Ninotchka (1939)

This Ernst Lubitsch comedy is pure bliss, and a paean to Parisian mad love and fun, which hedonistic American expat Melvyn Douglas pitches to steely, humorless Soviet comrade Greta Garbo, who’s in town on a matter of state business (to reel in a few goofy Soviet agents who have become distracted by the Gallic pleasure principle). Of course, Garbo is masterful as the comically grim maiden in a gray suit, barely disguising a warm heart and yearning for love that we can always see beating beneath the Marxist-Leninist ideology. A little champagne, a little Paris skyline, a little woo from the rather satyric Douglas, and she opens like a lily (figuratively speaking, at least; this is 1939). It doesn’t hurt that Lubitsch had the subtlety and timing of a Hollywood Mozart, or that Ninotchka’s screenplay, penned mostly by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, is one of the wittiest and gentlest of Hollywood’s entire golden age.

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