AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Ninotchka
Director: Ernst Lubitsch (Dir)
Release Date:   3 Nov 1939
Premiere Information:   World premiere in Hollywood: 6 Oct 1939
Production Date:   31 May--11 Aug 1939
Duration (in mins):   110-111
Duration (in reels):   12
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Cast:   Greta Garbo (Ninotchka [Nina Ivanovna Yakushova])  
    Melvyn Douglas ([Count] Leon [d'Algout])  
    Ina Claire ([Grand Duchess] Swana)  
    Bela Lugosi ([Commissar] Razinin)  
    Sig Rumann (Iranoff)  
    Felix Bressart (Buljanoff)  
    Alexander Granach (Kopalski)  
    Gregory Gaye ([Count Alexis] Rakonin)  
    Rolfe Sedan (Hotel manager)  
    Edwin Maxwell (Mercier)  
    Richard Carle (Gaston)  
    Lawrence Grant (General Savitsky)  
    Frank Reicher (Lawyer)  
    Edwin Stanley (Lawyer)  
    Marek Windheim (Manager)  
    Mary Forbes (Lady Lavenham)  
    Alexander Schonberg (Bearded man)  
    George Davis (Porter)  
    Major Fredrick Farrell (Attendant)  
    Charles Judels (Pere Mathieu)  
    Armand Kaliz (Louis, the headwaiter)  
    George Sorel (Guest)  
    Wilda Bennett (Guest)  
    Nino Bellini (Guest)  
    Florence Shirley (Marianne)  
    Albert Pollet (Waiter)  
    Winifred Harris (English lady)  
    Lucille Pinson (German woman at railroad station)  
    Kay Stewart (Cigarette girl)  
    Jenifer Gray (Cigarette girl)  
    Peggy Moran (Cigarette girl)  
    Jacques Vanaire (Hotel clerk)  
    Hans Joby (Man at railroad station)  
    Wolfgang Zilzer (Taxi driver)  
    Tamara Shayne (Anna)  
    William Irving (Bartender)  
    Ellinor Vanderveer (Gossip)  
    Sandra Morgan (Gossip)  
    Bess Flowers (Gossip)  
    Emily Cabanne (Gossip)  
    Symona Boniface (Gossip)  
    Monya Andre (Gossip)  
    Elizabeth Williams (Indignant woman)  
    Paul Weigel (Vladimir)  
    Harry Semels (Spy)  
    Jody Gilbert (Street car conductress)  

Summary: Comrades Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski are sent to Paris to raise money for the Russian government by selling the confiscated jewels of the Grand Duchess Swana. Hoping to enjoy their one trip to Paris, the comrades decide to stay at a luxurious hotel instead of a cheap one until the sale is completed. When one of the hotel's waiters, the impoverished Russian count, Alexis Rakonin, overhears the comrades talking about the jewels, he immediately goes to Swana, who is now residing in Paris. Swana's lover, Count Leon d'Algout, helps her by showing the three comrades how good life in Paris can be, while simultaneously obtaining an injunction against the sale of the jewels until the French courts can determine who is the rightful owner. Because they have botched their assignment, the comrades are joined in Paris by "Envoy Extraordinary" Nina "Ninotchka" Ivanovna Yakushova, an attractive but stern woman who thinks only of Russia and duty. She chastizes the comrades for their frivolous excesses, which have included the frequent summoning of three attractive cigarette girls to their suite, and determines to complete the sale as soon as possible. Using her spare time to investigate the architectural and engineering wonders of Paris, Ninotchka accidentally meets Leon on the way to the Eiffel Tower. Neither knows the other's identity, and he flirts with her, while she determines to study him as an interesting example of decaying Western society. At his apartment, Leon's kiss elicits a clinical request from Ninotchka for another, but when they realize each other's true identity, she leaves. Leon is still interested in Ninotchka, for himself as well as Swana, and the next day follows her to a small cafe where he attempts to soften her seriousness by making her laugh at some silly jokes. Though other patrons find the jokes amusing, Ninotchka remains impassive until he gives up and, in agitated frustration, accidentally slips off his chair and falls to the floor. His loss of dignity elicits uncontrollable laughter from Ninotchka, who becomes a changed woman. Now loosened, Ninotchka buys a silly hat, which she had formerly looked upon disdainfully in the hotel lobby, and dresses stylishly to return to Leon's apartment. A short time later, he takes her out for a glamourous evening in a Parisian nightclub, which ends when a drunken Ninotchka tries to get the powder room attendants to strike, and an equally drunk Leon has to retrieve her. When they return to the hotel, Ninotchka opens the safe with the jewels and tries them on for Leon before she falls asleep. The next morning, Swana awakens her and tells her that she now has the jewels that Rakonin stole from the safe, which Ninotchka had left unlocked the night before. Swana promises to return the jewels, but only if Ninotchka returns to Russia without seeing Leon again. Though she loves Leon, Ninotchka agrees to Swana's terms because it is her duty, and leaves Paris without saying goodbye. When he learns what has happened, he tries desperately to obtain a visa to go to Russia, but fails, and even his love letters are of little solace because they arrive with the contents completely censored by the government. Ninotchka and Leon are reunited, however, when she is sent to Istanbul to sort out another botched job by Iranov, Buljanoff and Kopalski. Leon is waiting for her in the comrades' suite and convinces her not to return to Russia. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's, Inc.)
Production Text: An Ernst Lubitsch Production
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Ernst Lubitsch (Dir)
  John Waters (2d unit dir)
  Horace Hough (Asst dir)
Writer: Charles Brackett (Scr)
  Billy Wilder (Scr)
  Walter Reisch (Scr)
  Melchior Lengyel (Orig story)
Photography: William Daniels (Dir of photog)
  Al Lane (2d cam)
  William Riley (Asst cam)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Randall Duell (Art dir assoc)
Film Editor: Gene Ruggiero (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis (Set dec)
Costumes: Adrian (Gowns)
  Jack Rohan (Ward)
Music: Werner R. Heymann (Mus score)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
  Conrad Kahn (Sd eng)
Make Up: Beth Langston (Hair)
  Sydney Guilaroff (Miss Claire's hairstyles by)
  Jack Dawn (Makeup)
Production Misc: Floyd Porter (Chief elec)
  Arnold Webster (Grip)
  Dr. Eric Locke (Prod asst)
  George Elder (Props)
  Milton Brown (Still photog)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 2/10/1939 dd/mm/yyyy LP9158 Yes

PCA NO: 5494
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

 
Genre: Comedy-drama
 
Subjects (Major): Communists
  Duty
  Paris (France)
  Romance
  Russians
  Transformation
 
Subjects (Minor): Cigarette girls
  Drunkenness
  Hotels
  Istanbul (Turkey)
  Jewelry
  Nightclubs
  Nobility
  Thieves
  Undercover operations
  Vocational obsession
  Waiters

Note: An onscreen inscription preceding the action of the film reads: "This picture takes place in Paris in those wonderful days when a siren was a brunette and not an alarm...and if a Frenchman turned out the light it was not on account of an air raid!" While the film contains a scene in which Felix Bressart tells Greta Garbo that his name--Buljanoff--is spelled with two "l's," the credits have the name with only one "l."
       Ninotchka marked Ernst Lubitsch's first assignment as producer for M-G-M. An Aug 1938 HR news item indicates that a version of the script was prepared by Jacques Deval. According to an Apr 1939 NYT news item, M-G-M was prevented by the Hays Office from scripting a scene in which "Ninotchka" was to thwart the romantic advances of "Count Leon d'Algout" because it would have tended to show that "the Communists are a very low breed." The studio softened many of the potentially controversial aspects of the interplay between capitalist and Communist philosophies in Melchior Lengyel's original story. The NYT article also noted that M-G-M changed the locale of the story from Moscow to Paris in order to avoid having to depict living conditions in the Russian city as being either "pleasant or unpleasant." Modern sources indicate that author Melchior Lengyel, S. N. Behrman, and Salka Viertel also wrote drafts of the script, and that Gottfried Reinhardt was originally assigned to direct.
       HR pre-production news items noted that M-G-M originally wanted Cary Grant to play the male lead; that production assistant Dr. Eric Lock went to Paris to "get backgrounds"; that the studio negotiated with Universal for the loan of actor Mischa Auer; and that filming began without a male lead having been cast. According to HR , William Powell was considered for the male lead one week before the start of production. Ninotchka marked Garbo's first starring role in an American comedy and was billed as the film in which "Garbo laughs!"--an obvious play on the publicity campaign for her first sound film Anna Christie , which was advertised with the slogan "Garbo talks!" Modern sources indicate that the slogan "Garbo Laughs!" was created long before the actress was cast in the film. A news item in HR in 1980 states that the sound of Garbo's laugh was dubbed by another actress because the star "couldn't summon up more than a sombre chuckle." In an Oct 1939 NYT article written by Lubitsch, the director stated that he found Garbo to be the "most inhibited person I have ever worked with," and related that he had encountered difficulties in getting her to play a drunk scene because she was too timid to play it in a restaurant filled with extras. Studio publicity information indicates that for the first time in her career as an actress, Garbo attended the preview screenings of the film, one of which took place in Long Beach, where Garbo reportedly stood in line to buy tickets for fifteen minutes before anyone recognized her. According to a HR pre-release news item, John Waters' second unit filmed the Russian street action and details of Red Square in Moscow.
       Ninotchka had problems with censors in many parts of the world, especially with the Soviet censors, who, in 1950-51, according to news items in MPH and LAT , threatened theater owners in Vienna with reprisals if they exhibited the film. The Soviets also waged an advertising campaign in Vienna to counter Ninotchka 's publicity by buying up all the billboard space in the city and advertising the anti-West film The Fall of Berlin . Exhibition of the film was resumed in Vienna in Mar 1951, following the transfer of the city's rule from the Russians to the British. A 3 Apr 1948 MPH article relates a humorous incident that arose from a Soviet note sent to Rome, demanding that authorities take Ninotchka out of the theaters. The note reportedly resulted in a misunderstanding when the Italian officials, who were without a translator on that particular day, believed that the note concerned the Soviet tripartite proposal for Trieste. The Italian Foreign Ministry was said to have been "thrown into an uproar" over the matter.
       Ninotchka was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture, and appeared on the National Board of Review and FD's "ten best" lists for 1939. Garbo was also nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress. In 1957, the Writers Guild called the film an "outstanding triumph of original writing."
       The first stage production of Ninotchka opened in Paris on 4 Apr 1950 and starred Sophie Desmarets and Henri Guisal. On 24 Feb 1954, a musical stage version of the story, entitled Silk Stockings , with songs by Cole Porter, opened in New York with Cy Feuer directing and Hildegarde Neff and Don Ameche starring. Ninotchka was remade by M-G-M in 1957 as Silk Stockings , directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire. Two actors who appeared in the 1939 film, Rolfe Sedan and George Tobias, also appeared in Silk Stockings , but they did not recreate their earlier roles. An ABC Special television production of Ninotchka , which aired on the network on 20 Apr 1960, was directed by Tom Donovan and starred Maria Schell and Gig Young. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   6 Oct 39   p. 3.
Film Daily   10 Oct 39   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Aug 38   p. 1, 7
Hollywood Reporter   28 Feb 39   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   10 May 39   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   19 May 39   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   23 May 39   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   31 May 39   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Jul 39   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Aug 39   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Oct 39   p. 3.
Life   20 Nov 39   pp. 44-45.
Motion Picture Daily   23 Dec 38   p. 1.
Motion Picture Daily   9 Oct 39   p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald   8 Jul 39   p. 41.
Motion Picture Herald   14 Oct 39   p. 38.
New York Times   16 Apr 1939.   
New York Times   22 Oct 1939.   
New York Times   10 Nov 39   p. 27.
Variety   11 Oct 39   p. 13.

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