Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ninotchka (1939) - Garbo's Peak

Ninotchka 1939
"Ninotchka" (1939).

Ernst Lubitsch is the greatest director whose name you've probably never heard. If you like old films like "Ninotchka" (1939), eventually you will find one that unexpectedly just blows you away, and you will look and find that the director was Mr. Lubitsch.

Ninotchka 1939 Greta Garbo
She hasn't found the right hat yet.....

In a way, he was the Mel Brooks of his time.  While Brooks continually pokes fun at Hitler, Lubitsch never pulled any punches with Communists or Russians.  Of course, wrote the "Ninotchka" script and deserves credit - and if you don't see that duo of Wilder and Lubitsch as one of the most talented combinations of all time, then you just don't know enough about their careers.  "Ninotchka" is a delightful look into Soviet Russia - an enigma to most at the time - and how people there are, well, people, too.

Ninotchka 1939 Greta Garbo
Even the Kommisar has to do the dishes!

But the delights of this film go way beyond that.  Greta Garbo shines like a beacon in this film.  As in almost all of her films, it is as though she were a modern starlet somehow transported back into old black and white stock.  She has an intelligence that leaps off of the screen - you feel that she has the same sensibility that we do, and that she is in on the joke as well.

Ninotchka 1939 Greta Garbo
Isn't that just an awesome, seductive look?

Beyond that, of course, is that fact that Garbo is awesomely beautiful in an earthy and understandable way and hysterically funny.  If you want to see why she became a legend, this is the film to see. It shows Greta Garbo at her best, displaying an acting range as Ninotchka that dwarfs just about anyone else of her time. She had unfairly gotten a reputation from her previous films as somewhat of an emotionless figure, but she decisively ended that with this film.  This also happens to be perhaps the best indictment ever made of Russian Communism because it makes the case with humor.

Ninotchka 1939 Greta Garbo
The three funniest stooges aside from... The Three Stooges.

Three bumbling Soviet representatives (Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart, and Alexander Granach) are in Paris to sell some confiscated royal jewels. Caught up in the wonders of capitalism, they fail to consummate the deal and must face a visit from a Soviet supervisor, who turns out to be Garbo as Ninotchka. One of the best scenes in the film is when the trio go to the station to meet the unknown Soviet and spy a bewhiskered gentleman on the platform. "Maybe that's him," one says. They follow him, until he greets a companion with "Heil Hitler." "No, that's not him." Never fails to make me laugh.

Ninotchka 1939 Greta Garbo
Yes, she laughs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, it's a brilliant comedy. Yes, "Garbo laughs," but she does a whole lot more than that. Melvyn Douglas plays her paramour who shows her the sights of Paris and "the most unique spot," his apartment. He's a little too unctuous for my taste, but he plays well against Garbo at her sternest early in the film.

Ninotchka 1939 Greta Garbo
Lubitxh with the two stars, who look quite comfortable

 Ernst Lubitsch displays his usual deft touch.  Watch this with "To Be or Not to Be" and "The Little Shop Around the Corner" to get the full impact.

Ninotchka 1939 Greta Garbo
Oh, THERE it is! That hat has gotten a lot of laughs over the years.

This is one of the deftest comedies you'll ever see, with so many wonderful comic throw-away lines and unbelievable sight gags (Garbo's hat nearly steals the picture) that you'll lose count. And that hat Garbo wears is a scream! Catch this one, it's a classic for a reason.


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