I knew who Greta Garbo was. I think even if you haven't seen her films, you know who she is. The only Greta film I had seen more than once was "Grand Hotel." Joan Crawford steals that movie out from under everyone. "Anna Christie" is probably a very good film. But I watched it once and saw it enough then (it's a drama).
Garbo usually plays a tragic and lonely character.
And that's probably why "Ninotchka" works so well. The 1939 film was directed by Ernst Lubitsch but it's the script by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch that really uses Greta's talents in a new way.
The film is set in Paris. And a group of Russians are there to sell jewels that were a countess's jewels before the revolution. They don't do a very good job, this trio of Russians (who are very funny). And so the Soviet Union sends Yakushova. They find out the day she's arriving at 5:00 pm and it's 5:00 pm. They quickly tell the hotel to switch them to the smallest room and give this suite to Yakushova.
They rush to the train station to meet him and mistake a Nazi for him until the Nazi does the Nazi salute. Where can he be?
He is Ninotchka, Greta's character. They say they'd have brought flowers if they'd known that it was a woman and she tells them not to make a fuss over her gender ("Don't make an issue of my womanhood.") Then a man tries to grab her bags. She's confused why and asks him as her comrades explain he's a porter. "That's no business," she tells him, "that's social injustice." He says, "That depends on the tipe."
This is funny in every way -- the way a great Billy Wilder film usually is. For example, at the train station, Greta declares news from Rusisa, "The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians." :D I can't believe they got away with that in 1939. (They're referring to show trials -- the Great Purge of 1938 and 1939.)
But the best thing is probably how they illustrate Ninotchka falling in love with a Count and with the west. When she first arrives in Paris, she sees a ridiculous hat and comments on just that. Then she sees it again. Then, when she's finally ready to admit her love for Melvyn Douglas, she's wearing it and has just bought it.
She has to return to Russia and she gets a letter from him but it's all censored except the greeting and the salutation.
Then she's called in because the trio she vouched for (and saved) is now in Turkey and doing an awful job. She has to go. She begs off. She doesn't want to go. (Mainly because she fears what she'll do if she leaves Russia again.) She's given no choice. And she goes and the trio were screwing up on purpose as part of the Count's plan to get Ninotchka out of the Soviet Union.
So that's the happy ending (plus one of the trio kicked out of the eatery they've started and outside protesting).
It's a very funny movie. I watched it four times and could have watched it over and over because it's so rich with detail.
This is a film that really knows how to use Greta Garbo. She really shines in this film.
Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"