ninotchka

Ninotchka might be the greatest unknown treasure of 1939. Many people have never heard of it, yet alone seen it. It is one of the finest comedies of the 1930s, and in my opinion, Greta Garbo’s best role.

Ninotchka is most famous and known for the fact that it’s a Greta Garbo comedy. Garbo was a well-known actress – iconic almost – so when she made her first comedy, I guess it was natural that the film’s tagline of “Garbo Laughs” revolves around only her and not around the movie, director, or other cast members.

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OK – I know. The setting for this film is a little bizarre. It’s a Jimmy Stewart film set in Budapest. Jimmy Stewart—the all-American boy living and working in Hungary? Strangely, neither Stewart nor Maureen Sullivan have Hungarian accents. Or dress Hungarian. Or act European in any way. Basically, this movie could have (and should have) been set in America, but since it’s based on a play by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo, film director Ernst Lubitsch must have decided to leave the setting alone. Getting past that, this is a charming, endearing film that will surely become a favorite if you like romantic comedies. This is one of the best of the genre. Lubitsch is known for his stylized and sophisticated romantic comedies and even though this one lacks a little of the polish of some of his earlier works, it still satisfies. Stewart plays a head shop clerk and Sullivan plays his co-worker/nemesis/pen-pal. Even by today’s standards the dialogue is crisp and alive, with nothing to date it after all this time. And Stewart and Sullivan are a great pairing, seeming just as perfect together when they are bickering as when they are kissing. You’ve Got Mail was a re-make of this classic, but the 1998 film lacks the style and wit of the original.

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Ninotchka is most famous and known for that fact that it’s a Greta Garbo comedy. Garbo was a well-known actress…iconic almost…so when she made her first comedy, I guess it was natural that the film’s tagline of “Garbo Laughs” revolves around only her and not around the movie, director, or other cast members. Don’t get me wrong…Garbo is great in this classic, though I feel that she is a excellent part of a excellent comedy ensemble that was put together and made to work seamlessly by famed comedy director Ernst Lubitsch, who helmed other comic classics such as The Shop Around the Corner and Trouble in Paradise. Also, the screenplay here is written by a pre-directing Billy Wilder and his early partner Charles Brackett. Garbo plays a Russian who heads to Paris to check up on three comrades who are supposed to be selling some famed Russian jewels. Garbo’s character, Ninotchka, is a stern, tough woman who despises Paris and all of its lavishness. This is, until she meets Leon, who represents everything she loathes around capitalism, but she falls for him anyway. Since Wilder, Brackett and Lubitsch’s work often goes unnoticed next to Garbo’s aura, while you’re watching his masterpiece, make sure you occasionally take your eyes off the goddess and take note of the stellar filmmaking.

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