Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ernst Lubitsch|
|Produced by||Ernst Lubitsch
|Written by||Melchior Lengyel
|Music by||Werner R. Heymann|
|Cinematography||William H. Daniels|
|Edited by||Gene Ruggiero|
|October 6, 1939|
|Box office||$2.3 million|
Ninotchka is a 1939 American film made for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by producer and director Ernst Lubitsch which stars Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas. It is written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch, 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. 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.
The three Russians also accommodate themselves to capitalism, but the last joke of the film is that one of them carries a sign protesting that the other two are unfair to him.
- Greta Garbo as Nina Ivanovna "Ninotchka" Yakushova (Нина Ивановна "Ниночка" Якушова)
- Melvyn Douglas as Count Léon d'Algout
- Ina Claire as Grand Duchess Swana (Свана)
- Sig Ruman as Iranoff (Иранов) (credited as Sig Rumann)
- Felix Bressart as Buljanoff (Бульянов)
- Alexander Granach as Kopalski (Копальский)
- Bela Lugosi as Commissar Razinin (Разинин)
- Rolfe Sedan as Hotel Manager
- Gregory Gaye as Count Alexis Rakonin (Раконин)
- Edwin Maxwell as Mercier
- Richard Carle as Gaston
- Tamara Shayne as Anna (uncredited)
- George Tobias as Russian visa official (uncredited)
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 films were dramatic to this point, Garbo laughs heartily and often. In Queen Christina (1933), Garbo 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), Garbo shares a scene of exuberant laughter with actor Henry Daniell.
When the film was first released, The New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent praised it, writing, "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."
More recently, film critic Dennis Schwartz discussed the humor of Ninotchka, writing, "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."
In 1955, a Broadway musical Silk Stockings, written by Cole Porter based on the 1939 story and script, starring Hildegard Neff and Don Ameche opened. The musical was adapted 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 had a small role in Ninotchka as the man who gets punched by Leon for refusing him a visa. The 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". It was also included on two American Film Institute lists: #40 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions and #52 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs. It was also included on Time Magazine's All-Time 100 Movies.
American Film Institute recognition
Ninotchka is based on a three-sentence story idea by Melchior Lengyel which made its debut at a poolside conference in 1937, when a suitable comedy vehicle for Garbo was being sought.
- Nugent, Frank S. The New York Times, film review, November 10, 1939. Last accessed: December 24, 2013.
- Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 20, 2008. Last accessed: December 24, 2013.
- Lee Kennett, For the Duration. . . : The United States Goes To War p 164 ISBN 0-684-18239-4
- All-Time 100 movies
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