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.
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