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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Putting On the Ritz

Ninotchka (1939) on IMDb

Plot Overview

performance reportThree Russian envoys to prewar Paris: Comrade Iranoff (Sig Rumann), Comrade Buljanoff (Felix Bressart) & Comrade Kopalski (Alexander Granach) for­sake their spartan Hotel Terminus for the more luxurious Hotel Clarence. Rather than divide up the case of diamonds from the Board of Trade to fit them into the hotel safe, they take the Royal Suite with its own king-size vault. Word spreads. The diamonds' original owner Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire) has her retainer Count Leon d'Algout (Melvyn Douglas) get an injunction issued against their sale or removal until the Paris courts can make a deter­min­ation. To grease the process Moscow sends female special envoy Nina “Ninotchka” Ivanovna Yakushova (Greta Garbo.) She must report on the other three Soviets. While the legal wheels are turning she heads out to inspect the infra­structure of the City of Lights and ends up with Count Leon as her docent. They spark. Then they clash when their identities are discovered.


At Leon's pad Ninotchka asks, “What do we do now?” Replies Leon, “Shall we have some music?” Ninotchka: “Is that customary?” Leon: “It helps. It has ever since King David wooed Bathsheba with his harp.” The reference would be to when Nathan the prophet came to David concerning his liaison with Bathsheba. David's psalm of repentance included (Psalm 51:12-15) an offer to use his harp to promote God his savior (see also Psalm 71:22-24.) We can infer it was a sort of penance for having used it earlier to seduce the young woman (2Sam. 11:2-4.)

tea partyLeon tutors Ninotchka about enjoying what one has rather than fret about what others have not: “What about life, Ninotchka? Do Russians never think about life? On the moment in which we are living?” Solomon, son of Bathsheba and David, puts it, (Eccl. 5:18-20) “Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God. For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.” Ninotchka becomes enough of a convert to entertain poor guests with an omelette luncheon despite inequities in the world. Leon's discussion with his butler shows that the butler has no ambition to break off his yoke of oppression but is happy with his lot. “God” gives to each a portion depending on his station in life and on the system—capitalism, fascism, or communism—under which he lives.

“Ninotchka” resembles another Bible story, as well. After the Flood there was an incident involving Noah's three sons Shem, Ham & Japheth, Gen. 9:19-22, where Noah got drunk on wine and was exposed in his tent in all his glory to his youngest son Ham who brazenly viewed him so. Noah's other two sons, Shem and Japheth, covered him up, Gen. 9:23. Ham had been indelicate, Gen. 9:24. Noah's curse puts Ham's youngest son Canaan in a position of servitude, Gen. 9:25. Noah's other two sons Shem, Gen. 9:26, and Japheth, Gen. 9:27, were blessed by Noah, Japheth dwelling in the blessed tents of Shem. Ham's generations would have devolved to servant status.

Ninotchka got blotto on champagne she was not accustomed to. Count Leon respectfully tucked her into bed, and the Grand Duchess Swana paid her an early morning visit as she was rising. Both treated her respect­fully, and Ninotchka negotiated with Swana over the rocks, while Leon got the memories. It was some unnamed waiter who took advantage of Ninotchka clothed still in evening dress passed out in bed. Later it is Comrade Kopalski working in an unnamed position at a restaurant who is not treated equally, and nobody cares.

Martin Luther King
Jr.While we're on the descendants of Ham, the modern movie­goer may also want to add a bit of race to the mix. Cush was also a son of Ham, settling in Africa. Cush in Hebrew means black. Our modern spokes­man for African-Americans, Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK), led protests, some of them with­out the benefit of a parade permit. Christians in the south objected to this breach of respect for authority, to which MLK responded in his Letter From Birmingham Jail citing a long litany of abuses the Negroes endured prompting said protests. How­ever, since this particular movie has us looking at the story of David, he on his part suffered terrible abuse at the hand of King Saul, the authority at the time, and David totally respected “The Lord's anointed” though he treated David worse than the south treated Negroes. In the end Ninotchka's picture of Lenin was encouraged to smile on the decadence around him, and as a matter of record, MLK at the end of his letter did apologize in advance if he'd gone too far in his complaint. Of course, there is a lot of room for inter­pretation in the movie, in life, and in the Bible for that matter. Here it is trying to discern whether the photo of Lenin smiles or retains his frown. Look closely at that shot. One might also note that the death of Vladimir Lenin is commemorated on January 21, the same day we honor MLK this coming year, 2019.

Production Values

This classic, “” (1939) was directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Its screen­play was written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. It stars Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, and Ina Claire. Garbo turned in a great performance as the title character. She was an explosive star whose trajectory was to be cut short by the upcoming European war. Bela Lugosi appears briefly. The other characters acted well, too. In the United States it has a TV rating of TVG.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

“Ninotchka” is a delightful rom-com and a funny satire on the clash of classes; nobody is spared. The chemistry between Melvyn Douglas and Greta Garbo was palpable. This was an altogether out­standing classic; it shouldn't be missed.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for all ages. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall movie rating: Five stars out of five.