Sunday, April 24, 2011

Classic Movie Marathon Day 7: Ninotchka (1939)

Welcome to day seven of the Classic Movie Marathon. Seven movies down, five to go. Up next is Hamlet (1948).

Before there was 'From the people who brought you Transformers' or starring that guy who was a bit part in a movie made 20 years ago, there was a different way of selling films. If you had Greta Garbo in your film, and she tries her hand as a comedienne, then you have the best selling point since "Garbo Talks!": "Garbo LAUGHS!" This may suggest that she let's her usually serious persona go in Ninotchka. Alas, that does not happen. The tagline comes from the fact that she has a laughing scene, which loosens her up somewhat, but her performance is funny because of Melvyn Douglas. To add another great tagline to this film, the producers ordered that you "Don't pronounce it - see it!" See, that is so much better than "Titans will Clash".

Ninotchka was banned from the Soviet Union for the way it depicts the union under the power of Stalin: gray and stern. However, it was an international success, as it features Garbo coming out of her shell, and Melvyn Douglas being funny. Plus, it was directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch, who had the famed 'Lubitsch touch' with comedies. The film is about three Russians, Iranoff (Sig Ruman), Buljanoff (Felix Bressart) and Kopalski (Alexander Granach), who are in Paris to sell jewelry confiscated from the aristocracy during the Russian Revolution of 1917. Upon arrival, they meet Count Leon d'Algout (Melvyn Douglas), on a mission from the Russian Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire) who wants to retrieve her jewelry before it is sold. He corrupts them and talks them into staying in Paris. The Soviet Union then sends Nina Ivanovna "Ninotchka" Yakushova (Greta Garbo), a special envoy whose goal is to go through with the jewelry sale and bring back the three men. Rigid and stern at first, she slowly becomes seduced by the West and the Count, who falls in love with her.

This was quite a charming comedy, definitely because of the interplay between Garbo and Douglas. Garbo, herself, isn't so funny. It is usually Douglas who makes her funny. Ninotchka is quite a socially devoid character, with her personality being restricted by the limits of Stalin's empowerment. When she comes to the free and breezy Paris, she's out of her comfort zone. Leon highlights that fact, and often uses it against her as a way of getting a laugh or two. The comedy between the two is top notch, and also the comedy surrounding them is quite funny. Despite all this, the film didn't particularly stand out for me, as it did for so many others, but it still remains a fine example of the 'Lubitsch touch', a thing which many film-makers have tried to emulate, though few have succeeded in doing so. As the tagline would suggest, "Don't pronounce it - see it!"

What I got:


  1. I expected this one to be better because it was written by Billy Wilder. I would give it 3 stars, so I don't state that it was bad. But you're right, Garbo was not that funny.

  2. Yeah, I thought it should have been better for that particular reason. My rating is with extreme reservations, it didn't deserve 3 stars from me but it doesn't quite get 4 stars. Possibly 3.25 stars, haha. No, Garbo wasn't that funny at all.

  3. Seems interesting but not one I'd rush to see...

    Nice review though!

  4. Yeah, it's alright, but I wouldn't rush to see it.

  5. I liked the humour, many quotable lines,
    I thought Ninotchka had some great scenes, particularly between Garbo and Douglas.

    I didn't know the film was banned from the Soviet Union

  6. It did have some great scenes...the one where Douglas is trying to tell Garbo a joke and she doesn't laugh until he falls off his chair was just pure comedy gold!

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