Most romantic films #11: Ninotchka (1939)

1939 was a fantastic year for films, including this mostly forgotten gem starring the radiant, the glorious Greta Garbo.

Ninotchka was directed by Ernst Lubitsch (The Merry Widow, Design for Living, The Shop Around the Corner, Heaven Can Wait, among others), written by Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Some Like it Hot, Ball of Fire, The Major and the Minor, and on and on!), and starred Melvyn Douglas and Garbo.


In the film, set in Paris, three Russians have come to sell confiscated aristocracy jewelry for the Soviet gov’t. They are “corrupted” by the luxuries of Paris and Douglas’s character, Count Leon D’Algout. When the task drags out, the Soviets send Ninotchka (Garbo) to Paris to oversee the sale and bring the 3 back to Moscow.

The romantic comedy charts Ninotchka’s gradual seduction by the beauty, the warmth, the pleasures of Paris. By contrast, the Soviet world is chilly, emotionless, gray, and rigid.

The script is simple, but witty. The delight is watching Douglas’s urbane Parisian simultaneously seduce and be seduced by Garbo’s transformation from robotic, monotonous-voiced Soviet comrade to a warm, laughing, flirtatious woman.

This is one of the many “forgotten” romantic comedies of the 1930s that deserves to be seen again.


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