By Nell Minow,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Great, but kids may need historical context.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Sex, Romance & Nudity
An intimate relationship between Swana and Leon is implied.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Festive drinking, Ninotchka gets tipsy on champagne.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that kids will need some introduction to the issues behind this enchanting romantic comedy. A few words about the state of the Soviet Union following the revolution and the different ideas of the communists and the capitalists will prepare them.
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What's the Story?
When Soviet bureaucrats arrive in Paris to sell some jewels so they can buy tractors, the former Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire), who lives in Paris, is outraged, because they were her jewels confiscated during the Russian revolution. Her beau, Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas), goes to court on her behalf, seeking return of the jewels. He also distracts the Russians with wine, food, and fun. In response, the Soviets send stern and severe senior official Lena (Greta Garbo) to straighten things out. Leon, who nicknames her "Ninotchka," can't persuade her to enjoy Paris. She is unmoved by even his best jokes, but when he falls over in his chair, she laughs uproariously. From then on, she warms to Paris and Leon's charms. She dons an elegant little hat and a glamorous gown. She drinks champagne until she is tipsy. Swana gets the jewels from a sympathetic hotel employee, then tells Ninotchka she'll return them if Ninotchka leaves Paris (and Leon). Given her duty to the Soviet Union, Ninotchka has no choice. When the same three Russians are dispatched to Constantinople to sell furs, Leon corrupts them again and Ninotchka is sent to straighten things out.
Is It Any Good?
Kids will need some introduction to the issues behind this enchanting romantic comedy. A few words about the state of the Soviet Union following the revolution and the different ideas of the communists and the capitalists will prepare them. The movie is really not about politics; it is about romance, and being open to the pleasures of life. Leon learns as much about this as Ninotchka does. Before she arrives, he is in what looks more like a business partnership than a love affair with Swana. Ninotchka makes an emotionally honest man out of him as he makes an emotionally honest woman out of her. And, as much as Ninotchka loves Leon, she will not compromise on her duty to her country.
Ernst Lubitsch was the master of the sophisticated romantic comedy. Close observers of his films notice that he often uses doors to tell the story. An example in this film is the way the Count's successful corruption of the Soviet emissaries is shown through a succession of delightful treats being delivered to them through the doors of their hotel suite.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about who would have won the jewels if they had gone to court. What is the best argument for each side? What does Swana try to do when she sees Ninotchka at the nightclub? What would you say the "moral" of this little romantic comedy is?
- In theaters: October 6, 1939
- On DVD or streaming: September 6, 2005
- Cast: Bela Lugosi, Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas
- Director: Ernst Lubitsch
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: March 30, 2022
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