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Greta Garbo as Ninotchka: 5 Quotes About the Iconic Role

Image: Greta Garbo as Ninotchka: 5 Quotes About the Iconic Role
Ninotchka, 1939. (imdb.com)

By    |   Friday, 08 May 2015 05:53 AM

Actress Greta Garbo is known for many things, one of which is the number of deadly serious roles that she played throughout her brief career. To say that "Ninotchka" was a departure from the usual roles that Greta Garbo played is a massive understatement as she played the title role with a comedic touch. The studio that produced the movie, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, played this fact up in its advertising with the tagline "Garbo Laughs."

The film, a satire of the political climate in the Soviet Union, was helmed by Ernst Lubitch and also starred Melvyn Douglas and Bela Lugosi. Despite such a departure from the norm, "Ninotchka" is considered to be one of Garbo's best performances, a fact echoes by many film critics. Here are five quotes about the iconic role.

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1. Frank S. Nugent, the film critic at the time for The New York Times, lauded Garbo for her transition from drama to comedy.

"'Ninotchka' is one of the sprightliest comedies of the year, a gay and impertinent and malicious show which never pulls its punch lines (no matter how far below the belt they may land) and finds the screen's austere first lady of drama playing a deadpan comedy role with the assurance of a Buster Keaton," Nugent wrote.

2. Nugent also commended Garbo's ability to perform her role flawlessly in the same Times article.

"We almost wish she would handle a scene badly once in a while just to provide us with an opportunity to show we are not a member of a fan club. But she remains infallible and Garbo, always exactly what the situation demands, always as fine as her script and director permit her to be," he wrote.

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3. Time Out's Joshua Rothkopf said the film reminds modern moviegoers how the craft of filmmaking has degraded through the years.

"'Ninotchka' is delicate flirtation and political satire made into a perfect whole, and a reminder of skills that studio writers have largely lost. … Garbo opened that clenched mouth of hers and laughed like a loon; the feelings you'll have will go deeper," wrote Rothkopf.

4. In his review in Time magazine, Whittaker Chambers remarked how deftly the actress was able to handle the comedic role as well as she has previously handled dramatic performances: "Garbo, who plays her first full-length comedy with iron, Bolshevik disregard for glamour, in a khaki uniform and middie blouse, succeeds in the difficult task of making her tight-lipped fanaticism funny without making it ridiculous."

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5. Franz Hoellering, writing for The Nation, had a different take, stating that it was Garbo's presence alone that made her role in "Ninotchka" such a standout one: "As for the comedienne Greta Garbo, well, she is no comedienne. She is an exciting personality, a character, a great actress – but it is not she who makes one laugh but the contrast in the picture between her and everything else. Each "funny" scene she plays here could also be fitted into one of her tragic parts and would not be funny at all in another context. But, as long as Garbo is on the screen, one does not care why she is there."

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Actress Greta Garbo is known for many things, one of which is the number of deadly serious roles that she played throughout her brief career. To say that Ninotchka was a departure from the usual roles that Greta Garbo played is a massive understatement.
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