Ninotchka (1939) is the divinely decadent romantic comedy that proved to the world that Greta Garbo could indeed laugh. Until this film she had been known primarily for her costume melodramas – a grand figurehead of towering asexual strength that bode well with the dwindling European market but found less success with domestic audiences as time and fame wore on.
On this occasion Garbo is Russian envoy, Nina Ivanovna 'Ninotchka' Yakushova (now there is a mouthful). A staunch communist, assigned to bring back three wayward comrades, Buljanoff (Felix Bressart), Kopalski (Alexander Granach) and Iranoff (Sig Ruman) who have succumbed to the pleasures of Paris while on a mission to sell the Russian royal jewels of Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire), Nina soon discovers that the city of lights may indeed hold hidden pleasures for her as well. One prominent prospect is dapper, Count Leon d’Algout (Melvin Douglas). Toying with Swana’s affections, Leon makes every opportunity to get to know the stalwart Nina better.
But Nina is reticent about Leon and the west. When Leon tells her that distraught Parisian men go to the Eiffel Tower to commit suicide for love, Nina’s scientific response is, “How long does it take a man to land?” Gradually, and with great aplomb, both Paris and Leon work their magic on Nina’s stoic turgidity. However, just when love appears to be in bloom new orders arrive from Moscow – “come home at once!”
Director Ernest Lubitsch is a master craftsman of this sort of silky romantic comedy with a decidedly European touch. He has a strong ally in Garbo who lampoons her own grave exterior to riotous effect. True, the casting of Melvin Douglas as Nina’s romantic ideal is problematic. Douglas has the patina of a smooth and elegant cosmopolitan, entirely too fashionable to be believable as a Russian immigrant. Still, their scenes together exhibit a great charm that is exemplified by the adroit script from Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and Walter Reisch.
Warner Home Video’s DVD is very smooth.
Contrast levels appear to be slightly bumped up with a subtle loss of fine details during the brightest scenes. Overall, the gray scale has been impeccably rendered. Blacks are a tad weak but acceptable. Whites are occasionally blooming. Age related artifacts are present but do not distract. The audio is mono but very nicely represented. There are NO extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)