Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
November 03
Ninotchka November 3, 1939
Ninotchka premieres

The premiere of Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka in New York City promised audiences the first comedy with the mysterious Swedish actress Greta Garbo And according to most, it delivered. Frank S. Nugent, writing in the New York Times, gushed, “Nothing quite so astonishing has come to the Music Hall since the Rockefellers landed on Fiftieth Street. And not even the Rockefellers could have imagined M-G-M getting a laugh out of Garbo at the U.S.S.R.'s expense.” While Ninotchka’s tag line, “Garbo Laughs”––a reference to an early marketing tag, “Garbo Talks”––was written long before the script was, it barely captured the complexity and sophistication of the comedy. The basic storyline was explained in writer Melchior Lengyel’s initial pitch: "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." The problems in making this pitch a reality, however, were many. Garbo had never done comedy before, and nearly refused to act drunk in front of the cameras. She didn’t drink herself, and didn’t like appearing out of control in front of extras. Political tension in the pre-war period also made any overt attacks on the USSR a potential diplomatic minefield. Nevertheless Lubitsch, who tapped Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett to write the final script, managed to keep the entire affair smart and funny. Perhaps predictably, the Soviet Union didn’t agree. Released in Europe during the war, the film was a great success, except in the USSR and its satellites, where the film was banned.


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Carrie On

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