Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Writers: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch, Melchior Lengyel

  • Greta Garbo — Nina Yakushova Ivanoff, "Ninotchka"
  • Melvyn Douglas — Leon, Comte d'Agoult
  • Ina Claire — Grand Duchess Swana
  • Felix Bressart — Buljanoff
  • Alexander Granach — Kopalski
  • Sig Ruman — Iranoff
  • Bela Lugosi — Commissar Razinin

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM): 1939

110 minutes; black & white August 2008


Ninotchka is a clever comedy that also manages to be a romance, as well as providing humorously satirical glances at Russian history and international politics in 1939. Not an easy combination! Ernst Lubitsch pulls it together neatly, with a great cast and fine writing.

We begin with two sets of people. Ruman, Bressart and Granach are a team of Soviet emissaries, good Communists but not deep thinkers, sent officially to Paris to sell some Tsarist-era jewelry nationalized by the Bolsheviks. Unfortunately for the swift completion of their assignment, the three Soviets become easily distracted by Parisian luxuries and high-life. — Or as a famous song almost says,

How are you going to keep them
  down on the Commune,
once they've seen Paree?

Colliding with this trio we have Melvyn Douglas as a suave man-about-town, lover of elegant Ina Claire, who is a Russian emigre Grand Duchess. It soon develops that it is her family jewels, confiscated in the course of the Communist Revolution of 1917, which the Soviet emissaries want to sell.

Enter Greta Garbo as Ninotchka, sent from Moscow to oversee the jewelry sellers and expedite the fund-raising process. She is all unsmiling Communist business, serious and dedicated even to the point of employing her free time touring Paris to study its material infrastructure.

A tangled puzzle! However —

"Romance!" the season-tickets mourn,
"He never ran to catch His train,
But passed with coach and guard and horn —
And left the local — late again!
Confound Romance!" ... And all unseen
Romance brought up the nine-fifteen.

Rudyard Kipling
"The King"  (1894)
Rudyard Kipling's Verse,
Definitive Edition

Ninotchka is a lovely movie.


© 2008 Robert Wilfred Franson

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