Once upon a time, a smart and charismatic young Swedish woman named Greta came along. Her selfless goal was to educate the American public about the catastrophic manmade disaster that was already sweeping the globe.
Of course I’m talking about Communism.
In the late 1930s, it wasn’t universally agreed that the Soviet Union was a humanitarian calamity. Some western news sources downplayed the purges and the famines. Some viewed Bolshevism as a wholesome alternative to fascism.
But the truth was clear to those willing to see it: Communism was already a proven failure. “Ninotchka” is a fantastic anti-Soviet satire. With romance, humor, and a light touch, the film eviscerates Communism and shows us that Western culture is inherently superior.
Greta Garbo is transcendently delightful as Ninotchka: a Russian diplomat and true believer in the Communist cause. “The mass trials were a great success,” she says when she gets off the train from Moscow. “There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”
Ninotchka is in Paris on a mission to sell Russian jewelry. The USSR is in desperate need of hard currency so it can buy Western tractors. The first rule of Communism is that there is always a shortage of necessities because the State is incompetent and inefficient.
While walking the streets judging everything she sees, Ninotchka bumps into a charming Parisian named Count Leon D’Algout (Melvyn Douglas). Though the Russian won’t so much as smile at him, Leon is smitten. He follows her around the city, flirting all the way.
Ninotchka is not allowed to believe in love. “Why must you bring in wrong values?” she asks Leon. “Love is a romantic designation for a most ordinary biological, or shall we say chemical, process.”
But whether the State approves or not, Ninotchka is falling for Leon. And Garbo’s transition from emotionless drone to happy lover is joyful to behold.
Director Ernst Lubitsch understands why the Bolshevik experiment was destined to fail. It wasn’t just the overcrowded apartment buildings and Siberian forced labor camps.
Lubitsch argues that Communism was certain to fail because it was trying to remold humanity. Moscow thought it could create a race of subjects whose only passion and loyalty was for the State.
But they never could. Lenin was as wrong as John Locke. We are not born as clean slates. We have a fundamental human nature, and it craves creativity and love.
“Ninotchka” is as great as cinema gets. It’s an insightful analysis of the Soviet Union and a first-rate romantic comedy.
This is my first Greta Garbo movie. And I was blown away by her talent and screen presence. Greatest Greta ever.