Volga-Volga is a 1938 film from the Soviet Union, directed by Grigori Alexandrov.
"Strelka" Petrova lives in a quiet village on the Volga River. She is a letter-carrier called strelka ("arrow") for her swiftness in completing her appointed rounds. Her boyfriend Alyosha is a tuba player and bandleader at the local music college, while Strelka herself is a talented amateur singer and songwriter.
The village leader, a self-important blowhard bureaucrat named Byvalov, gets a telegram (carried by Strelka) announcing a "musical Olympiad" in Moscow. This starts a fight between Strelka, who insists that she and all her amateur musician friends should go and play Russian songs for the contest, and Alyosha, who says that he and his classically-trained friends should go and play Schubert. Byvalov unsurprisingly backs Alyosha's orchestra, leading Strelka to organize a rival group of her local friends, who board a second Volga riverboat and attempt to outrace Alyosha's group to Moscow. Meanwhile, Strelka writes a song, "Soul of the Volga", about the river that is thought to be key to the Russian nation.
That gossamer-thin plot is just an excuse to string together a lot of songs and musical numbers. Volga-Volga was reportedly Josef Stalin's favorite movie; he sent a copy to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.note This cheerful, peppy musical played in Russian theaters at the height of the Great Terror in which Stalin executed as many as 700,000 Russians and sent millons to the gulags, where hundreds of thousands more died.
- The Alleged Car: The Alleged Boat. The steamboat carrying Byvalov, Alyosha, and the orchestra has a fine engine but is crumbling. Leaning too hard on the pilot house partially collapses it. Someone leans on a smokestack and knocks it into the river. Byvalov jumps up and down in a rage and winds up crashing through four decks into the water. It's specified to be an American steamship.
- Born in the Theater: When singing the big group song at the end, the cast starts by telling the audience "Do not go rushing out of the theater."
- Call-Back: Early in the film, Byvalov ignores Strelka's pleas to sing in the show, saying "You have to study 20 years to sing well." At the end, when everyone's singing at the big concert, Byvalov tries to sing along but can only let out an awkward croak. One of the peasants smugly tells him "You have to study 20 years to sing well."
- The End: The film ends with the cast members flipping up big golden cardboard letters that spell конец ("end").
- Everything Is an Instrument: It seems everyone in Strelka's little middle-of-nowhere village is a talented musician, like the bartender, who can tap out a tune by clinking glasses and bottles while he sings.
- Impractical Musical Instrument Skills: A completely random moment has one of Strelka's peasant friends play a few notes on his flute, then stick the end of the flute up his nose and play it like that.
- Inadvertent Entrance Cue: Alyosha says "I wish Strelka was here." Cue a whistle as her riverboat pulls up alongside his.
- Iris Out: One random gag has an iris out effect centered on the riverboat steaming away—only the boat seems to be too big, as the iris shrinks and bounces back out. On the fourth try the iris is finally able to close over the boat and end the scene.
- Medium Awareness: At the beginning, the opening song says the movie is called Volga-Volga, and the song names the characters and the actors who play them. At the end, the whole cast addresses the camera directly, saying that they hoped the audience enjoyed the movie. The happy, upbeat ending song includes an absolutely chilling, terrifying line about how the Soviet Union has to get rid of all the Obstructive Bureaucrats like Byvalov. ("We must clear all the rubbish/Sweep it off with our hands.")
- The Musical: Lots and lots of songs, all Russian folk style, celebrating native Russian culture.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: A dunking in the river leads to Strelka on Alyosha's boat, dressed in a sailor's coat. She has, in the meantime, told Alyosha that the author of the song "Soul of the Volga" is her friend "Dunya". Somehow, when Alyosha sees Dunya rehearsing the song with the orchestra, he fails to recognize his own girlfriend. She didn't even change her hair!
- Thanking the Viewer: At the end, the cast sings directly to the audience, saying "We are glad you laughed."
- That Russian Squat Dance: It's a movie celebrating Russian peasant culture, so yes, they do the squat dance. More than once, in fact, during big numbers.
- Time Skip: Occasionally the camera will fix on shots of the steamship's paddle while the words "1st day...2nd day...3rd day..." scroll past the frame.
- Undercrank: The local who complains to Byvalov about the poor quality of his balalaika flips and twirls it around in a routine made to look faster by undercranking.
- Video Credits: The opening credits have clips of all the actors, accompanied by a singer who identifies each character and the name of the actor playing them."This bureaucrat is played by Ilyinsky, of all guys."
- World of Ham: Let's just say the Method had not made it to the Soviet Union. All the acting is way, way over-the-top hammy.