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Why Eldar Ryazanov did not want to take on the film, how Igor Ilyinsky helped the director, and who could play Lenochka Krylov – see this article.

Carnival Night, one of the most popular Soviet films of the 1950s, remained the favorite New Year’s film of the people of the USSR for many decades to come. What’s the secret? Great cast, lots of jokes, music, songs and dances, and the plot is based on a funny situation. We recall the history of the creation of a comedy, which today turns 65 years old.

The holiday is in jeopardy

The staff of the House of Culture has prepared a merry New Year’s program, but it seems that everything is canceled. The acting director is a bureaucrat and a dim-witted person – Serafim Ivanovich Ogurtsov (Igor Ilyinsky), two days before the New Year, rejects almost all the numbers. He wants to make the program more serious, to include in it his report “short, 40 minutes” and even an astronomer’s lecture.

The organizer of the New Year’s ball, Lenochka Krylova (Lyudmila Gurchenko) and the rest of the employees of the House of Culture decide to perform their program, even if for this the young musicians of the jazz orchestra will have to make up like gray-bearded members of the Pension and Dance Ensemble, and force Serafim Ivanovich himself to show magic tricks. Ryazanov managed to accurately capture the mood in society. The audience, tired of the impassable bureaucracy, received the film with genuine enthusiasm. “Carnival Night” has become one of the symbols of the beginning of the thaw era.

“Mosfilm” did not pin much hopes on “Carnival Night” – the first independent film of the young director Eldar Ryazanov, the shooting was not particularly covered in the press. The resounding success that followed the premiere on December 29, 1956 came as a surprise to everyone. The film was watched by more than 48 million people, the song “Five Minutes” was sung in literally every home, and the aspiring actress and student of VGIK Lyudmila Gurchenko instantly became the most famous girl in the USSR. For Ryazanov, this film became fateful: the director who began his career as a documentary filmmaker realized that his genre was comedy. Subsequently, he more than once made the audience priceless New Year’s gifts, including the film “The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!”

Wrong (seemingly) scenario

“Carnival Night” was made up of many happy coincidences. Eldar Ryazanov did not want to take on the script of Boris Laskin and Vladimir Polyakov, which had been gathering dust on the shelves of Mosfilm for several years. The young director had previously worked only in co-authorship and saw something serious as the first independent film, and not a potpourri of pop numbers. He dreamed of filming the drama Meetings in Kamchatka, but Mosfilm director Ivan Pyriev insisted on Carnival Night and began to personally supervise the project.

Starting the director’s script, Ryazanov tried to smooth out all the plot inconsistencies, add actions and better work out the characters of the characters. Ryazanov assigned an especially important role to the image of Comrade Ogurtsov, who made the picture more satirical and topical. Honored Artist of the RSFSR Igor Ilyinsky, a theater and film star (Goga Palkin in The Kiss of Mary Pickford, Byvalov in Volga-Volga) was approved for this role. At first Ryazanov was afraid to work with him – it seemed to him that an artist of this level would behave in an undisciplined and unpredictable manner.

However, it was Igor Ilyinsky who helped the young director establish himself in the team. Many more experienced members of the film crew were at first condescending to him, and cameraman Arkady Koltsatyi once even allowed himself to shoot without Ryazanov. Ilyinsky, in spite of his experience, incredible popularity and merits, was very respectful of the novice director and in every possible way emphasized his authority on the set. Soon his attitude was adopted by the whole team.

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Ilyinsky does not want to repeat himself, and Gurchenko makes a lot of grimaces

Many artists auditioned for the role of Ogurtsov, including Pyotr Konstantinov. But Ivan Pyriev insisted on the candidacy of Igor Ilyinsky. He was afraid of self-repetition, because he had already played a bureaucrat who interferes with talented youth – comrade Byvalov in the film “Volga-Volga” (1938). Already in the process of rehearsals and filming, Ilyinsky and Ryazanov jointly detailed the image of Ogurtsov, leading him away from the image of Byvalov. Ogurtsov is the head of the new formation: active, motivated, practically intelligent, but … an impenetrable idiot.

Lyudmila Gurchenko got into the picture thanks to Ivan Pyriev, and on the second try. The first test was unsuccessful: the actress made a lot of grimacing, the operator (then inexperienced Emil Gulidov) set inappropriate light. After going through many applicants, the artistic council approved the non-professional actress Lyudmila Kasyanova for the role, but it soon became clear that she was not doing well. It was then that Pyryev brought Gurchenko to the second test, advising her not to turn around and not “bother with her face,” and asked the cameraman Arkady Koltsaty to film the girl like a human.

After the premiere, the actress became incredibly popular: millions of Soviet girls pinned photos of Gurchenko on the wall, copied her hairstyle and outfits (a white muff was the ultimate dream) and desperately dreamed of the same wasp waist.

How Mikhail Romm saved Carnival Night

When part of the material had already been edited, it was shown to the artistic council, which included many famous directors. The future picture, together with its young creator, was smashed to smithereens, calling it vulgarity. Ivan Pyriev had a different opinion. He showed the filmed parts to director Mikhail Romm, whose position at that time was listened to by everyone in the world of cinema. He laughed a lot and defended the tape and Eldar Ryazanov. The director of Lenin in 1918, Dreams and Admiral Ushakov had such authority that later Carnival Night was approved without a single comment.

Of course, the director of Mosfilm helped Ryazanov in many ways, but sometimes his excessive interest in the film hindered the director. Pyriev personally watched the scenes and made recommendations in a directive form. Then Ryazanov began to act in the same way as the heroes of his film. He pretended to agree with all the comments, and then still shot in his own way. True, Ivan Alexandrovich quickly saw through him and called him “a quiet stubborn”.

The first Soviet musical

Even before filming began, Eldar Ryazanov was given an ambitious task: to make a musical comedy no worse than in Hollywood. Some of the most talented production designers of that time, Konstantin Efimov and Oleg Grosse, worked on the picture. They had to make decorations that could surprise the audience. True, the most original idea – a huge alarm clock on stage with a drummer at the top and an orchestra on the sides – did not belong to them, but to Eldar Ryazanov.

The alarm clock was built in the Mosfilm pavilion, where almost all musical numbers were filmed. Interior filming was carried out in the foyer and corridors of the Soviet Army Theater. This turned into a test: lighting fixtures that were not intended for ordinary interiors (they were used outdoors or in specially equipped pavilions) were very hot. The group had to work in a stuffy atmosphere. Another challenge was filming the final concert. All the food on the tables was real, and after two or three days the site began to smell of rotten meat. But the filmmakers didn’t care much – they made the perfect picture, and the smell was not reflected in it in any way.

The best costume designers worked on the outfits. Lenochka Krylova’s dresses, inspired by the new look of Christian Dior and which all Soviet fashionistas envied, are their merit. And also – fashionable sweaters with deer, which were then difficult to find on sale, and a stylish plaid in different variations.

The head of the Youth Dance Ensemble, Arkady Obrant, and the chief choreographer of the Moscow Operetta Theater, Galina Shakhovskaya, who had previously worked on Grigory Alexandrov’s paintings “Circus” and “Volga-Volga”, were in charge of the dance numbers. The musicians in the film were also first-class – a jazz orchestra conducted by the famous Eddie Rosner.

The lyrics were written by Vladimir Lifshits and Vadim Korostylev, the music was created by the composer Anatoly Lepin, who later worked on many of Ryazanov’s paintings. Lyudmila Gurchenko recalled that they experimented with musical numbers. For example, her vocals in Song of Good Mood were recorded separately from the orchestra.

Ryazanov created the musical without any experience in this genre. But thanks to the talent of the director, the efforts of the team and successful coincidences, a sincere, funny and beautiful film was created, which literally sparkles with a festive mood and hope for a better future. Even today, 65 years later.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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