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Film / Ninotchka

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"A Russian! I love Russians! Comrade, I've been fascinated by your five-year plan for the last fifteen years."

"The last mass trials have been a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians."

Ninotchka is a 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Romantic Comedy, directed by legendary director Ernst Lubitsch, co-written by Billy Wilder and starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas, set in interbellum Paris and Moscow.

Three bungling Soviet diplomats aim to sell some Romanov diamonds to a Parisian jeweller to raise funds for the Soviet Union. Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, nicknamed "Ninotchka" (Garbo), an Ice Queen diplomat, is sent over to help them after they make a mess of it. In Paris, she meets and falls in love with Parisian boulevardier and aristocrat Leon d'Algout (Douglas). In this she finds herself rivaled by the diamonds' original owner, the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire), who wishes to retrieve both the jewels and Leon's affections. Swana manipulates Ninotchka into abandoning Leon in order to keep the jewels for Russia. Leon, however, does not accept the situation...

Bela Lugosi has a small part as Soviet commissar Razinin. It's one of the few non-horror films he ever appeared in, but he's still pretty creepy.

The story was later remade as the musical Silk Stockings, with music by Cole Porter, which was itself adapted into a 1957 MGM film with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in the Douglas and Garbo parts, respectively.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
    • Ninotchka is asked if she wants to be alone, and she later says "we want to be alone" - as a nod to the famous line from Grand Hotel.
    • The film's tagline was 'Garbo Laughs', as a nod to her first talkie (Anna Christie) being advertised with 'Garbo Talks!'
  • Actually Pretty Funny: After being indignant for a few moments, Leon joins in the uproarious laughter in the café when he tips his chair over onto the floor—it wasn't how he intended, but he did get Ninotchka to laugh after all.
    • When Razinin tells Ninotchka about the report from Constantinople about Bujlianoff, Iranoff and Kopalski ("How can the Bolshevik cause gain respect among the Muslims if your three representatives Bujlianoff, Iranoff and Kopalski get so drunk that they throw a carpet out of their hotel window and then complaint to the management that it didn't fly?"), Ninotchka clearly suppresses a chuckle.
  • Bad Boss: Komissar Razinin is feared by pretty much all of his underlings, as he has the power to order deportations to Siberia.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Ninotchka is somehow able to climb up the staircase to the top of the Eiffel Tower within three minutes. Anyone with first-hand experience can tell you it would take a couple hours to do so in real life.
  • Black Comedy: Everything about the conditions in Russia. The page quote is a perfect example.
  • Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: The other end of the ideological spectrum, the Blonde Communist Sex Kitten.
  • The Butler Did It: Double subverted. The butler seemed suspicious from the beginning. Then the jewelry is gone and Leon becomes the prime suspect, but it turns out it was indeed the butler.
  • Character Development: Ninotchka and Leon change each other. She loosens up, and he starts urging his butler to revolt.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Ninotchka notices the hat in the shopping window when she arrives. Later she wears it when visiting Leon.
  • Compartment Shot: Twice do we get a shot from inside the hotel room safe onto the characters staring at it.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Who does Leon unknowingly meet in the streets and immediately fall in love with? The adversary in his lawsuit.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • When Ninotchka asks Leon some odd questions, he gives some silly answers with a straight face.
    • Also Ninotchka in her Ice Queen state.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Ninotchka.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Leon, but soon he wins Ninotchka over with his charm.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Leon falls into this trap with the cream versus milk joke. It goes over well with everyone else, but his insistence on making Ninotchka see the humor sinks him.
  • Failed Future Forecast: Before the film's release, World War II broke out and ruined the premise. Hence, there's a title card which rather artfully tells us that the movie takes place before the war.
  • French Maid: Three of them, cigarette girls at the hotel that the three bumbling Russian envoys have a good time with.
  • Gay Paree
  • Glorious Mother Russia: Most stereotypes are present in this movie.
  • The Hedonist: Leon, in the beginning.
  • Idle Rich: When Ninotchka asks Leon what he is doing for a living, his response suggests "nothing".
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • After Swana icily reminds Ninotchka that the lawsuit will be over in just a few days, Ninotchka asks for another glass of champagne and downs it quickly.
    • Leon goes to the bar after walking a drunk Ninotchka to the powder room and orders a double brandy. When a waiter informs him that she's spreading communistic propaganda there, Leon orders a triple brandy.
  • Impoverished Patrician: One of the waiters at Ninotchka's hotel is a White Russian count.
  • In Love with the Mark: After a while, Leon stops caring about retrieving the Grand Duchess's jewels.
  • Internal Reveal: When Leon learns who Ninotchka really is.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Leon turns over a whole new leaf after meeting Ninotchka.
  • Meet Cute: As seen in the page image—Leon meets Ninotchka at a street crossing as she's puzzling over a map.
  • Must Make Her Laugh: Leon attempts to win Ninotchka over in a restaurant by making her laugh, but fails. Then he has an accidental pratfall and she cracks up for the first time in her life.
  • No Sense of Humor: Leon attempts to make Ninotchka laugh by telling her jokes, to absolutely no effect. Then she sees him fall on his ass, and...
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Ninotchka insists on taking the stairs at the Eiffel Tower. Leon takes the elevator. When he gets to the observation platform she's there to meet him. It can also double as an Offscreen Moment of Awesome for Ninotchka.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Rule of Three: The Running Gag about Western fashion. Ninotchka notices a ludicrous hat in a display window and complains about it, claiming Russian superiority because they don't waste time making foolish things like that. She sees that hat a second time, and wordlessly displays her contempt for it. The third time the audience sees that hat, she's wearing it!
  • Scar Survey:
    Ninotchka: Would you like to see my wound?
    Leon: I'd love to.
    Ninotschka: A Polish lancer. I was 16.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the form of a direct repudiation of Garbo's Signature Line from her earlier hit, Grand Hotel:
      Iranoff: Do you want to be alone, comrade?
      Ninotchka: No.
    • Double Subverted, though, when she later tells Leon's butler: "Go to bed, Little Father — we want to be alone."
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: Played with—Leon gives a long speech about love, and Ninotchka replies, "You're very talkative." Except he's the one who plants one on her right after that. However, it's played straight when he's about to give another long speech about love a few seconds later, and she stops him by kissing him.
  • The Spock: Ninotchka, in the beginning.
  • Sugary Malice: When Swana and Ninotchka meet at a party, Swana makes a passive-aggressive remark about the dress. Ninotchka says that it must be a strange sight, but the proletariat women aren't embarrassed to wear low-cut gowns because they no longer have cuts from the Cossacks' whips. Swana lightly replies that the whips were a mistake—they should have used guns instead.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: Subverted. When Ninotchka wakes from her late night out, the jewels are gone and the first person to suspect is of course Leon. However, the trope is abandoned immediately with the Duchess revealing that The Butler Did It.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: Ninotchka's worldview in the beginning.
  • Translation Convention: Everyone speaks English, even though all the characters are either French or Russian.
  • Uptight Loves Wild: With a genderflip from the usual pattern.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: "The last mass trials have been a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians."
  • Vodka Drunkenski: Wherever they go, the three scoundrels can't hide their origins for long.
  • When Harry Met Svetlana: Leon, who is dating a White Russian countess and trying to retrieve her diamonds, meets and falls in love with the lady commissar who is attempting to sell the diamonds on behalf of the Soviet Union.