By David Henderson
Even today, almost 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there are very few anti-Communist films. There were almost none in the 1930s. One of the few in the 1930s, possibly the only one, is Ninotchka. I finally saw it on Turner Classic Movies recently. I highly recommend it. The transformation of Ninotchka, played by the beautiful Greta Garbo, from a humorless, robotic official from the Soviet Union into a fun-loving, life-loving fan of the West, is quite well done.
Interestingly, though, the TCM person who discussed the movie–I’ve forgotten her name–either was ignorant about the movie’s content, decided not to mention it, or was told not to mention it. She talked about the movie as if all it is is comedy. It is a comedy–but it’s so much more.
Wikipedia’s description comes closer. The Wikipedia entry on Ninotchka states, “It is one of the first American movies which, under the cover of a satirical, light romance, depicted the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin as being rigid and gray, in this instance comparing it with the free and sunny Parisian society of pre-war years.”
That’s accurate. The “rigid and gray” is a prominent theme. What’s missing even from the Wikipedia description? Well, for starters, massive poverty. People in the Soviet Union have to share rooms with strangers. They also have little to eat. That’s beyond “rigid and gray.” And even more important, what’s missing is Stalin’s murders. In various parts of the movie, the characters from the Soviet Union, who should know the Soviet Union best, make references to Stalin killing his political enemies. That’s more than a detail.