Tag Archives: Ernst Lubitsch

XL Popcorn – Ninotchka

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 924/1009Title: Ninotchka
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Year: 1939
Country: USA

How has it been six years since I last saw a Garbo film. In between then (when I saw Grand Hotel) and now I’ve even visited Garbo’s grave just outside of Stockholm. Ninotchka was one of her final films before her early retirement as well as being her third Oscar nomination. Makes you wonder how her career would have continued on if World War Two hadn’t broken out and cut off her key market and if her last film hadn’t destroyed her confidence.

There is a lot that is said about star quality. It is something that only becomes truly apparent when they appear on screen, especially if it is sometime into a project. Well, Garbo exudes star quality the moment you first see her at the train station and it continues on for the rest of the movie. She has impeccable comic timing and has brilliant chemistry with her romantic co-lead Melvyn Douglas. She is a just a joy in this movie and it makes me sad that she didn’t foray more into comedy.

In terms of film history Ninotchka is such an interesting film. This is from 1939, something that becomes very apparent when two Germans at a train station greet each other with a Nazi salute. It is also a very early example of a Hollywood movie going all in on the stereotypes that we now associate with Communist Russia around it being cold, drab and incredibly restrictive.

Aside from Garbo, what truly makes this sing is the writing. The script marked the first of Billy Wilder’s any Oscar nominations, a script that he co-wrote with three others. It features some brilliant lines poking fun at the Communist regime, capitalism and some of the more traditional romantic comedy tropes.

We see Hollywood’s take on Paris, Moscow and Istanbul all done with a strange affection – although it does strike harder at Russia to the point that it was re-released for a few years for fear of making the US’s latest allies look bad. A little piece of Hollywood history and yet another reason for me to love the movies of Ernst Lubitsch.

XL Popcorn – Trouble in Paradise

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 886/1009Title: Trouble in Paradise
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Year: 1932
Country: USA

Trouble in Paradise is the movie that was needed for a light afternoon, not The Rapture. Hey ho, that’s what happens when you just look at a basic description. Since it was my pick today, and I am finally not over-indulging in 1930s movies, I am finally getting a chance to see this Pre-Code classic. I have been wanting to see this film for years, but I am so aware of not completely using up a decade I kept putting it off until a better time. I’m feeling sick, so the time is most definitely now.

I mention explicitly that this is a Pre-Code film, a romantic comedy even, because Trouble in Paradise is a film that could not have been made two years later after the introduction of the Hays Code. Just to think, twenty years of cinema history where a great film like this could not be made without any one who has committed any sin not receiving any comeuppance. Sure, there are ways around it but the sins of Trouble in Paradise are what make it fun.

In the end, how on earth are you meant to film a comedy with a couple of romantically entangled and loveable thieves as the main characters without there being any chance of then getting away with it? Like, it isn’t a given that they will, but at least without the Code in place you have a bit of tension. Also, this way you also get the chance of this film being properly sexy outside of wedlock – which makes sense for these characters.

It also helps that the script is excellent, as is the chemistry Herbert Marshall has with both Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis. One of the first scenes, where both the thieves find each other out and fall in love, is a masterclass in how to do a really different yet funny cinematic meet-cute – especially as they reveal how much they have lifted from each other’s pockets over the course of their dinner date.

Honestly, if more romantic comedies were like Trouble in Paradise then this would have a chance at being one of my favourite genres. It’s smart, it makes you laugh, it has great characters you enjoy watching and it can actually surprise you. There’s one more Ernst Lubitsch film on this list and considering what I have seen of him so far (also including The Shop Around The Corner and To Be or Not to Be) I am so eager to see what Ninotchka ends up being like.