Walking the Streets of Moscow: City in Georgy Daneliya’s films

August 29

25 August marks the 90th birth anniversary of Georgy Daneliya, one of the greatest Soviet-era film directors, who passed away in 2019. Several generations who grew up watching his films continue to admire and quote them. This mos.ru story deals with the creation of Daneliya’s best films and local sets.

Walking the Streets of Moscow, 1964

This film became Daneliya’s first major success, and even received a special citation at the 17th Cannes Film Festival. However, the film virtually appeared out of thin air.

A young screenwriter Gennady Shpalikov came to Georgy Daneliya with a plot that resembled a sketch: A young girl is walking barefoot along a city street and swinging her shoes, followed by a wet cyclist. “What happens next?” Daneliya asked, and Shpalikov replied: “We’ll think of something.” It took them a long time to complete the screenplay, with Shpalikov writing poetical sketches. Daneliya converted them into a screenplay, and Shpalikov also wrote the lyrics of the main song performed by Nikita Mikhalkov.

Although Daneliya called their film a lyrical comedy, this has nothing to do with Shpalikov’s poetical language. As legend has it, members of an artistic board asked the young film director: “Your film is a comedy, but why are we not laughing?” Daneliya immediately explained the paradox.

Ordinary people asked no questions and found the film interesting and laughed  their heads off. Provincial audiences were more enthusiastic than everyone else: Moscow looked so bright, clean and young and full of kind people and interesting stories. Consequently, lots of young men and women flocked to the capital. They dreamed of walking along the same streets as metro builder Kolya, played by Nikita Mikhalkov, a visitor from Siberia Volodya Yermakov (Alexei Loktev) and Alyona, a record shop saleslady (Galina Polskikh).

In the beginning, Volodya is looking for Stroitelny Pereulok “somewhere in Cheryomushki.” The city has never had such a street. In Daneliya’s film, it is portrayed by Krivoarbatsky Pereulok. Film-goers tried unsuccessfully to locate the film’s nice-looking pane glass café all over Arbat. But they never found the café that was part of the set, and that was later dismantled.

Krivoarbatsky Pereulok


In an opening scene, Kolya and Volodya are walking down Chistoprudny Boulevard. The well-read Volodya is saying that the area was called Gryazniye Prudy (Dirty Ponds) in the past. Kolya, a Muscovite, quickly deduces that he is dealing with a boy from another region. A dog bites Volodya here, and Kolya takes him home to mend the unfortunate fellow’s trousers.

Chistoprudny Boulevard


The film's characters include Sasha, a bashful fiancé (Yevgeny Steblov) who quarrels and irons out relations with his fiancée all the time. After a string of misunderstandings, he escorts her to a registry office that continues to function even today. It is located in the city’s Gagarinsky District. On the way to his wedding, Sasha runs off to buy a bouquet at a flower shop that has now been replaced by an ice cream kiosk. Meanwhile the registry office still receives excited brides and grooms from Tuesday through Saturday.

The registry office in the Gagarinsky District


In the evening, the boys and Alyona go to Gorky Park, one of the most popular leisure areas in Moscow. The film shows the Central Entrance’s colonnade, the Landyshevaya Alley and cafés, the Green Theatre where a concert is taking place, and the main characters dash through a dance floor. They leave the park and enter the Moskva River’s embankment at night. Once there, they admire a metro bridge near Vorobyovy (Leninskiye) Gory.

The arch of Gorky Park’s Main Entrance
Gorky Park
Luzhniki Metro Bridge


We say goodbye to the film’s characters at Universitet metro station, then the terminus of Sokolnicheskaya Line. Watchful folks quickly detected a discrepancy: Kolya takes the train to Prospekt Vernadskogo and Yugo-Zapadnaya metro stations that did not exist in 1964.

Universitet metro station

Gentlemen of Fortune, 1971

Gentlemen of Fortune followed as the next most popular film and the biggest Soviet hit of the early 1970s. It had an overwhelming box office success, with more than 65 million viewers who immediately picked up numerous witty quotes, the main success criterion for a comedy.

Many make the mistake of believing that Georgy Daneliya directed the film while the actual director was Alexander Sery. Daneliya co-wrote the script with Viktoria Tokareva and bustled to get a green light for shooting. Alexander Sery was Daneliya’s friend and a man of a thorny fate. When he was still a student of Higher Directing Courses, he was sentenced to a long prison term for beating up a man out of jealousy for his fiancée. After serving his time, he could not find a job for ages. Daneliya decided to support his friend and suggested that Alexander direct a film based on Daneliya’s script. Later Daneliya would say: “I suggested writing a script and being the film’s producer while he takes up the directing.”

Subsequently, Alexander Sery made two more comedy films, You to Me, Me to You, and Protect Men. However, none of them were as successful.

One of the first Moscow scenes in Gentlemen of Fortune was filmed near Prospekt Vernadskogo. Yevgeny Leonov’s character, an exceptionally educated and cultured kindergarten headmaster Yevgeny Troshkin, walks out of the building at 49 Prospekt Vernadskogo and exchanges pleasantries with street sweeper Masha. At that point, he has no idea that, apparently, he looks exactly like the thief and repeat offender nicknamed Docent. Yevgeny rushes off to catch a bus to get to work.

Notably, the kindergarten that features in the film is actually located on Udaltsova Street, within walking distance of Troshkin’s home. In real life, he would not have to go by bus but the screenwriters gave up location accuracy to create a hilarious scene of an accidental encounter with Professor Maltsev on the bus. The professor identifies Troshkin as Docent and decides to follow what he thinks is the “criminal.” Unaware of the pursuit, Troshkin arrives at Leninsky Prospekt, stops at a newspaper stand and then goes to meet his young pupils who are preparing for a New Year’s party.

Leninsky Prospekt


We see Troshkin’s home again in the middle of the film when Leonov’s character, now disguised as Docent, breaks into his own flat along with Cross-Eyed (played by Savely Kramarov) and Sad Sack (Georgy Vitsin). Meanwhile, Vasily Alibabayevich (Radner Muratov) stands on the lookout to fend off any eyewitnesses. His words became a catchphrase: “Don’t you go there. Go here, or snow will fall on your head and you’ll be so dead.” Full of remorse, the character who ended up with the bad guys by accident, confesses to the same street sweeper that we saw in the beginning that he, “a wretched jackal,” is helping out burglars. This leads to another amusing chase scene.

49 Prospekt Vernadskogo


Another remarkable scene was filmed in Staropimenovsky Pereulok. Dressed in women’s clothes, the characters walk past a pretty young woman. Savely Kramarov’s character tries to flirt with her. Many will remember well what she replied. The cameo was played by Svetlana Starikova known for Zastava Ilyicha (I Am Twenty) and many other roles.

— Hey, girl, what’s your name?

— Tanya.

— And I am Fedya.

— What’s wrong with you, woman?

Staropimenovsky Pereulok


Perhaps the most popular quote from the film is the words that Cross-Eyed says when the characters are being driven by car with police officer Slavin disguised as a taxi driver. “Who would lock him up? He’s a statue.” Oleg Vidov, who played the police officer in disguise, disrupted the filming process several times. Every time Kramarov said his lines, Vidov would crack up with laughter, tears rolling down his face. His makeup had to be redone and then the whole thing would happen again. After multiple takes, the actor suggested that he talk to Kramarov without looking at his face. The characters eventually found their “man in a suit.” It was a statue of Mikhail Lermontov near Krasnye Vorota.

The statue of Mikhail Lermontov on Lermontovskaya Square

Mimino, 1977

Georgy Daneliya directed the film and co-wrote the script with Viktoria Tokareva (his co-writer for Gentlemen of Fortune) and Revaz Gabriadze. The initial title was Nothing Special but the director decided to change it to Mimino, which was the call sign of the main character, a helicopter pilot in a Georgian mountain village. In Georgian, “mimino” means “sparrow hawk” (although the character himself said it means “falcon”).

Mimino, also known as Valiko, also known as Valentin Mizandari, decides to move to Moscow and make a career in big aviation when he falls in love with air hostess Larisa Ivanovna (played by Yelena Proklova). This is how the character played by one of Daneliya’s favourite actors, Vakhtang Kikabidze, begins his Moscow and international adventures.

Mimino wangles his way into a hotel room posing as a participant in an endocrinology conference. He shares a room with Armenian driver Rubik, or Ruben Khachikyan (played by Frunzik Mkrtchyan) whose good luck also got him the luxurious accommodation. It was from that hotel room that Mimino unsuccessfully tries to ask the air hostess out on a date and where he says the famous “I want Larisa Ivanovna.”

The morning after a wild dance party in the hotel’s restaurant, Mimino and Rubik take breakfast in the hotel’s cafeteria with a gorgeous view of Vasilyevsky Spusk and the Kremlin. Today the same panorama can be seen from one of the hills in Zaryadye Park built in place of the Rossiya Hotel closed in the early 2000s.

Zaryadye Park


After applying for a job with Aeroflot, Mimino goes to Novy Arbat (Prospekt Kalinina at the time), walks past the Church of St Symeon the Stylite and returns to the hotel via a flyover connected to Varvarka Street (former Razina Street). This road is no longer there.

Church of St Symeon the Stylite
Zaryadye Park


As the evening approaches, Mimino is anxiously waiting for Larisa Ivanovna by the second column of the Bolshoi Theatre where he arranged to meet her. Rubik joins him and the actors, dressed only in thin raincoats and jackets, are struggling to stay warm. In fact, they were not acting at all as the Moscow scenes were filmed during winter when it was minus 30 degrees. The director would take Mkrtchyan and Kikabidze to warm up and have lunch at his home nearby. Some new scenes were created during those lunch breaks.

The Bolshoi Theatre


The trial scene with Valiko, who came across a man that had caused his sister a lot of trouble in the past and decided to take revenge, was filmed in the Khamovnichesky Court. Actor Archil Gomiashvili, who plays Valiko’s victim, arrives at 7 Rostovsky Pereulok in his own Volga car. The actor would later joke that he was cast only because he had his own props, a car and an expensive sheepskin coat. Interestingly, Georgy Daneliya’s own daughter served as a prototype for the young female lawyer who helped Valiko to get off with only a small fine. Daneliya’s daughter also gave him some valuable advice about the courtroom scene.

Mimino was a successful release that received critical acclaim and several prizes at international film festivals, including the main prize of the 1977 Moscow International Film Festival and Laceno d’Oro at a festival in Italy.

The article uses images from Walking the Streets of Moscow (1964), Gentlemen of Fortune (1971) and Mimino (1977).

Source: mos.ru

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