Saturday, October 30, 2010

Greta Garbo in Ninotchka

Greta Garbo received her fourth and final Best Actress nomination for playing Ninotchka, a communist woman in the movie Ninotchka by Ernst Lubitsch. I'm quite sure that Garbo would have won the Oscar if it wasn't for Vivien Leigh, as she was Oscarless and a huge star in an unusual role. I think she was the third after Davis that year, but I guess I should watch the results somewhere. No matter what, Garbo finally had to make do with an Honorary Award.

Ninotchka is a very entertaining and funny movie (in an old-fashioned way) and it has some very satirical thoughts which I especially loved. It makes fun of communism, capitalism, Lenin, the Russian royals, everything, of course in a very subtle way. Although some of the jokes might seem dated, they are all extremely witty and charming. The situations however are excellently directed and acted by all the actors. Melvyn Douglas is quite amusing, but this is far from his best works.

But nobody can deny a sequence that made movie history: "Garbo laughs". Yes, that was pretty special considering Garbo's ice queen personality in movies and in real life. Therefore, I think that this movie's (and performance's) enourmous popularity is mostly due to this one unforgettable and charmingly weird scene.

This performance is also quite unusual as it basically consists of two different types of acting. In the first half, it's Garbo's usual ice queen and in the second half Garbo is so unusually charming and lovely that it was a bit distracting for me. Now it's needless to say that I preferred the first half, which is more usual, but in my humble opinion much stronger and ten thousand times funnier.

In Greta Garbo's first scene, we see a stoned-faced, serious, humorless, loveless, cold, merciless, unkind, grumpy feminist and communist, who just stands there and says a fast and brilliant line: "Please don't make an issue of my womanhood". We can see how much Ninotchka sticks to her principles and how much she cares about her country and the people in it. And she's brutally hilarious and deadly witty.

I think her greatest scene in this movie is when she wants to cross the street and asks how much time she has to wait until the next whistle. Garbo so easily makes fun of this cold character and also herself. There's so much self-irony in this part, that's certainly very impressive. She had so much effect on me and her presence was extremely strong and magnetic the whole time.

Also, there are some small details of her performance that I loved: the movements of her face, her eyes, eyebrows and the way she walks. Moreover, I loved that she added a touch of dramatic depth to the character. I felt a bit sad when she left the apartment of Melvyn Douglas after the phone call. It was again, simply brilliant.

But who could ever forget the laughing scene? I saw this movie years and years ago without knowing about the "Garbo laughs" thing, but that's the only sequence that I remembered. And deservedly so: it's so lovely, charming and unforgettable. You just want to go there and give Garbo a hug. She just cannot be resisted and you laugh along with her and everyone else. This is a really great achievement.

But that scene is unfortunately the end of Garbo's true brilliance in the movie as the other part of the performance comes, which lacks the (self-)irony I loved the most about the first half and Garbo's acting goes a bit downhill. It's far from not being enjoyable, but it's not that magnetic and hilarious anymore. Actually, she's less dramatic with more drama and less funny with bigger opportunities. This was quite a dangerous part, because it's so easy.

I must admit though that I was charmed once again by her drunk scene, which was hilarious and I liked the ending too, but I just missed the wit and simplicity of the beginning.

However, I can say that I was impressed by Garbo once again and she gave an excellent performance full of charm, humor and her grabbing persona. Rating is not that easy however: the first half is a very easy five, however the second is not more than three and a half. Four would be a bit low for her and four and a half would be high for her. Great performance nevertheless.
So what do you think? Now it's time to give your last predictions! :) I accept them until I post Irene's profile.


Louis Morgan said...

Well it certainly sounds like a good performance.

1. Vivien Leigh
2. Greta Garbo
3. Bette Davis
4. Irene Dunne
5. Greer Garson

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dinasztie said...

Thank you FreeforAll!

Louis: It IS a good performance you should see it. It's on Youtube, just type Ninotchka 1939 and there will be a playlist. It's worth watching.