Ninotchka

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I saw this movie once before, back when I was a grad student. 'Twas back when Boston's channel 5 showed classic movies on Saturday night, hosted by the late great Frank Avruch, also known as the first nationally syndicated version of Bozo the Clown.

So about 45 years ago, give or take.

It was made in 1939, as World War II loomed. It begins with three Russians coming to Paris in order to sell some jewelry confiscated by the Commies from its previous aristocratic owners. (Stalin's Russia is in desperate need of cash, because starvation and murder aren't cheap.)

But (as it turns out) the aristocrat ("Grand Duchess Swana") is now living in Paris too. The sale immediately gets complex, as Swana's boy-toy Count Leon d'Algout easily "corrupts" the three envoys with all the worldly delights Paris has to offer.

Enter Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, aka Ninotchka, a no-nonsense Moscow enforcer who arrives to see what's going on. And she is played by Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, aka Greta Garbo. She's humorless and grim, and contemptuous of the bourgeois antics of Count Leon, … until, yeah, they fall in love.

The trailer was included on the DVD, and its prominent tagline was "Garbo Laughs!". Apparently that was not something she had done in previous movies. And it's an inside-baseball reference to her first non-silent movie, Anna Christie, which was taglined "Garbo Talks!"

And the movie's not shy about making winking reference to one of her previous movies: "Do you want to be alone?" "No."

Lots of talent involved. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and Billy Wilder was one of the writers.

And there are pointed references to current events. Stalinist horrors are occasionally mentioned. ("Hello! Comrade Kasabian? No, I am sorry. He hasn't been with us for six months. He was called back to Russia and was investigated. You can get further details from his widow.") And—this is 1930s Paris, remember—a couple of Nazis greet each other at the train station with a hearty "Heil Hitler!". And it's played for laughs.

Excellent movie. I'll put it on the list to watch again in another 45 years or so…


Last Modified 2018-10-05 1:42 PM EST