Earlier this year, I had an idea for a Top 10 article and, as a result, I’ve been watching and re-watching films in order to prepare myself for it – it’s going to be quite an undertaking and I’m super excited about it! Anyway, one of those films was Ninotchka (1939, dir. Ernst Lubitsch), which I hadn’t seen in about eight years.
With Lubitsch at the helm, and Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch penning it, Ninotchka could only have been the success that it was anyway, but it is undenieable that Greta Garbo elevated it to a whole new level. Widely known for her aloof and standoffish persona and performances (a reputation that may be deserved if slightly unfair), her performance in Ninotchka proves that she was just as good at comedy as she was in dramatic roles. As the Russian envoy sent from Moscow to Paris to carry out the job of the inefficient agents sent there before her, Ninotchka is a no-nonsense character, professional, firm and methodic, and with little to no time for shenanigans. That is, until she meets Count Leon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas)… After that, her vulnerability comes through and we believe her just the same. With her stern expression and deadpan delivery, Garbo shows off her surprisingly natural comedic skills, and the film’s tagline ‘Garbo Laughs!’ is a highly anticipated moment that doesn’t disappoint. It’s an all-around performance, multi-layered yet carefully understated, and one suspects that, had 1939 not been the year of Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind (1939, dir. Victor Fleming), Greta Garbo would have taken home the Oscar.