Wednesday, June 21, 2017

2017 Blind Spot Series: Ninotchka

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch and screenplay by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch from a story by Melchior Lengyel, Ninotchka is the story of a Russian woman who goes to Paris for official business relating to her government as she meets and falls in love with a man who represents everything she stands against. The film is a romantic comedy in which a woman who is on a mission to retrieve three men in trouble who are tempted by the offers in Paris as she tries to avoid that sense of temptation. Starring Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, and Bela Lugosi. Ninotchka is an enchanting and splendid film from Ernst Lubitsch.

The film revolves around a Soviet envoy who travels to Paris, after three men working for the government in retrieving jewels that once belonged to a grand duchess, where she comes to get the jewels and return them to the Soviet Union until she meets a Russian count who is working for the grand duchess. It’s a film that has a lot in not just being this romantic-comedy but also a film involving dueling political ideals as a woman with very socialist views arrive into a country that is more democratic with some leanings toward capitalism. Yet, the character of Nina Ivanova “Ninotchka” Yakushova (Greta Garbo) is a woman that would be new to this world as she struggles to be loyal to her own beliefs but also become tempted by what the free world has to offer. The film’s screenplay begins with the arrival of these three Soviet officials who hope to get these jewels from the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire) that they can use for government funding. Instead, the three men meet Swana’s friend Count Leon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas) who charms them with lavish gifts as they lose sight of why they’re in Paris.

The script does show Ninotchka as a no-nonsense woman who knows what she is in Paris for as she presents herself as someone that isn’t afraid to spout her own socialist beliefs as well as doing things for herself. In meeting Count d’Algout, she tries to resist all of his temptation as he would try to humor her to see if she can crack and eventually does. The film’s first half is about Ninotchka’s resistant towards the frivolities and capitalist ventures in Paris while its second half is about her conflict with what Count d’Algout wants to give her as well as her loyalty to the Soviet Union. The third act would begin with Ninotchka meeting the Grand Duchess where it is a key moment in the film where it is about Ninotchka’s idea for the new Russia versus everything the Grand Duchess had stood for and why those jewels mean a lot to her. It’s a meeting that would showcase what the Grand Duchess would sacrifice but also what Ninotchka would have to do for her country as it would come at a price for herself.

Ernst Lubitsch’s direction does have an air for style but much of the film’s compositions throughout the film are quite straightforward. Shot mainly in studio backlots at MGM, the film dos play into this world of pre-World War II Paris as it play into this very thriving and lavish world where everyone is staying at posh hotels or eating at cafes that are quite affordable. Much of Lubitsch’s direction include some close-ups to play into the expression of the characters as well as some medium shots to play into the world of the characters and the growing attraction between Ninotchka and Count d’Algout. Lubitsch’s approach to humor is straightforward but also has this slow build into the way it would show Ninotchka as someone becoming less stern and more outgoing. Even as she would buy this very silly hat as it would play into her development as a person as well as scenes that showcases some of the flaws of socialism and capitalism as it’s shown with some very subtle humor.

The dramatic moments would have Lubitsch use some unique compositions that include the meeting between Ninotchka and the Grand Duchess as it is this very simple yet evocative scene that showcase a game kind of being played. Yet, it is a moment in the third act that would shift things a bit but also play as a key moment of development for both Ninotchka and Count d’Algout for the film’s third act as it relate to their growing infatuation for each other. Even as the latter would do something to get Ninotchka out of the Soviet Union in an inventive way but also have scenes set in Moscow into the life that Ninotchka and her comrades are living in as it show a world that is changing where both socialist and capitalist ideals do have their good but also the bad as it’s all about how one could compromise for the good of the world. Overall, Lubitsch creates an evocative and engaging film about a Soviet envoy who falls for an exiled count in Paris.

Cinematographer William H. Daniels does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography from the usage of low-key interior lighting for some of the scenes set in Moscow for its third act to the very gorgeous array of lighting and textures for much of the film’s interiors including the club scene in Paris. Editor Gene Ruggiero does excellent work with the editing as it is very straightforward with a couple of transition wipes and fade-outs that play into the drama and comedy. Art director Cedric Gibbons and set decorator Edwin B. Willis do fantastic work with the look of the Parisian hotel sweet the Soviet officials and Ninotchka stay in as well as Count d’Algout’s apartment and the interiors of the nightclub and cafe.

Gown designer Adrian does amazing work with the look of the dresses that Ninotchka would wear at the nightclub as well as the dresses that the Grand Duchess wears. Sound editor Wally Heglin does nice work with the sound as it play into the world of the cafes and clubs as well as some of the exterior scenes set in Paris. The film’s music by Werner R. Heymann is wonderful for its sumptuous orchestral score that play into some of the funnier moments of the film as well as the dramatic and romantic moments in the film.

The film’s marvelous cast include some notable small roles from George Tobias as a Russian visa official, Charles Judel as a cafĂ© owner, Rolfe Sedan as the hotel manager, Tamara Shayne as Ninotchka’s Moscow roommate, and Bela Lugosi in a small but superb performance as Ninotchka’s superior Commissar Razinin who is concerned about Ninotchka’s behavior and her time in Paris. The trio of Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart, and Alexander Granach are fantastic in their respective roles as Iranoff, Buljanoff, and Kopalski as three government officials who give in to the temptation of what Paris has to offer as they have a hard time wanting to stay loyal to the Soviet Union as they become more enamored with the world of capitalism.

Ina Claire is brilliant as the Grand Duchess Swana as a former royal who had lost her jewels during the Russian Revolution as she is eager to get them back while making a major compromise that would affect Ninotchka greatly as she believes this compromise would be good for herself and her former country. Melvyn Douglas is amazing as Count Leon d’Algout as a former Russian royal who is a friend of the Grand Duchess as he is eager to get her jewels back only to be intrigued by Ninotchka whom he would fall for as he decides to help Ninotchka and do whatever he can to be there for her. Finally, there’s Greta Garbo in a magnificent performance as the titular character as a no-nonsense Soviet envoy who goes to Paris to do her job and get out as she tries to resist temptation where Garbo starts off as humorless and mechanic only to loosen up as someone full of charm and radiance while being vulnerable later on as it is one of her defining performances.

Ninotchka is a phenomenal film from Ernst Lubitsch that features incredible performances from Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, and Ina Claire. Along with its gorgeous visuals, top-notch art direction, and a witty script co-written by Billy Wilder. It’s a film that isn’t just a fun romantic-comedy but also a study of social classes and ideals that play into two people with different ideals who come together for one common goal. In the end, Ninotchka is a spectacular film from Ernst Lubitsch.

Ernst Lubitsch Films: (Shoe Palace Pinkus) – (When Four Do the Same) – (Die Augen Der Mumie Ma) – (Carmen (1918 film)) – (Intoxication (1919 film)) – (The Doll) – (My Wife, the Movie Star) – (The Oyster Princess) – (Meyer from Berlin) – (Madame DuBarry) – (Sumurun) – (Kohlhiesel’s Daughter) – (Anna Boleyn) – (The Wild Cat) – (The Loves of Pharaoh) – (The Flame (1923 film)) – (Rosita) – (The Marriage Circle) – (Three Women (1924 film)) – (Forbidden Paradise) – (Kiss Me Again) – (Lady Windermere’s Fan) – (So This is Paris) – (The Honeymoon Express) – (The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg) – (The Patriot (1928 film)) – (Eternal Love) – (The Love Parade) – (Monte Carlo (1930 film)) – (Paramount on Parade) – (The Smiling Lieutenant) – (Broken Lullaby) – (One Hour with You) – (Trouble in Paradise (1932 film)) – (Design for Living) – (The Merry Widow) – (Angel (1937 film)) – (Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife) – (The Shop Around the Corner) – (That Uncertain Feeling) – (To Be or Not to Be (1942 film)) – (Heaven Can Wait (1943 film)) – (A Royal Scandal) – (Cluny Brown) – (That Lady in Ermine)

© thevoid99 2017


Brittani Burnham said...

This sounds like something I would watch, I had never heard of it until now. Great review!

Anonymous said...

I still haven't seen a Greta Garbo movie, shame on me.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-You've never heard of this film? Go see it!!!!

@vinnieh-You have to know who Greta Garbo is. I hadn't seen anything she's done until last Tuesday. There's plenty more that she's done as this was her penultimate film in her illustrious career.

Anonymous said...

Oh I knew who she is and her iconic status as a movie legend. Just for some reason never seen a film of hers.

thevoid99 said...

@vinnieh-I think this film is the best place to start though there's so many of her work that we all need to see.