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Theatrical release poster
Directed byErnst Lubitsch
Screenplay byCharles Brackett
Billy Wilder
Walter Reisch
Story byMelchior Lengyel
Produced byErnst Lubitsch
Sidney Franklin
StarringGreta Garbo
Melvyn Douglas
Ina Claire
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Edited byGene Ruggiero
Music byWerner R. Heymann
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • November 9, 1939 (1939-11-09)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.4 million (est.)
Box office$2.3 million
Melvyn Douglas, Greta Garbo and Richard Carle
Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas

Ninotchka is a 1939 American romantic comedy film made for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by producer and director Ernst Lubitsch and starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.[1] It was written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch,[1] based on a story by Melchior Lengyel. Ninotchka marked the first comedy role for Garbo, and her penultimate film; she received her third and final Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. In 1990, Ninotchka was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2011, Time also included the film on the magazine's list of "All-Time 100 Movies".[2]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Ninotchka (2/10) Movie CLIP - Must You Flirt? (1939) HD



Iranoff (Sig Ruman), Buljanoff (Felix Bressart), and Kopalski (Alexander Granach), three agents from the Russian Board of Trade, arrive in Paris to sell jewelry confiscated from the aristocracy during the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Count Alexis Rakonin (Gregory Gaye), a White Russian nobleman reduced to employment as a waiter in the hotel where the trio are staying, overhears details of their mission and informs the former Russian Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire) that her court jewels are to be sold by the three men. Swana's debonair paramour, Count Léon d'Algout (Melvyn Douglas) offers to help retrieve the jewelry before it is sold.

In their hotel suite, Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski negotiate with Mercier (Edwin Maxwell) a prominent Parisian jeweler, when Léon interrupts the meeting. He explains that the jewels were seized illegally by the Soviet government and a petition has been filed preventing their sale or removal. Mercier withdraws his offer to purchase the jewelry until the lawsuit is settled.

The amiable, charming and cunning Léon treats the three Russians to an extravagant lunch, gets them drunk and easily wins their friendship and confidence. He sends a telegram to Moscow in their name suggesting a compromise.

Moscow, angered by the telegram, then sends Nina Ivanovna "Ninotchka" Yakushova (Greta Garbo), a special envoy whose goal is to win the lawsuit, complete the jewelry sale and return with the three renegade Russians. Ninotchka is methodical, rigid and stern, chastising Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski for failing to complete their mission.

Ninotchka and Léon first meet each other on the street, their identities unknown to one another. He flirts, but she is uninterested. Intrigued, Léon follows her to the Eiffel Tower and shows her his home through a telescope. Ninotchka tells him he might be an interesting subject of study and suggests they go to his apartment. Léon, fascinated by Ninotchka, continues to flirt and he soon falls in love with her. They kiss, but are interrupted by a phone call from Buljanoff. Both then realize they are each other's adversaries over the jewelry and Ninotchka promptly leaves Léon's apartment, despite his protestations.

The next day, Léon follows Ninotchka to a restaurant where she again rebuffs him; but after valiant attempts at making her laugh, Léon finally breaks down her resistance and she falls in love with him. While attending to the various legal matters over the lawsuit, Ninotchka gradually becomes seduced by the west. At a dinner date with Léon where she unexpectedly meets Swana face-to-face (her rival for the jewelry and for Léon's affections), Ninotchka consumes champagne for the first time and quickly becomes intoxicated. The following afternoon, a hungover Ninotchka is awakened by Swana and discovers Rakonin has stolen the jewelry during the night. Swana tells Ninotchka that she will return the jewels and drop the litigation if Ninotchka returns to Moscow immediately so that Swana can have Léon to herself. Ninotchka reluctantly agrees to Swana's proposal and after completing the sale of the jewelry to Mercier, she and Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski fly back to Moscow. Later that evening, Léon visits Swana and confesses his love for Ninotchka. Swana then informs Léon that Ninotchka has already left for Moscow. He attempts to follow her but is denied a Russian visa, because of his nobility.

Sometime later in Moscow, Ninotchka invites her three comrades to dinner at her communal apartment and they nostalgically recall their time in Paris. After dinner, Ninotchka finally receives a letter from Léon, but it has been completely censored by the authorities, and she is devastated.

More time passes; while in Constantinople to sell furs, Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski once again run afoul of their superiors. Against her wishes, Ninotchka is again sent by Commissar Razinin (Bela Lugosi) to investigate the situation and retrieve the trio.

After Ninotchka arrives in Constantinople, Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski inform her that they have opened a restaurant and will not be returning to the Soviet Union. When Ninotchka asks them who is responsible for this idea, Buljanoff points to the balcony where Léon is standing. Léon explains that he was barred from entering Russia to win Ninotchka back, so he and the three Russians conspired to get her to leave the country. He asks her to stay with him and she happily agrees.

The final shot in the film is of Kopalski carrying a protest sign complaining that Iranoff and Buljanoff are unfair, because his name does not illuminate on the electric sign in front of their new restaurant.


Ninotchka trailer


The movie was released in late 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II in Europe, where it became a great success. It was, however, banned in the Soviet Union and its satellites. Despite that, it went on to make $2,279,000 worldwide. USA: $1,187,000. International: $1,092,000. Profit: $138,000.[3]

In a play on the famous "Garbo Talks!" ad campaign used for her "talkie" debut in Anna Christie (1930), Ninotchka was marketed with the catchphrase "Garbo Laughs!", commenting on Garbo's largely somber and melancholy image (though Garbo laughs several times in many of her previous pictures).


Greta Garbo as Nina Ivanovna "Ninotchka" Yakushova and Melvyn Douglas as Count Léon d'Algout

Critical response

When the film first premiered at the Radio City Music Hall, The New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent praised it:

The comedy, through Mr. Douglas's debonair performance and those of Ina Claire as the duchess and Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach as the unholy three emissaries; through Mr. Lubitsch's facile direction; and through the cleverly written script of Walter Reisch, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, has come off brilliantly. Stalin, we repeat, won't like it; but, unless your tastes hew too closely to the party line, we think you will, immensely.[4]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Outstanding Production Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Nominated [5]
Best Actress Greta Garbo Nominated
Best Story Melchior Lengyel Nominated
Best Screenplay Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Billy Wilder Nominated
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 4th Place [6]
Best Acting Greta Garbo Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted [7]
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Director Ernst Lubitsch Nominated [8]
Best Actress Greta Garbo Nominated

Ninotchka is recognized as well by the American Film Institute in the AFI 100 Years... series in the following lists:


Ninotchka is based on a three-sentence story idea by Melchior Lengyel that made its debut at a poolside conference in 1937, when a suitable comedy vehicle for Garbo was being sought by MGM: “Russian girl saturated with Bolshevist ideals goes to fearful, capitalistic, monopolistic Paris. She meets romance and has an uproarious good time. Capitalism not so bad, after all.”[11][12][13]


An attempt by MGM to re-release Ninotchka later during World War II was suppressed on the grounds that the Soviets were then allies of the West. The film was re-released after the war ended.[14]


In 1955, the musical Silk Stockings, based on Ninotchka, opened on Broadway. Written by Cole Porter, the stage production was based on Ninotchka's story and script and starred Hildegard Neff and Don Ameche. MGM then produced a 1957 film version of the musical directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Actor George Tobias, who appeared uncredited in Ninotchka as the Soviet visa official, is featured in Silk Stockings as Commissar Markovitch. Rolfe Sedan, who portrayed the hotel manager in Ninotchka, appears uncredited as a stage manager in Silk Stockings. The MGM films Comrade X (1940), starring Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr, and The Iron Petticoat (1956), starring Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn, both borrow heavily from Ninotchka.

MGM had scheduled Madame Curie as Garbo's next film, but pleased with the success of Ninotchka, the studio quickly decided to team Garbo and Douglas in another romantic comedy. Two-Faced Woman (1941) was the result and Garbo received the worst reviews of her entire career. It turned out to be her final film and Greer Garson eventually starred in Madame Curie.

The Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa cited Ninotchka as one of his favorite films.[15][16]

Nazi German Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels remarked in his meeting notes on June 9, 1940 that "The German press should go and see the excellent American anti-Soviet film Ninotchka." He would later tell multiple German actors that he thought it was one of the best films he had ever seen.[17]

Cultural Influences

"Colonel Ninotchka" was a character in the 1980s women's professional wrestling promotion, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.


  1. ^ a b "Ninotchka". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  2. ^ Corliss, Richard (2011). "All-Time 100 Movies", Time, October 3, 2011. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
  3. ^ "NINOTCHKA".
  4. ^ Nugent, Frank S. The New York Times, film review, November 10, 1939. Last accessed: December 24, 2013.
  5. ^ "The 12th Academy Awards (1940) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  6. ^ "1939 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  7. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  8. ^ "1939 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  9. ^ "America's Funniest Movies" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  10. ^ "AFI's 100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time". American Film Institute. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  11. ^ Shaw, Tony (2007). Hollywood's Cold War, p. 16. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0748630732.
  12. ^ Zolotow, Maurice (1977). Billy Wilder in Hollywood, p. 97. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0879100702.
  13. ^ Thomson, David (2012). The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies, p. 104. Macmillan. ISBN 0374191891.
  14. ^ Lee Kennett, For the Duration. . . : The United States Goes To War p 164 ISBN 0-684-18239-4
  15. ^ Lee Thomas-Mason (January 12, 2021). "From Stanley Kubrick to Martin Scorsese: Akira Kurosawa once named his top 100 favourite films of all time". Far Out. Far Out Magazine. Retrieved September 20, 2022.
  16. ^ "Akira Kurosawa's Top 100 Movies!". Archived from the original on 27 March 2010.
  17. ^ As quoted in Boelcke, Willi A. The Secret Conferences of Dr. Goebbels: October 1939-March 1943, edited by Willi A. Boelcke; trans. Ewald Osers. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970.

External links

This page was last edited on 7 May 2024, at 21:23
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