Ninotchka (1939) - Rotten Tomatoes

Ninotchka (1939)

Ninotchka (1939)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: With Greta Garbo proving her comedy chops in the twilight of her career, Ninotchka is a can't-miss classic.

Ninotchka Photos

Movie Info

"Garbo Laughs!" declared the ads for Ninotchka. In the face of dwindling foreign revenues, MGM decided to put Greta Garbo, a bigger draw in Europe than the US, in a box-office-savvy comedy, engaging the services of master farceur Ernst Lubitsch to direct. The film opens in Paris during the aftermath of the Russian revolution. A trio of Russian delegates (Sig Rumann, Felix Bressart, and Alexander Granach) are sent to Paris to sell the Imperial Jewels for ready cash. Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire), who once owned the jewels, sends her boyfriend Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas) to retrieve the diamonds, and he turns the trio into full-fledged capitalists, wining and dining them all through Paris. Moscow then dispatches the humorless, doggedly loyal Comrade Ninotchka (Garbo) to retrieve both the prodigal Soviets and the gems. When Leon turns his charm on Ninotchka, she regards him coldly, informing him that love is merely a "chemical reaction." Even his kisses fail to weaken her resolve. Leon finally wins her over by taking an accidental fall in a restaurant, whereupon Ninotchka laughs for the first time in her life. She goes on a shopping spree and gets drunk, while Leon begins falling in love with her in earnest. As a bonus to the frothy script, by Billy Wilder and others, and its surefire star power, Ninotchka features what is perhaps Bela Lugosi's most likeable and relaxed performance.

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Cast

Greta Garbo
as Nina Ivanovna 'Ninotchka' Yakushova
Bela Lugosi
as Commissar Razinin
Ina Claire
as Grand Duchess Swana
Sig Rumann
as Michael Ironoff
Felix Bressart
as Buljanoff
Gregory Gaye
as Count Alexis Rakonin
Rolfe Sedan
as Hotel Manager
George Tobias
as Russian Visa Official
Dorothy Adams
as Jacqueline
Lawrence Grant
as Gen. Savitsky
Jo Gilbert
as Streetcar Conductress
Charles Judels
as Pere Mathieu
Peggy Moran
as French Maid
Mary Forbes
as Lady Lavenham
Wolfgang Zilzer
as Taxi Driver
William Irving
as Bartender
Elizabeth Williams
as Indignant Woman
Paul Weigel
as Vladimir
Harry Semels
as Neighbor/Spy
Jody Gilbert
as Streetcar Conductress
Kay Stewart
as Cigarette Girl
Jenifer Gray
as Cigarette Girl
Lucille Pinson
as German Woman at Railroad Station
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Critic Reviews for Ninotchka

All Critics (32) | Top Critics (7)

The romantic roundelay, linking fine emotions with fine lingerie, is shadowed by the brutality of Soviet tyranny.

May 9, 2016 | Full Review…
New Yorker
Top Critic

This one is neither crude clowning nor crude prejudice, but a literate and knowingly directed satire which lands many a shrewd crack about phony Five Year Plans, collective farms, Communist jargon and pseudo-scientific gab.

January 15, 2013 | Full Review…
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Ninotchka is delicate flirtation and political satire made into a perfect whole, and a reminder of skills that studio writers have largely lost.

December 27, 2012 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

Selection of Ernst Lubitsch to pilot Garbo in her first light performance in pictures proves a bull's-eye.

February 3, 2009 | Full Review…
Variety
Top Critic

The satire may be mostly a matter of easy contrasts, but the lovers inhabit a world of elegance and poise that is uniquely and movingly Lubitsch's.

February 3, 2009 | Full Review…
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

It's still consistently amusing, and Garbo throws herself into the fray with engaging vigour.

January 26, 2006 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Ninotchka

½

The sale of an exiled countess's diamonds brings a Soviet investigator to Paris where she falls her rival. Garbo laughs! Greta Garbo delivers a phenomenal performance as the eponymous character in this romantic satire/farce. Garbo's cyborg character softens about forty-five minutes into the film, and from then on she becomes old cinema's definition of charming, charismatic female lead. Melvyn Douglas is a fine leading man, and the three Russian stooges provide good comic relief. The film is typical Cold War-era fare -- maybe a little more complex as Leon actually reads Das Kapital, but that only sets up the butler's capitalistic retort to Communist ideology. But the film's strength is that it stays focused on the human relationship and the change in the character rather than on the what Ninotchka's conversion means as a political statement. Overall, this is a charming film that keeps its political message in the background.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

½

This predictable romantic comedy disguises itself as a story about relations between Russia and France, but that story takes a back seat to the romance in the end. I found this movie contrived and boring. I liked the more comedic remake, Silk Stockings (1957), better than the original.

Aj V
Aj V

Super Reviewer

½

Greta Garbo stars in the title role in this pre-cold war look at the Soviet Union. When three emissaries come to Paris to sell the royal jewelry confiscated during the revolution, Leon (Melvyn Douglas), representing the Duchess, attempts to reclaim the jewels in her name. The no-nonsense Ninotchka, a high-ranking official, is sent to straighten out the mess and get money for the jewels which her country so desperately needs. But things go awry when she meets Leon by accident (the two don't know each other yet) while sight-seeing, and they fall in love at first sight. Ninotchka has two distinct parts to it: one is a conventional love story, the other is probably the most unique portrayal of Soviet-western relations in the history of cinema. It's one of the rare instances of the Soviet Union (Stalin's Soviet Union, no less) not being villainized but rather viewed from a realistic, humanist point of view. Don't get me wrong, it's not glorified either, the Soviet Union is portrayed as a desperate, secretive place, but it's the people are good and noble. The aristocracy is the real villain in the film, being petty and bourgeois and treating those not of noble birth as inferior. On the other hand, the other part is a fairly low caliber love story that in modern times would star Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. There's something very "Miss Congeniality" about the whole thing. The idea that this film is billed as a comedy is also highly questionable, as there's nothing all that funny to be found in it. Melvyn Douglas is a cardboard character who's role could've been filled by virtually any other actor of his day and it would've had nil effect on the film. Garbo's performance however, was quite good in what would be one of her last roles. All in all, a mixed bag of a film.

Devon Bott
Devon Bott

Super Reviewer

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