Ninotchka ★★★★½

“The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”

Critics of the auteur theory may find much to rejoice over within Ninotchka. It’s not that the fabled Lubitsch Touch isn’t present, just that the director’s playful insouciance is, at first glance, quite easily overwhelmed by screenwriter Billy Wilder’s more biting wit. 

Ah, but not so fast! On a philosophical level it may well be the most Lubitsch movie ever. Being, as it is, a story about the stern face of communism succumbing to the human capacity for frivolity—and what could possibly be more Lubitschian than that?

It’s a philosophy reflected in the movie’s legendary tag line: “Garbo Laughs.” As audiences flocked to screenings to see classic Hollywood’s long suffering grande dame of drama—she who just wanted to be alone—get her first chance to cut loose on screen and enjoy the catharsis associated with busting a gut, the pleasures of a little romance, and—as always with Lubitsch—the joys of some good sex. 

“And we won’t stretch up our arms ... And we won’t clench our fists ... Our salute will be a kiss.”

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