NINOTCHKA (1939) B/W 111m dir: Ernst Lubitsch
w/Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, Sig Rumann, Felix Bressart, Alexander Granach, Bela Lugosi, Gregory Gaye, Richard Carle, Edwin Maxwell
Delightful comedy about a Soviet female comrade who learns the meaning of life and love from an American in Paris. Lubitsch was one of the premiere comedy directors of the era, and he doesn't miss a trick here.
From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films: "A dedicated (but attractive) Soviet Commissar (Garbo), sent to Paris to check up on three incompetent emissaries (Rumann, Bressart, Granach) who are supposed to be selling jewels to buy machinery, is deflected from her purpose by romance with an aristocrat (Douglas). She buys a hat, loses the jewels, and then loses her lover through the jealousy of a duchess (Claire). ...
"A sophisticated, spirited comedy but one which was also used as political propaganda in 1939-41 (before the Americans entered the war) and later in Europe in 1948-52 during the 'hottest' period of the cold war.
"Even without Garbo, this would be one of Lubitsch's best films. The script still sparkles and is still irresistibly funny; Lubitsch's sense of timing is as fine as ever."
From The Movie Guide: "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. ...
"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, [Charles] Brackett, and [Walter] 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."
NINOTCHKA received four Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Actress (Garbo), Original Story (Melchior Lengyel), and Screenplay. It was remade in 1957 as the musical SILK STOCKINGS.