Matinee Monday: Ninotchka (1939)

The next film from 1939 makes me smile just thinking about it: Ninotchka. It starred the great dramatic actress, Greta Garbo, in a surprising new role: comedic! Just to show you how surprising this was to the movie-going public, here is the poster for that film:


Note the tag-line: “Garbo Laughs!” Garbo was so-well known as a dramatic actress that it was a complete surprise to everyone to find out that she was an accomplished comedienne. After all, Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle, in Miracle on 34th Street) is supposed to have said on his death bed, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.”

In Ninotchka, three Russian commissars are sent by Moscow to Paris to sell jewelry confiscated from Russian aristocrats, but are corrupted by Count  d’Algout (male lead Melvin Douglas.) Concerned about these three, Moscow sends a special envoy (Garbo) to straighten the commissars out and take charge of the sale. Garbo plays the role of the stern and cheerless envoy with a deft touch, and as she blossoms in the Paris summer, she comes to see that there are delights in the world.

Ninortcha was very successful, and even spawned a Cole Porter musical remake, Silk Stockings, with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. The dialogue is witty, with many digs at Stalinist Russia. One scene has Ninotchka reporting to the three commissars, “The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians”.

Here is the scene that surprised America:


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