Ninotchka: What have you done for mankind?
Leon: Not so much for mankind... for womankind, my record isn't quite so bleak.
Ninotchka: Let's form our own party.
Leon: Right. Lovers of the world, unite!
Ninotchka: I must have a complete report of your negotiations and a detailed expense account.
Buljanoff: No, non, Ninotchka. Don't ask for it. There's an old Turkish proverb that says: If something smells bad, why put your nose in it?
Ninotchka: And there is an old Russian saying: The cat with cream on his whiskers had better find good excuses.
Ninotchka was one of the first in which Holywood took note of the existence of Soviet Russia (then an ally of Germany). The approach was satirical: Greta Garbo (Ninotchka) was a cold, automation-like Communist, a kind of ugly duckling transformed into a swan by Melvyn Douglas (Count Leon) who used the magic of Paris to perform the trick..
It's based on the story by Melchior Lengyel, that leaves us with the message that capitalism is not so bad when compared with communism and especially when promoted by a handsome stud like Melvyn Douglas. The film gingerly criticizes the politics of the Soviet Union at a time when they were being courted to be on the side of the West against the war-mongering fascists.
Three bumbling Soviet emissaries, arrive in Paris on a mission to sell the valuable royal jewels confiscated from the Grand Duchess Swana during the Communist revolution. The aim is to get quick cash for the strapped Russian government to feed its hungry workers. When they botch the sale, their big boss Commissar Razinin (Bela Lugosi) sends as a special envoy, the loyal, humourless and stern Ninotchka to straighten things out. Swana, in the meantime, retains her playboy boyfriend Count Leon to retrieve the diamonds. In the process Leon starts a romance with the icy Ninotchka, converts the three comrades to be full-fledged capitalists and in the end convinces a warmed-over Ninotchka to stay with him in Paris.
The film contains many inside jokes, including a historical encounter between the great instinctive artist of the screen and the great stylist-technician of the stage-Ina Claire-as a Russian grand duchess. The sarcastic joke: the Russians don't defect for freedom but for consumer goods is one of some of the sociological banters which is a bit outdated, but a light-hearted Garbo still sparkles and shines. She did "flirt, dance, drink, howl, romance and kiss" in a non-Garbo way.
Directed by Lubitch, this light, satirical comedy has the nonchalance and sophistication that were his trademark (To Be or Not To Be, Heaven Can Wait). The subtle gestures and meanings still work effectively.