Favorite things about… Ninotchka (1939)

The favorite film:
Ninotchka, a 1939 comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch for MGM

(Image via Doctor Macro)
(Image via Doctor Macro)

The synopsis:
Ninotchka is a stern Soviet agent, fully dedicated to her country and her work. But when she meets the suave Leon in Paris on her way to take in the sight of the Eiffel Tower (and other architectural marvels), Ninotchka finds her dedication and rigid lifestyle compromised by the prospect of love.

The cast:

Greta Garbo as Ninotchka
Melvyn Douglas as Leon
Ina Claire as Swana
Bela Lugosi and Razinin
Sig Rumann as Iranoff
Felix Bressart as Buljanoff
Alexander Granach as Kopalski

Fun facts:

  • The film was nominated for multiple Academy Awards but did not take home any statuettes. It was a year of very tough competition!
  • The first comedy to star Greta Garbo, this film was marketed with the tagline “Garbo Laughs!” (playing off of the “Garbo Talks!” slogan that was used for Garbo’s first sound film, Anna Christie). Garbo had, in fact, already laughed on film… but the tagline still helped make Ninotchka a hit.
  • Cary Grant was offered the role of Leon but turned it down.
  • Garbo was reportedly hesitant to take on a comedic role and was especially nervous about the drunk scene (which I think she actually pulls off brilliantly!). According to TCM, her insecurities led Lubitsch to find her somewhat difficult to work with despite their mutual respect for each other’s talents. This would be the only film they made together.
  • Second teaming of Garbo with Melvyn Douglas. The two had previously worked together in 1932’s As You Desire Me.
  • This film has been preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry.
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Favorite things/quotes:

  • “Comrades, if we ring nine times…!”
  • Leon: “But how will she look? The fashions this Spring are very becoming to her. Oh, gentlemen, the judge will be French. The jury will be French. Everybody in the courtroom will be French!”
  • Ninotchka: “Don’t make an issue of my womanhood.”
  • Ninotchka’s attitude about everything she encounters in France — the porters, the hats, the luxurious hotel suite.
  • Ninotchka: “If I stay here a week, I will cost the Russian people… seven cows. Who am I to cost the Russian people seven cows?!”
  • Ninotchka: “Comrades, you must have been smoking a lot.”
  • Leon: “A Parisian only goes to the tower in moments of despair, to jump off.”
    Ninotchka: “How long does it take a man to land?”
  • Ninotchka: “Must you flirt?”
    Leon: “I don’t have to, but I find it natural.”
    Ninotchka: “Suppress it.”
  • Leon calling Ninotchka “comrade” after he learns that she’s Russian
  • Ninotchka: “That’s the way a clock works. What’s wonderful about it?”
  • Leon: “There’s nothing sweeter than sharing a secret with an enemy.”
  • Garbo is so great at playing Ninotchka’s laugh-less, emotionless personality during the restaurant scene. She doesn’t look like she’s anywhere close to breaking, despite Douglas’ best efforts to make her laugh.
  • Gaston: “That is a socialistic volume which I refuse to so much as dust, sir.”
  • Ninotchka telling Leon never to ask for a photo of her because she wouldn’t be able to breathe if he put the photo in a drawer
  • Drunken Ninotchka “spreading communist propaganda in the powder room”
  • Ninotchka: “I’m so happy, oh, I’m so happy. No one can be so happy without being punished! I will be punished, and I should be punished.”
  • The scenes between Ninotchka and the Duchess are great
  • Ninotchka’s dreamy description of Paris to her friend upon returning to Russia. Such a change from her attitude in the beginning!
  • The three comrades acting like fangirls when Ninotchka receives a letter from Leon
  • BELA LUGOSI!
  • Razinin: “Do your duty. Goodbye.”
  • Ninotchka: “No one shall say Ninotchka was a bad Russian.”
(Image via Doctor Macro)
(Image via Doctor Macro)
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