White Nights (1985 film)

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White Nights
White nights ver1.jpg
Promotional movie poster for the film
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Produced by William P. Gilmore
Taylor Hackford
Screenplay by James Goldman
Eric Hughes
Nancy Dowd (uncredited)
Story by James Goldman
Music by Michel Colombier
Cinematography David Watkin
Edited by Fredric Steinkamp
William Steinkamp
Delphi IV Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • November 22, 1985 (1985-11-22)
Running time
136 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10-20 million[1]
Box office $42,160,849

White Nights is a 1985 American drama film directed by Taylor Hackford and starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Jerzy Skolimowski, Helen Mirren and Isabella Rossellini.[2][3] It was choreographed by Twyla Tharp and shot in Finland, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and Austria.

The film is notable both for the dancing of Hines and Baryshnikov and for the Academy Award-winning song "Say You, Say Me" by Lionel Richie in 1986, as well as "Separate Lives" performed by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin and written by Stephen Bishop (also nominated).

Taylor Hackford met his future wife, Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren, during the filming of White Nights.[4]


Nikolai 'Kolya' Rodchenko (Baryshnikov) is a Soviet ballet dancer who had defected from the Soviet Union. The plane carrying him to a next performance in Tokyo has engine trouble and crashes in Siberia. He is hurt and is soon recognized by KGB officer Colonel Chaiko (Jerzy Skolimowski). Chaiko then contacts African-American tap dancer, Raymond Greenwood (Hines), who has defected to the Soviet Union, and gets them both to Leningrad. Chaiko wants Rodchenko to dance at the season's opening night at the Kirov, and Greenwood to babysit Rodchenko. To convince Rodchenko, Chaiko uses Galina Ivanova (Helen Mirren), a former ballerina who never left the Soviet Union and is an old flame of Rodchenko.

After an initial period of racial and artistic friction, the two dancers (and defectors in opposite directions) become strong friends. When Raymond finds that his wife Darya Greenwood (Isabella Rossellini) is pregnant, he decides he doesn't want their child to grow up in the Soviet Union, and together, with Rodchenko, they plan an escape, with the help from Galina, who still has feelings for Rodchenko. While the escape plan is going on, Raymond chooses to stay behind to delay Chaiko, gaining time for Nikolai and Darya to get to the Consulate at Leningrad. Even though Raymond is incarcerated when the whole plan is revealed, he is finally traded by the Soviets for a political prisoner from Latin America, and reunites with Darya and Nikolai.


The opening ballet sequence, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort, originally choreographed by Roland Petit in 1946 and performed anew by Baryshnikov and Faure, was filmed at the Bristol Hippodrome. The gentleman paging the curtain for Baryshnikov is John Randall, the theatre's technical director at the time. The following backstage scenes were filmed at the Albery Theatre in London.[5]

Usually, at that time, filmmakers would use models to film the crash-landing of an aircraft as expensive as a Boeing 747. For the filming of the crash sequence of a "British Orient" 747 at the beginning of "White Nights", two different full-sized aircraft were used.

  • For shots representing the "British Orient" 747 while still aloft, a rebadged Aer Lingus Boeing 747 performed a touch-and-go landing at RAF Machrihanish.
  • For shots representing the "British Orient" 747 after touchdown, the production team purchased an older Boeing 707 from South America. The 707 was converted with the famous 747 hump, a painted cockpit and a small vision slit on the original cockpit, so the stunt pilots could perform the live action crash-landing. Due to the size differences, forced perspective was used to give the impression of a larger aircraft and short actors used in a brief sequence where a vehicle is almost hit.[citation needed] The plane crash sequence was filmed at Campbeltown Airport on the south-west coast of Scotland, mainly due to its remoteness and the length (around 1.7 miles (2.7 km)) of the runway.[6] (The aircraft was built as ZS-CKC (SN: 17928) for South African Airways in July 1960 and retired with SAA in 1977. Its final registration was N90651, operated by PWA: Panama World Airways and finally retired in 1981. It was purchased by Columbia Pictures in Sept 1984.[7] )

The film contains an early-career performance by Maryam d'Abo, later to star as a Bond girl in the James Bond film The Living Daylights.

In 1985, many western Cold War movies supposedly set in Russia would use locations in the Finnish capital Helsinki with an architectural style resembling Leningrad. For White Nights, a team of travelogue filmmakers from Finland, who previously had done work in the Soviet Union, were hired to film a number of locations in Leningrad, such as the Kirov Theatre and the Lenin monument, as well as a Chaika state-limousine. These scenes were then inserted into the movie, some being in-car scenes. Hackford was disappointed with critics who wrote negative reviews, based on their belief that Helsinki had been used once more but he couldn't correct them and damage the reputation of the Finnish travelogue company and their chances of further work inside the Soviet Union.[8] A part of the movie was filmed at the Finnish island of Reposaari.[9]

White Nights was dedicated "in loving memory" to Mary E. Hackford (mother of Taylor) and Jerry Benjamin (father of executive supervisor Stuart Benjamin), both of whom died prior to its release.



White Nights received mixed reviews from critics, as it currently holds a 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 13 reviews.[11] However, the film was a commercial success at the box office, grossing over $42 million in the United States.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also[edit]


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