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Film ninotchka.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byErnst Lubitsch
Produced byErnst Lubitsch
Sidney Franklin
Screenplay byMelchior Lengyel
Charles Brackett
Billy Wilder
Walter Reisch
Story byMelchior Lengyel
StarringGreta Garbo
Melvyn Douglas
Ina Claire
Music byWerner R. Heymann
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Edited byGene Ruggiero
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
November 9, 1939 (1939-11-09)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1,365,000 (est.)
Box office$2.3 million

Ninotchka is a 1939 American film made for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by producer and director Ernst Lubitsch and starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.[1] It is written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch,[1] based on a screen story by Melchior Lengyel. Ninotchka is Greta Garbo's first full comedy, and her penultimate film. It is one of the first American movies which, under the cover of a satirical, light romance, depicted the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin as being rigid and gray, in this instance comparing it with the free and sunny Parisian society of pre-war years.


Three Russians, Iranov (Sig Ruman), Buljanov (Felix Bressart), and Kopalsky (Alexander Granach), are in Paris to sell jewelry confiscated from the aristocracy during the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Count Alexis Rakonin (Gregory Gaye) pays a visit to Russian Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire) to inform her that her jewels are to be sold by the three Russian men. She enlists Count Leon d'Algout (Melvyn Douglas) to retrieve her jewelry before it is sold.

In their hotel suite, Iranov, Buljanov and Kopalsky bargain with a jeweler when Leon interrupts the meeting. He explains to the jeweler that the merchandise is stolen and there is a court injunction stopping the sale. The jeweler refuses to buy until they obtain a clear title from the French court.

Leon invites the three Russians to an extravagant lunch and talks them into staying in Paris to enjoy themselves.

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. Ninotchka is rigid and stern, admonishing Iranov, Buljanov and Kopalsky for failing to complete their mission.

Ninothcka and Leon first meet outside the hotel without knowing who the other is. He flirts but she is uninterested. Leon follows her to the Eiffel Tower and points out his home through a telescope. She invites herself to his apartment where they kiss before Leon receives a phone call from Buljanov. Ninotchka realizes Leon is the representative of Grand Duchess Swana and leaves the apartment.

While awaiting the court hearing over the jewelry injunction, Ninotchka becomes seduced by the West and by Leon, who falls in love with her. After a date with Leon, Ninotchka wakes to find Grand Duchess Swana has bribed a waiter to steal the jewelry. Swana agrees to give them back if Ninotchka leaves France for Russia so that Swana can have Leon to herself. Ninotchka agrees and she, Iranov, Buljanov and Kopalsky leave for Moscow.

Some time later, Ninotchka is again dispatched to clean up after the three men's failed mission, this time in Constantinople. Waiting for her in Constantinople is Leon, who explains that he was barred from entering The Soviet Union to win Ninotchka back.

The three Russian men accommodate themselves to capitalism by opening a restaurant, but the last joke of the film is that one of them carries a sign protesting that the other two are unfair to him.



Premiered in 1939 in the United States, the movie was released a month after the outbreak of World War II in Europe, where it became a great success. It was, however, banned in the Soviet Union and its satellites. Despite that, it went on to make $2,279,000 worldwide.

In a play on the famous "Garbo Talks!" ad campaign used for her "talkie" debut in Anna Christie (1930), Ninotchka was marketed with the catchphrase "Garbo Laughs!", commenting on Garbo's serious and melancholy image and implying she had not laughed or played comedy before. However, her canon reveals this not to be the case. Although all her previous films were dramatic, Garbo had occasions to laugh in several of them. In Queen Christina (1933), she disguises herself as a man and jokes with her co-star John Gilbert and others throughout the first half of the picture. In Camille (1936), she feigns exuberant laughter in a dramatic scene with actor Henry Daniell.


Greta Garbo as Nina Ivanovna "Ninotchka" Yakushova and Melvyn Douglas as Count Léon d'Algout

Critical response[edit]

When the film was first released, The New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent praised it:

The comedy, through Mr. Douglas's debonair performance and those of Ina Claire as the duchess and Sig Rumann, Felix Bressart and Alexander Grannach as the unholy three emissaries; through Mr. Lubitsch's facile direction; and through the cleverly written script of Walter Reisch, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, has come off brilliantly. Stalin, we repeat, won't like it; but, unless your tastes hew too closely to the party line, we think you will, immensely.[2]

More recently, in 2008, film critic Dennis Schwartz discussed the humor of Ninotchka:

The sly political jokes include Garbo saying: "The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians" and there are a few well-placed jokes mocking the failed Soviet Five-Year-Plan. The most noteworthy Lubitsch touch scene revolves around a stag feast in a luxury hotel ordered by capitalist Douglas for the three grateful comrade emissaries, who can't believe their good fortune. The film was funny in spots, but I thought it was also crude, lacked the usual Lubitsch subtleties, was not up to speed with the better earlier Lubitsch comedies and that the last half hour really slowed things down with an uninteresting artificial resolution.[3]


An attempt to revive the film later during World War II was suppressed on the grounds that the Soviets were then allies of the West.[4]


In 1955, the musical Silk Stockings opened on Broadway. Written by Cole Porter, the stage production was based on the 1939 story and script and starred Hildegard Neff and Don Ameche. The musical was then adapted by MGM as a 1957 film directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Actor George Tobias, who played the commissar in Silk Stockings, also appeared in an uncredited small role in Ninotchka as the Russian official who gets punched by Leon for refusing him a visa. The MGM films Comrade X (1940), starring Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr, and The Iron Petticoat (1956), starring Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn, both borrow heavily from Ninotchka.

In 1990, Ninotchka was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2011, Time also included the film on the magazine's list of "All-Time 100 Movies".[5]

Ninotchka is recognized as well by the American Film Institute in the AFI 100 Years... series in the following lists:

Leon: "Well, I don't have to, but I find it natural."
Ninotchka: "Suppress it." – Nominated[10]


Ninotchka received four Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Original Story, and Best Screenplay.[12]


Ninotchka is based on a three-sentence story idea by Melchior Lengyel that made its debut at a poolside conference in 1937, when a suitable comedy vehicle for Garbo was being sought by MGM: “Russian girl saturated with Bolshevist ideals goes to fearful, capitalistic, monopolistic Paris. She meets romance and has an uproarious good time. Capitalism not so bad, after all.”[13][14][15]


  1. ^ a b "Ninotchka". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  2. ^ Nugent, Frank S. The New York Times, film review, November 10, 1939. Last accessed: December 24, 2013.
  3. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 20, 2008. Last accessed: December 24, 2013.
  4. ^ Lee Kennett, For the Duration. . . : The United States Goes To War p 164 ISBN 0-684-18239-4
  5. ^ Corliss, Richard (2011). "All-Time 100 Movies", Time, October 3, 2011. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
  6. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (1998 edition)" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  7. ^ "America's Funniest Movies" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  8. ^ "AFI's 100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  9. ^ "AFI's List of Nominated Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  10. ^ "AFI's List of Nominated Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  11. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (2007 edition)" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  12. ^ The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "The 12th Academy Awards, 1940", honoring the films of 1939. Awards presentation at Coconut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, California, February 29, 1940. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  13. ^ Shaw, Tony (2007). Hollywood's Cold War, p. 16. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0748630732.
  14. ^ Zolotow, Maurice (1977). Billy Wilder in Hollywood, p. 97. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0879100702.
  15. ^ Thomson, David (2012). The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies, p. 104. Macmillan. ISBN 0374191891.

External links[edit]