The Girl from Petrovka (1974)

PG | 104-105 mins | Romance | 1974

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HISTORY

The film begins and ends with a voiceover narration by Hal Holbrook in the role of “Joe.” He says that he is leaving Moscow and resigning from his position as Russian correspondent for the Chicago Herald to write a novel about “the girl from Petrovka.”
       On 1 Sep 1971, a Var news item announced that director Robert Ellis Miller purchased the rights to George Feifer’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Girl from Petrovka (1971) and on 23 Aug 1972, HR stated that Miller was intending to produce the film, himself. On 18 Oct 1972, however, New York Sound reported that rights to the screenplay were acquired by producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown, and Miller was set to direct. As noted in a 15 Oct 1973 DV news item, the film’s co-producer, KMA Productions, was owned by Goldie Hawn, who starred in the role of “Oktyabrina.”
       According to a 3 Jan 1973 Var article, Miller and writers Alan Scott and Chris Bryant developed the novel’s adaptation during a trip to Moscow. Reflecting on his experience in Russia, Miller told Var that he would not attempt to film there. Even though he maintained that the picture was a love story, not a commentary on the Communist government, Miller feared the government’s arduous process of decision-making. He expressed concern that scenes could be edited if they depicted an image of Russian life that the government did not want to project. While in Moscow, Miller, Scott and Bryant were forbidden from entering certain areas and their footage was confiscated before they ... More Less

The film begins and ends with a voiceover narration by Hal Holbrook in the role of “Joe.” He says that he is leaving Moscow and resigning from his position as Russian correspondent for the Chicago Herald to write a novel about “the girl from Petrovka.”
       On 1 Sep 1971, a Var news item announced that director Robert Ellis Miller purchased the rights to George Feifer’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Girl from Petrovka (1971) and on 23 Aug 1972, HR stated that Miller was intending to produce the film, himself. On 18 Oct 1972, however, New York Sound reported that rights to the screenplay were acquired by producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown, and Miller was set to direct. As noted in a 15 Oct 1973 DV news item, the film’s co-producer, KMA Productions, was owned by Goldie Hawn, who starred in the role of “Oktyabrina.”
       According to a 3 Jan 1973 Var article, Miller and writers Alan Scott and Chris Bryant developed the novel’s adaptation during a trip to Moscow. Reflecting on his experience in Russia, Miller told Var that he would not attempt to film there. Even though he maintained that the picture was a love story, not a commentary on the Communist government, Miller feared the government’s arduous process of decision-making. He expressed concern that scenes could be edited if they depicted an image of Russian life that the government did not want to project. While in Moscow, Miller, Scott and Bryant were forbidden from entering certain areas and their footage was confiscated before they left the country. According to publicity materials in AMPAS library files, the narrative of the film differs from the novel in its ending. Although the film concludes with Oktyabrina’s imprisonment and her final separation from Joe, the novel ends with the couple together.
       As stated in the film’s LAT review on 16 Aug 1974 and an HR news item from 15 Oct 1973, The Girl from Petrovka was shot on location in Vienna, Austria, as well as in Southern California and on Universal City Studios sound stages in California. A 26 Nov 1973 Box news item added the High Sierras, Long Beach Pier, the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel, the Los Angeles Athletic Club and Terminal Island as other locations. On 10 Sep 1973, HR announced that principal photography was initially scheduled to begin 29 Sep 1973 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. However, an HR report on 15 Oct 1973 stated that pre-production was halted when a Yugoslavian company, Inex Films, cancelled its contract with Universal Pictures for undisclosed reasons just two weeks before filming was set to begin. In a 21 Sep 1973 DV article, director Robert Ellis Miller speculated that Inex’s decision was inspired by political pressure from Moscow, noting that Inex had previously requested a number of rewrites. By the time Inex withdrew from the project, several sets had been constructed and the relocation process to Vienna stalled production for over one month. According to HR production charts on 9 Nov 1973, shooting began 5 Nov 1973 in Vienna and on 20 Nov 1973, HR reported that the production team returned to Hollywood to complete filming after a weeklong shoot in Vienna. A 23 Jul 1976 DV news item announced that an international arbitration with Inex awarded Universal $508,000 for damages incurred from the production’s relocation to Vienna.
       On 30 Jan 1974, HR described a visit to Hollywood by Yugoslavian official Oto Denes, who confirmed that at least ten American co-productions had withdrawn their contracts to shoot in Yugoslavia as a backlash against Inex’s decision to end their relationship with Zanuck-Brown. On a mission to renew confidence in American production companies, Denes denied Miller’s claims that Inex’s actions were a result of pressure from Moscow. He did disclose, however, that the company was fearful Russia would be offended by the film. Defending the reliability of the Yugoslavian film industry and refuting Hollywood’s perception that his government worked in collusion with Russia, Denes placed full responsibility for the breech of contract on Inex.
       A DV article on 6 Jun 1974 revealed that Inex’s actions had an enduring negative impact on Yugoslavian filmmakers. Producer Jurica Perusovic told DV that he continued to “experience hostility from foreign producers” and was intent on correcting common misunderstandings about the Yugoslavian film industry. Perusovic noted that every Yugoslavian production company worked autonomously and should not be held accountable for the decisions of others.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
26 Nov 1973.
---
Box Office
19 Aug 1974
p. 4713.
Daily Variety
21 Sep 1973
p. 1, 14.
Daily Variety
15 Oct 1973.
---
Daily Variety
6 Jun 1974
p. 5.
Daily Variety
9 Aug 1974.
---
Daily Variety
23 Jul 1976
p. 1, 8.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Aug 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Sep 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1973
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Nov 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 1974
p. 24.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jan 1974
p. 1, 19.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1974
p. 3.
LAHExam
16 Aug 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Aug 1974
Section IV, p. 18.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
14 Aug 1974
p. 24.
New York Sound
18 Oct 1972.
---
New York Times
23 Aug 1974
p. 16.
Newsweek
16 Sep 1974
p. 79.
Time
16 Sep 1974
p. 9.
Variety
3 Jan 1973.
---
Variety
1 Sep 1971.
---
Variety
18 Oct 1972.
---
Variety
14 Aug 1974
p. 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Robert Ellis Miller Film
A Zanuck/Brown/KMA/Robert Ellis Miller Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
European asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
European set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Titles and opt eff by
MAKEUP
Cosmetics
PRODUCTION MISC
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Girl from Petrovka by George Feifer (London, 1971).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Nyet, Nyet, Nyet," music by Roy Budd, lyrics by Jack Fishman
DETAILS
Release Date:
1974
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 16 August 1974
New York opening: 22 August 1974
Production Date:
5 November 1973--mid January 1974 in Vienna and Los Angeles
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures
Copyright Date:
16 August 1974
Copyright Number:
LP44238
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
104-105
MPAA Rating:
PG
Countries:
Austria, United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

American journalist, Joe Merrick, is guided to a Moscow church by his friend, Kostya, so he can sell his dead wife’s clothing on the black market. At a ballet studio inside the church, Kostya introduces Joe to Oktyabrina Matveyeva, whose interpretation of a dying swan is cut short when her ballet master, Ignatievitch, discovers there are American clothes for sale. As Oktyabrina eagerly searches the suitcases for black silk underwear, Joe asks the company’s pianist, an underground jazz musician named Leonid, for an interview. Leonid is reluctant until Joe charms the company by playing an Errol Gardner tune. When Oktyabrina and Leonid take their new companion to the room they share with three others, Leonid assures Joe that Oktyabrina is not his girl friend. Although Oktyabrina lacks papers that permit her to live and work in Moscow, she is supported by her lover, a powerful government official. After tea, Leonid plays an original composition and Joe somberly remarks that it will never be heard publically in Moscow because of Russia’s restrictive laws. Some time later, Joe and Kostya run into Oktyabrina in a market square. Joe invites Oktyabrina to his apartment, but her lack of papers makes her a liability, so he draws her a map to access the apartment through the roof. Oktyabrina is dazzled by the apartment’s opulence, and after she spends four hours in the bath, Joe walks her home. She warns Joe against having an affair with her because she is not trustworthy then speeds away in the fancy car of a Russian gentleman. Reporting from a government meeting, Joe encounters Oktyabrina’s lover. ... +


American journalist, Joe Merrick, is guided to a Moscow church by his friend, Kostya, so he can sell his dead wife’s clothing on the black market. At a ballet studio inside the church, Kostya introduces Joe to Oktyabrina Matveyeva, whose interpretation of a dying swan is cut short when her ballet master, Ignatievitch, discovers there are American clothes for sale. As Oktyabrina eagerly searches the suitcases for black silk underwear, Joe asks the company’s pianist, an underground jazz musician named Leonid, for an interview. Leonid is reluctant until Joe charms the company by playing an Errol Gardner tune. When Oktyabrina and Leonid take their new companion to the room they share with three others, Leonid assures Joe that Oktyabrina is not his girl friend. Although Oktyabrina lacks papers that permit her to live and work in Moscow, she is supported by her lover, a powerful government official. After tea, Leonid plays an original composition and Joe somberly remarks that it will never be heard publically in Moscow because of Russia’s restrictive laws. Some time later, Joe and Kostya run into Oktyabrina in a market square. Joe invites Oktyabrina to his apartment, but her lack of papers makes her a liability, so he draws her a map to access the apartment through the roof. Oktyabrina is dazzled by the apartment’s opulence, and after she spends four hours in the bath, Joe walks her home. She warns Joe against having an affair with her because she is not trustworthy then speeds away in the fancy car of a Russian gentleman. Reporting from a government meeting, Joe encounters Oktyabrina’s lover. The elderly Minister encourages Joe to join him for drinks and they strike up a friendship. Later, Oktyabrina pays Joe a surprise visit and invites him to the country on her date with the Minister. As Joe gets ready, she discovers one of his books. Disenchanted by its topic, trade unions, Oktyabrina encourages Joe to write a romance novel about her, but he says he is not interested in fiction. On a subsequent evening, Oktyabrina, Joe and Kostya celebrate the Minister’s birthday and he tearfully announces that he is being reassigned from his position in Moscow. Returning to Oktyabrina’s apartment, Joe and Oktyabrina discover that the KGB has raided her building and is arresting its residents. She explains that her home is an illegal boarding house and Leonid put everyone in jeopardy by attempting to leave the country, but Joe learns that Leonid escaped detention. Back at his apartment, Joe refuses Oktyabrina’s offer to exchange sex for rent. Some time later, Joe attempts to be romantic, but Oktyabrina is disinterested and says she has a new lover. After an interview with a government official, Joe complains about Russian propaganda and his inability to write the truth. When Oktyabrina argues that Joe is only interested in satisfying his American readers’ desire for a negative perspective of her country, he angrily calls her a parasite. Returning to his apartment, Joe finds Oktyabrina gone and a note that reads: “Yankee go home.” In the spring, Joe runs into Oktyabrina at Kostya’s party and he introduces her to his new girlfriend, Helga Van Dam. Oktyabrina eagerly presents her lover, Alexander Rodianko, a soldier in the Russian army, and guides Helga away to leave her two suitors alone. When Alexander offers Joe ten rubles to entertain Oktyabrina, Joe realizes that Alexander is having trouble getting her into bed and laughs joyously. After several days, Joe gets a cryptic phone call from Kostya, directing him to a bookstore on Petrovka Street. When Joe arrives, he discovers that Oktyabrina works at the shop and the call was a set up for them to reunite. Over lunch, Oktyabrina feigns despondence, telling Joe that Alexander is out of town, and she asks him to take her out. On an amusement park ride in Gorky Park that evening, Oktyabrina and Alexander see each other with their respective dates and recognize the mutual infidelity. The next day, Joe follows Oktyabrina to Leonid’s hiding place. Kostya reassures Joe that they are not lovers and says that Oktyabrina is only trying to help her friend. Upon returning home, Joe finds Oktyabrina dressed only in a towel. After driving to the country to visit the Minister, Joe and Oktyabrina kiss passionately and she agrees to a romantic evening together. In the meantime, however, Leonid’s plan to defect presents an obstacle to Oktyabrina and Joe’s liaison. Kostya negotiates the purchase of two black market passports for Oktyabrina and Leonid because Leonid’s departure with a cruise ship band will appear less suspicious if he has a wife to return to. Oktyabrina protests when she realizes they are scheduled to leave that evening. Although she doesn’t want to stand Joe up, she admits to stealing his money for the passports. Kostya argues that Leonid will not be able to defect without her help and despite Leonid’s objections, Oktyabrina agrees to go through with the plan. Back at Joe’s apartment, Oktyabrina concocts a story about joining Kostya for a party at the Black Sea, but Joe sees through it and tells her to leave right away. When Joe accuses her of taking his cash, she confesses and sadly says goodbye. Oktyabrina plays the role of Leonid’s wife on the cruise ship, bids him farewell, and successfully uses her fraudulent passport to disembark. When Oktyabrina returns to Kostya’s apartment and cries over the loss of Joe, Kostya says that their relationship was destined to fail because she would never survive in America. Kostya warns Oktyabrina that it is time to grow up. In the morning, Oktyabrina is gone. Joe vows to find her and goes to the ballet studio, where he discovers that Ignatievitch has died. As Joe suspects, Oktyabrina is attending her ballet master’s gravesite. When they reunite, Joe tells Oktyabrina he loves her then takes her home to make love. The next day, however, Oktyabrina is arrested when she sneaks into a hospital to visit the Minister, who returned to Moscow after a heart attack. At a trial attended by the Minister and Joe, Oktyabrina is sentenced to five years in prison. In a tearful farewell, Joe admits that he will no longer be in Moscow when she is released. Joe pledges his love for Oktyabrina and she regrets that their time together was so brief. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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