Yesterday I watched Ninotchka on FilmStruck which is currently featuring fifteen of Greta Garbo’s films.
Ninotchka is a light comedy that spoofs the Commies. I thought of Timothy while watching this. I’m sure he’d like it. It’s a mix of the Marx Brothers and perhaps a little Mel Brooks (if not Bob Hope).
Three Red Russians (Comrade Iranoff, Buljanoff, and Kopalski) are sent to France to retrieve some valuable jewels that belong to an ousted White Russian duchess. France has officially recognized Stalin’s Russia which means it will be hard to keep the jewels out of the hands of Stalin.
The three Marx-brothers-like Russians fail in their mission so Commissar Razinin (Bela Lugosi) sends the upright and uptight Nina Ivanovna Yakushova (Ninotchka, played by Greta Garbo) to take over the recovery of the jewels.
Meanwhile, the Grand Duchess Swana (who owns the jewels…or did until the Commies stole them) has hired a lawyer, Count Leon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas). By chance, the Count happens upon the beautiful but dour Ninotchka before either of them know each other’s part in the jewel affair. He seduces her, or at least tries to. She is a solid rock of Communist peasantry purity and will not be swayed. (One can’t say the same thing for her three comrades who are living it up in Paris.)
This is light humor and the three Russian comrades are quick with slipping in Bob-Hope-like one-liners that are hilarious. In fact, although Melvyn Douglas is okay in this, Hope would have been a much better choice. Douglass does all he can to play the charming seducer but I’m not at all sure that the camera loves him.
Garbo’s transition from cold Commie to softened-by-Paris is a little abrupt. But the film is a light comedy and spoof and so this is a minor quibble.
I frankly didn’t think either Garbo or Douglass were striking in the roles. But the material and supporting cast are good enough that it doesn’t matter. Oh, if only there were a Billy Wilder alive today who could adapt such a movie to express the stifling Communism alive and well today on college campuses. Nevertheless, you can put a check-mark next to this one as a film well worth watching.