Fans of classic Hollywood films love to talk about "the golden year of Hollywood," 1939, and the many well-known films released in that year, including Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Stagecoach. But I'd rather remember director Ernst Lubitsch's contribution to 1939: Ninotchka, the film billed with the tagline "Garbo Laughs!" I was reminded of the film because Greta Garbo was born 101 years ago today. Perhaps because she does laugh, and makes me laugh, Ninotchka is my favorite film of hers -- I'm not so fond of watching her in more dramatic or even melodramatic roles.
Ninotchka is a romantic comedy about a seemingly humorless Soviet official (Garbo) sent to Paris to complete an important government transaction. Melvin Douglas is the playboy who tries to distract, thwart, and even corrupt her. The script was written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, who slipped some pointed comments about Communism into the dialogue. Ninotchka, defending her government, says, "The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians." Fortunately, she mellows as the film progresses and I love the trio of easily corruptible Russians who bring Ninotchka to Paris in the first place. The only aspect of the film I'm not crazy about is Melvyn Douglas, who can't utter his romantic dialogue with much credibility. It doesn't matter much, though, because Garbo is so delightful to watch.