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Ninotchka (1939)


Garbo laughs. So read the advertising for the star's first outright comedy, and it brilliantly sums up the appeal of this remarkable film. Director Ernst Lubitsch has the actress gracefully step down from her pedestal as the stern Communist who warms to the appeal of Paris champagne and playboy Melvyn Douglas. Combining farce, romance and satire, yet still maintaining moments of that soaring Garbo intensity, NINOTCHKA is special indeed.

When three Soviet emissaries (Bressart, Rumann, Granach, whose work could not possibly be bettered) arrive in Paris on a mission, it's not long before Paris arrives on them instead. And so, super efficient Comrade Ninotchka (Garbo) appears to retrieve jewelry in the possession of the former Grand Duchess Swana (Claire). It is the Soviet government's contention that the property of the aristocrats properly belongs to the people. The two women's tussle over the goods becomes complicated, however, when Swana's swain Leon (Douglas) becomes infatuated with the frosty commissar.

Many of Garbo's films rely on her presence alone for their appeal. That's not the case here. Working from a brittle, witty script by no less than Wilder, Brackett, and Reisch, the gifted Lubitsch brings his patented "touch" to scene after scene. From the bumbling emissaries' arithmetic about ringing for hotel maids to Ninotchka's hilarious "execution scene" the film bubbles merrily throughout. Garbo rarely had a paramour as adroit as Douglas, who wears a dinner jacket with the flair of Astaire and the polish of Powell. He plays the gushy romantic dialogue early on with the perfect combination of conviction and playfulness, and one of the film's beauties is watching Garbo shift gears into this mode herself. The lovely scene in a cafe where Douglas cracks Ninotchka up only when he falls off his chair remains a highlight of both film comedy and screen romance.

An adroit satire of both Communism and capitalism, NINOTCHKA still manages a healthy heartiness and a sweet sadness. Its success inspired pallid imitations from COMRADE X with Lamarr and Gable to THE IRON PETTICOAT with Hepburn and Hope. A musical remake, SILK STOCKINGS, featured some good Fred Astaire-Cyd Charisse dancing and a show-stealing turn by Janis Paige, but had little sparkle and even less depth. Garbo would attempt, but fail, to repeat this film's magic with her next, TWO-FACED WOMAN, with George Cukor (at one point slated for NINOTCHKA) directing.

Academy Award Nomination: Best Picture
Academy Award Nomination: Best Actress - Greta Garbo
Academy Award Nomination: Best Original Story - Melchior Lengyel
Academy Award Nomination: Best Screenplay - Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, Billy Wilder

Country of origin: U.S.
Genre: Comedy
Color or b/w: Black & white
Production Co(s).: MGM
Released by: MGM
MPAA rating: NR
Running time: 110

Greta Garbo -- Lena Yakushova, "Ninotchka"
Melvyn Douglas -- Count Leon Dolga
Ina Claire -- Grand Duchess Swana
Sig Rumann -- Michael Ironoff
Felix Bressart -- Buljanoff
Alexander Granach -- Kopalski
Bela Lugosi -- Commissar Razinin
Gregory Gaye -- Count Alexis Rakonin
Richard Carle -- Vaston
Edwin Maxwell -- Mercier
Rolfe Sedan -- Hotel Manager
George Tobias -- Russian Visa Official
Dorothy Adams -- Jacqueline, Swana's Maid
Lawrence Grant -- Gen. Savitsky
Charles Judels -- Pere Mathieu, Cafe Owner
Frank Reicher -- Lawyer
Edwin Stanley --Lawyer
Peggy Moran -- French Maid
Marek Windheim -- Manager
Mary Forbes -- Lady Lavenham
Alexander Schonberg -- Bearded Man
George Davis -- Porter
Armand Kaliz -- Louis, the Headwaiter
Wolfgang Zilzer -- Taxi Driver
Tamara Shayne -- Anna
William Irving -- Bartender
Bess Flowers -- Gossip
Elizabeth Williams -- Indignant Woman
Paul Weigel -- Vladimir
Harry Semels -- Neighbor-Spy
Jody Gilbert -- Streetcar Conductress
Florence Shirley -- Marianne
Elinor Vandivere -- Gossip
Sandra Morgan -- Gossip
Emily Cabanne -- Gossip
Symona Boniface -- Gossip
Monya Andre -- Gossip
Kay Stewart -- Cigarette Girl
Jenifer Gray -- Cigarette Girl
Lucille Pinson -- German Woman at Railroad Station

Producer: Ernst Lubitsch
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Writer: Charles Brackett
Billy Wilder
Walter Reisch (based on a story by Melchior Lengyel)
Cinematographer: William Daniels
Editor: Gene Ruggiero
Music Composer: Werner R. Heymann
Art Director: Cedric Gibbons
Randall Duell
Set Decorator: Edwin B. Willis
Costume Design: Adrian
Make Up: Jack Dawn

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