Monday, February 16, 2009

"Comrade, I've been fascinated by your five-year plan for the last fifteen years."

The two movies that consumed a portion of VDay both had to do with romance and World War II.  Interesting combination, but alas, the war (that occurred because the 'war to end all wars' didn't end ALL wars) does create an environment for love, from Paris to small town America.  Too bad the SO missed out on these movies (well, missed out, in that of the two movies, she saw half of the first, none of the second, and probably wouldn't understand their appeal if she had the Cliff Notes...) because as much as they might not appear as comedies to her, they truly make you laugh.  And in a time of war, sometimes a laugh can help.

And what truly gives me the giggles is Communist Russia.  You don't agree?  Well you haven't seen Ninotchka.  I know, the name just rolls right off the tongue.  In this movie, Grand Dutchess Swana (Ina Clare) of the Soviet Union finds out that three comrades (Iranoff, Buljanoff, and Kopalski - sounds like a Russian law firm) are in Paris, selling her jewels (sorry, no sexual joke - the Commies considered her property the property of the State... depressing, isn't it?).  The three comrades have trouble selling them, mostly because the Grand Dutchess sends Comte Leon d'Algout (Melvyn Douglas) to tell them a lawsuit will be on their hands.  Leon loosens them up a bit with a little champagne, a few cigarettes, french maids...

That's when the Commies send in Nina Ivana Yakushova, aka Ninotchka (Greta Garbo), a no nonsense woman who gets the job done at any cost (well, not any cost, because somehow a night in a Parisian hotel could be spent to buy a cow - the movie is making fun of the communist's ideals!).  In some chance meeting, Leon bumps into her on the street, and the chemistry between the two actors is perfect.  The timing of the punch line can be crucial, and Douglas and Garbo don't disappoint.  Leon softens Ninotchka, and Ninotchka makes Leon all hot under the collar.  Unfortunately, their love is not meant to be.

I thought that all Russians could hold their liquor, but Ninotchka seems to be the exception.  Because of this, she passes out in the hotel, the Grand Dutchess steals her jewels back, and Ninotchka is blackmailed into leaving for Moscow in order to get the jewels back.  Seems the Grand Dutchess didn't care that Ninotchka stole Leon from her.  Ninotchka and the three comrades return home, friends for life.  But Leon can't be held back.  Even if he couldn't get into the USSR, he could get Ninotchka out.  And with some fancy handiwork, Ninotchka is swept off her feet by Leon in the end.

What I draw from this movie is, again, the chemistry between Leon and Ninotchka.  Even though the Cold War would be years away (this film was released in 1939), the communists and the capitalists weren't exactly friendly to one another.  Obviously propaganda is a huge part of this movie, showing that a communist's heart can melt for love.  The same way I try to get the SO to like classic films (well, any films that I like - can you believe she doesn't care for Star Wars?  I know, the nerve of that woman!  Bad enough she likes Jar Jar...), this movie plays into the stereotype that communists are barely human, but on the other side, capitalists seem to be smooth talkers.

If you were to ask me if I would buy it, I would say no.  Definitely a movie to see, but not on my waiting list.  Worth renting to see because of the comedic banter between Douglas and Garbo, but not enough to make me own.  I do appreciate the films made during the time of World War II, and it plays a part in the next movie I review as well.  Who couldn't find comedy in it?

How can you fail with Hitler in a comedy?  Or for that matter, how could an assassination attempt on Hitler's life fail as a movie?  (Oops!  Sorry, Tom...)


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