melodrama (Tsirk, 1936) hailing from Stalin-era Russia . Marion Dixon is an American vaudeville performer managed by dastardly German Von Kneischitz. Between target-shooting from her trapeze, she falls in love with a square-jawed member of the Soviet proletariat. Will the beautiful trapeze artist join the Communist cause or will the evil capitalist stain her good name? ~ Jonathan Crow, All Movie Guide

First released in 1938, Volga Volga is typical of the escapist musical comedies churned out by Russian filmmaker Gregori Alexandrov. As usual, the film's star is Alexandrov's talented wife Lubov Orlova, here playing a blonde physical culturalist named Strelka. The hero is Byvalov (Igor Ilinsky), an itinerant musical-instrument manufacturer who dreams of forming his own orchestra. The storyline leads hapharzardly to a climactic boat race on the Volga , during which Strelka and Byvalov pledge eternal love to one another. Most critics noted that director Alexandrov's principal inspiration seemed to be Mack Sennett's Keystone comedies. – Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Only in a Soviet propaganda film like The Bright Road (Svetly Put, 1940) would it be suggested that hard work and utter devotion to the State would make a homely girl attractive! The story takes place in a small Russian textile-manufacturing town, when illiterate kitchen slave Tanya Morozova (Lyubov Orlova) takes a factory job. She does so well in this capacity that she is ultimately awarded the Lenin Medal for developing a faster and more efficient weaving method. In addition, she transforms from ugly duckling to gorgeous swan, much to the delight of nominal male lead Alexei. Chalk up another box-office winner from the talented husband-wife team of director Grigori Alexandrov and star Lyubov Orlova. – Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

The New York Times / Movies/ Movie reviews/

The Soviet classic melodramatic comedy "Circus", made in 1936, was directed by Grigori Alexandrov. By his own words, it was conceived "as an eccentric comedy...a real side splitter." Starring the glamorous and immensely popular Lubov Orlova (Alexandrov's wife), the first recognized star of Soviet cinema and a gifted singer, the film contains several songs which instantly became Soviet classics. Orlova plays an American circus artist who, after giving birth to a black baby, immediately becomes a victim of racism and finds refuge, love and happiness in the Stalinist USSR. Her black son is embraced by friendly Soviet people. The movie climaxes with a lullaby being sung to the baby by representatives of various Soviet ethnicities. The movie was still very popular after World War II. Ironically, after Joseph Stalin's anti-Semitic campaign of 1948-1953 against rootless cosmopolitanism, the Yiddish verse sung by Solomon Mikhoels was cut out from this movie supposedly promoting the idea of fraternity of peoples. It was shown in its entirety only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. )

Russian Movies - Set Of Three

Three best known Russian comedies: "Circus", "Jolly Fellows", and "Volga Volga". Buy all 3 and save.

Part 1 A motley collection of amateur singers and dancers who make their living as farmers, miners and bookkeepers make their way to a musical contest in Moscow on a giant steamboat going up the Volga river. A triumphant success on its release, Volga Volga remains one of the most important and best loved films produced by the Soviet regime. Russian dialoque with English subtitles. Cast: Lyubov Orlova, Igor Ilinsky, V. Volodin. Music: Isaac Dunayevsky. By Grigori Alexandrow. Black & white.

Part 2 The story of a shepherd boy who reaches lofty heights as a jazz orchestra conductor. With this movie Lubov Orlova established herself as the first recognized star of Soviet cinema. Russian dialogue with English subtitles. Cast: Lubov Orlova, Leonid Utyosov, Maria Strelkova. By Grogori Alexandrow. 1934, black & white. 93 mins.

Part 3 The main character is an American circus artist who has a black baby. The only way she can find happiness is among Russian people. Russian dialogue with English subtitles. Cast: Lubov Orlova. Music: Isaac Dunayevsky. By Grigori Alexandrov. 1936, black & white. 89 mins.

Biography for Lyubov Orlova

Lyubov Orlova was born January 29, 1902 in Zvenigorod near Moscow, Russia. She was a descendant from an old Russian aristocratic family of Prince Orlov. Her family was related to Count Leo Tolstoy , for whom she sang; along with the popular Russian basso Feodor Chaliapin Sr. in 1909. She studied piano and singing at the Moscow Conservatory, from which she graduated in 1922. From 1922-1926, Orlova studied dancing and choreography at the Moscow Theatre College. Then she worked on stage with director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko at the Moscow Musical Theatre of Stanislavsky.

In 1926 Orlova married Andrei Berezin, a prominent Soviet opposition politician. He was arrested in 1930, and was im prison ed for many years. Orlova was seen on stage by many influential people and had other relationships before she met director Grigori Aleksandrov . He was looking for an actress to become the partner of Leonid Utyosov in 'Veselye Rebyata'. After that film, Aleksandrov divorced from his wife and married Orlova. She became the leading star of the Soviet film industry. Joseph Stalin liked her very much and promoted her to the title of Honorable Actor of Russian Federation in January of 1935. Stalin was probably in a good mood, when he promised Orlova to make any wish she had come true. She asked about the fate of her first husband. Stalin was surprised. Soon Orlova was called to visit the Lubyanka office of NKVD (KGB). There she was told that her ex-husband is alive in prison and that she may see him and even join him. She was humbled and left quietly. Later in 1949 her ex-husband was diagnosed with cancer, released from prison and died in Lithuania at the home of his mother.

Stalin made Orlova the regular guest at his lavish drinking parties. She became addicted to alcohol and was severely criticized by the official paper 'Sovetskoe Iskusstvo' (The Soviet Art). Director Aleksandrov managed to save his wife from her alcohol addiction by threatening to abort her film career. She obeyed and quit drinking. Her films 'Tsirk' (Circus 1936), 'Volga-Volga' (1938), and 'Svetly Put' (The Shining Path 1940, aka.. Tanya) were hugely successful. 'Svetly Put' was originally titled 'Cinderella' by the author Viktor Ardov , but Stalin ordered the title to be changed and even offered others such as 'The Bright Road'. Stalin's control over the Soviet film industry was absolute. For her leading roles in 'Volga-Volga' and 'Svetly Put' Orlova was award ed by Joseph Stalin with the State Stalin Prize.

At the beginning of the Nazi invasion of Russia during the Second World War both Orlova and Aleksandrov were filming in Riga, Latvia. They rushed to Moscow. There Aleksandrov served at the night watch during bombings. He was severely wounded by a bomb explosion in September of 1941, and suffered from spinal trauma for the rest of his life. In the fall of 1941 Orlova and Aleksandrov were evacuated to Baku, Azerbaijan. There they made a film 'Odna Semya' (A Family 1943) which was banned by the Soviet Censorship Committee. The official reason for banning the innocent film was its lacking of propaganda about the fight of the Soviet people against the Nazi invasion.

Orlova was known to be immune from gossips and rumors. She was also known to be faithful to Aleksandrov. Though she worked mainly in his films, she also worked in films made by other directors. She was never allowed by her director-husband Aleksandrov to be kissed in film. Her characters were sexy in a way acceptable by the rigid Soviet censorship under Stalin. One scene from the film 'Vstrecha na Elbe' (Meeting on the Elbe 1949) was ordered by Stalin to be deleted, because Stalin criticized the half-naked girls dancing to American Jazz music. Later Stalin showed this scene at his home to Aleksandrov and other guests. Stalin liked it but banned it from being seen by millions of viewers.

Orlova suffered from sensitivity to daylight from 1930, after the stressful arrest of her first husband. She also suffered from severe insomnia. She was spending much time at her home behind shielded windows. Her work with Aleksandrov in 'Russki suvenir' (Russian Souvenir 1960) was a flop. Her last stage performance was in Leningrad, in 1963, after that she was not seen on stage. Her last film with Aleksandrov 'Skvorets i Lira' (1973) was not released. She was known as the first Russian film star to use plastic surgeries in her later years. She also refused to be photographed. She died of pancreatic cancer on January 26, 1975, and was laid to rest is the Novodevichy Monastery Cemetery in Moscow.


Petersburg ’s Night


Jolly Fellows (Moscow laughs)


The Circus




Engineer Kochin’s Error


Shining Path


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