"An expertly-played and presented comedy that continues to be dogged by detractors for the oddest reasons. Some feel NINOTCHKA suffers compared to Lubitsch's earlier work, finding it formulaic alongside 1933's TROUBLE IN PARADISE. (I hadn't known Lubitsch had been given 'do-what-thou-wilt' privileges from the Hays Office - I'd labored under the delusion he faced the same restrictions in content and tone every other moviemaker did in 1939.) Other nay-sayers decry the film's jabs at Soviet collectivism as 'dated' if not 'unenlightened'. (Huh? You mean show trials and forced starvation of kulaks were GOOD things that a truly witty screenplay would celebrate?) Still other kibitzers squawk over the casting, of all things! (While it IS fun to picture William Powell or Robert Montgomery in the role of Leon, the boulevardier, Melvyn Douglas was never better than he is here. If he has his spotty moments, it's in those scenes where he must swoon with ardor, reciting dialogue that rings a tad purple to the ear; it's quite possible Powell or Montgomery would have fared even worse reading those lines.) Okay, enough defensive posturing - now let's go to NINOTCHKA's numerous strengths. Garbo is magnificent; she has a real knack for comedy (her deadpan entrance is hilarious) yet, as always, is able to break your heart with a look, a word, a gesture. Her three 'stooges' (Sig Rumann, Alexander Granach & Felix Bressart) are broadly funny and genuinely endearing. Ina Claire is everything her legend always claimed she was - though her character is icily calculating, you can't hate any woman who can make dialogue bristle like this. Lubitsch is in complete command throughout; his staging and pacing of the proceedings masterful in its seeming effortlessness. Even the storied Metro glitz shines in NINOTCHKA, right down to the brilliant artifice of Cedric Gibbons' art direction (the Eiffel Tower sets especially). Last but not least is the superb screenplay by (among other hands) the team of Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder. Wisely, their satiric darts are dipped in a curare leavened by wit and sentiment, and while they are thrown with accuracy, their sting is never such that the satire sinks into the mire of political ideology. NINOTCHKA, after all, is about the triumph of love over politics, and to those who feel faint from the prevailing toilet-ethic of the Farrelly Brothers' blood-poisoning of modern comedy, represents a much-needed antidote. Inoculate yourself at your earliest opportunity."
"Oh, my barbaric Ninotchka..."
Dave | Tennessee United States | 05/04/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Greta Garbo plays a stern-faced Soviet official ("Ninotchka") who arrives in Paris on business involving the sale of some extremely rare and valuable czarist jewels. But soon she discovers the magic of Paris and falls for a Frenchman named Leon D'Algout (played by Melvyn Douglas). But Ninotchka must now choose between love and duty to Russia, and she must also contend with another woman, the exiled Grand Duchess Swana (played by Ina Claire), who wants Leon for herself. Will Ninotchka and Leon's romance be able to survive against these obstacles? Watch and find out!
With a sharp, witty, and fast-paced script written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brakkett, and Walter Reisch, and a great supporting cast including Bela Lugosi (who plays a Soviet officer!!!), Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart, Alexander Granach, and Richard Carle, this very enjoyable Ernst Lubitsch comedy is still very entertaining after more than 65 years! While some of the dialogue is dated and corny and the film is a little too long, overall I highly recommend this classic, as well as "Comrade X", with Clark Gable and beautiful Hedy Lamarr, a film which I believe is very superior to "Ninotchka"."
Must you flirt?
Matthew | Seattle | 12/02/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this movie one rainy night at the Clatsop Community College campus in Astoria, Oregon. I've been in love with this movie ever since. Every successful romantic comedy made since this film was released in 1939 owes part of their success to it. Greta Garbo takes a break from her serious filmmaking career and plays a strong, yet reasonable Russian woman. Melvyn Douglas is perfect in his role as well. The consumate playboy, he sees Garbo on the streets of Paris and must have her. It's not that easy though. Ninotchka isn't in Paris for romance.Combining these two characters with the surrounding cast, it's easily one of the best comedies ever made. The writing is intelligent, and everything about this film has stood the test of time.I have this film on laserdisc, and am wondering what's the hold up on the DVD. I'm guessing it must be Garbo's estate. Hopefully there'll be some exciting extras on the title when it's finally released. (Like the great extras on the "Rebecca" laserdisc box set & dvd set from Criterion.)"
Garbo laughs in this wonderful ecomedy
Ivy Lin | NY NY | 09/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In a documentary of the great Greta Garbo, one of her friends said that "Ninotchka" was the film that most reflected Garbo's personality. I never knew the lady herself but I do know that "Ninotchka" is a delightful, beautiful romantic comedy. The director is Ernst Lubitsch, and the famous "Lubitsch touch" is on display here. Three Russian emissaries (Felix Bressart, Michael Iranoff, and Alexander Granach) are sent to Paris to sell some jewels, but they quickly become addicted to the Parisian's high-living life. Moscow finds out about the threesome's inefficient ways, so they send a senior emissary to straighten things out. This emissary, Nina Ivanovna Yakushova (aka Ninotchka) is of course played to perfection by Greta Garbo. Garbo as the stern Communist is hysterical -- the deadpan way she shakes her head at a ridiculous looking French hat reduced me to giggles. Soon Garbo meets Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas), a Parisian playboy. This leads to some priceless dialogue:
Ninotchka: I am interested only in the shortest distance between these two points. Must you flirt? Leon: Well, I don't have to, but I find it natural. Ninotchka: Suppress it!
Ninotchka: Your general appearance is not distasteful. Leon: Thank you. Ninotchka: The whites of your eyes are clear. Your cornea is excellent. Leon: Your cornea is terrific. Ninotchka, tell me, you're so expert on things: can it be that I'm falling in love with you? Ninotchka: Why must you bring in wrong values? Love is a romantic designation for a most ordinary biological - or, shall we say, chemical - process. A lot of nonsense is talked and written about it. Leon: Oh I see. What do you use instead? Ninotchka: I acknowledge the existence of a natural impulse common to all. Leon: What can I possibly do to encourage such an impulse in you? Ninotchka: You don't have to do a thing. Chemically, we're already quite sympathetic.
The script was written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. Douglas and the three Russian emissaries, as well as Ina Claire as Grand Duchess Swana (Count Leon's ex and Ninotchka's rival) are all wonderful. But this is Garbo's picture. She is simply hysterical. Her wonderfully deadpan way of delivering her lines will reduce you to giggles. Later on, she is radiant as she falls in love and gets drunk from champagne. If you ever want to know what Garbo was all about, watch Ninotchka. Her charisma, her humor, her charm, her magnificence are on full display."
Garbo's great comedic role
Joe Sixpack -- Slipcue.com | ...in Middle America | 05/05/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Yet another yummy Ernst Lubitsch comedy, this time starring the often-dour Greta Garbo as a humorless Soviet agent who is seduced by Western materialism (and a dashing, jovial Melvyn Douglas) while on a mission in Paris. Some may find the film's political aspects to be dated -- but hey, that's totally the point! Lubitsch manages to lampoon both Stalin-era communism and the American stereotypes of the French (as libertine sensualists) all at one time... And while the Soviet state is roundly mocked, the plight of its people is not, so that Garbo's character is given her dignity and honor... as well as some swell close-ups and nice clothes! The best part of this film is her transformation from a robotic, literal-minded Party functionary into a fully-rounded human being... The scene in which Douglas tries to crack Ninotchka's icy facade, telling jokes and acting up in order to provoke a laugh or a smile, while she rebuffs his every overture in a clipped, chilly monotone, is one of Garbo's best performances, and a brilliant comedic stroke for Lubitsch. In effect, the manic, wisecracking Douglas is turned into a straight man for Garbo, whose minimalistic delivery controls the scene, in an almost Steven Wright-like manner. And, of course, the rest of the film is a delight as well. A fascinating, frivolous look at prewar European politics, and a real humdinger of a screwball comedy, with a clever, snappy script co-written by Billy Wilder. What's not to enjoy, comrade?"