French champagne. One sip and you’ll become a convert to capitalism. Trust me, it works.
There’s Greta Garbo’s humorless Soviet envoy, a model revolutionary if ever there was one. She believes in the righteousness of the cause and has nothing but contempt for the west. “The last mass trials were a great success,” she assures her three comrades. “There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”
Ah, but she is in Paris. Who can resist the charms of the city of light? Here she is, meeting the dissolute Count Leon d’Algout—the man to whom she’ll owe that first taste of champagne. He’s already corrupted her comrades, and it isn’t long before Garbo succumbs to capitalist culture. First she buys a silly hat, next a gown, and when she goes back to Moscow, she can’t resist bringing along a bit of silky French lingerie.
The stunning dialogue was written by the Hungarian author and screenwriter Melchior Lengyel, with help from the Austro-Hungarian-born filmmaker Billy Wilder. Melchior also wrote “To Be or Not to Be,” and both films were directed by German expatriate Ernst Lubitsch. You can see the European sensibility at work; both films have the same bite, and yet there’s nothing heavy-handed in “Ninotchka.” As the count knows, the best way of subverting the enemy is to make ’em laugh.