Monday, March 12, 2012

Garbo Laughs! - The Story of Ninotchka (1939)

Garbo Laughs! The publicity tagline for the 1939 Lubitsch comedy, "NINOTCHKA". It starred the movie legend Greta Garbo as the stern, unromantic Soviet envoy; Melvyn Douglas as the French dandy who wins her heart; Ina Claire as the Russian Grand Duchess in exile; and Felix Bressart, Sig Ruman, and Alexander Granach as the Soviet emissaries who are drawn to Capitalism.

Opposites attract in this film, as Melvyn Douglas sets out to capture Garbo's heart in this fun film. He is a French aristocrat representing a Russian Grand Duchess in the battle to get her "legally confiscated" jewels from the Soviet emissaries who have just arrived in Paris to sell them. The emissaries are quickly attracted to Capitalism and the Soviet government sends an "envoy extraordinaire" to clear up the mess. Her entrance - magnificent. All work and no play, she decides to spend her free time inspecting Paris' technical achievements. So, to the Eiffel Tower!

On the way she meets Count Leon (Douglas), enlisting his aid in navigating a map of the city. The ensuing dialogue will keep you in stitches as the two cultures clash. He follows her and invites her to "inspect" his house. However, he receives a call from the emissaries and she realizes who he is. For the next three days, she is in conference with lawyers over the court case, and Leon is unsuccessful in his tries to see her. However, he follows her to a restaurant and tries to make her laugh. Although the other patrons find his jokes amusing, she remains impassive - that is, until an accident sends her into uncontrollable laughter.

Back at the hotel, her comrades are amazed by her changed attitude. She sends them out for a day on the town, leaving her to go visit Leon. She arrives dressed in a fashionable dress and a silly hat, and she confesses that she has fallen in love with him. A few days later, he takes her to a fancy nightclub, where she wears a fancy evening dress a la Adrian. They meet the Grand Duchess and for a moment a new front erupts. Ninotchka is unhappy until Leon tells her that he doesn't want her to go back to Russia. As the evening progresses, the champagne hits her rather hard, and Leon is asked by the management to retrieve her from the powder room, where she is urging the attendants to go on strike. They arrive back at the hotel rather tight and wind up taking the jewels out of the safe, forgetting to lock them back up. The next morning, the Grand Duchess wakes Ninotchka up, admitting that a waiter (who is a Russian aristocrat in exile) has pinched the jewels and they are now in the Grand Duchess' possession. However, knowing that she will ultimately lose the court battle, she agrees to return all the jewels and renounce her claim if Ninotchka will leave for Russia that very afternoon. Being her duty to the Soviet people, Ninotchka agrees.

Leon, however, is determined to get Ninotchka back. He applies for a visa at the Soviet Embassy, but is refused. Back in Russia, Ninotchka is back in the Communistic lifestyle. She has the three emissaries over for dinner, and they reminisce about the days spent in Paris. She gets a letter from Leon, but it has been completely censored.

About a year after her visit to Paris, she is sent, by the commisar, to Constantinople. Her three friends were sent on another mission and have failed after six weeks. She arrives to find that they have abandoned communism and opened a restaurant. At the hotel, Leon is waiting for her, and convinces her to stay with him.

This was one of the legendary Garbo's final screen roles. The original three-sentence plot outline was remarkably simple - "Russian girl saturated with Bolshevist ideals goes to fearful, Capitalistic, monopolistic Paris. She meets romance and has an uproarious good time. Capitalism not so bad after all." Garbo apparently was nervous about doing a comedy, but thought the idea was interesting. The hat that she wears in the film was actually made by costume designer Adrian, based on a sketch by Garbo herself. She disliked having to play drunk in a scene, considering it vulgar and unbecoming and found it hard to act. Ninotchka and Garbo were nominated for the Best Picture and Best Actress Academy Awards, however they lost to the monumental Gone With The Wind. Ninotchka was turned into a hit Broadway play, Silk Stockings, which was later made into a musical film starring Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire. Today, Ninotchka still remains a classic and in 1990 was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Seen today, it is still captivating and Garbo still amazes as the Russian who proves that she can laugh!