Ninotchka hit the theaters shortly before the start of World War II. The Soviet Union was still relatively young, having finished a civil war only two decades before. Ninotchka was one of the few films that depicted the newly formed idealistic communist society as a rather glum, gray, stern place to live. But the portrayal is done in a kind and gentle teasing manner, almost as an inside joke between friends. One of the key points of the film is how, with simple pleasures, the Soviet agents are seduced into decadent folly. Ninotchka is a romance comedy. As with so many romantic comedies having the man and the woman come from not only different backgrounds but also different ideologies makes for merriment as the two seek to understand each other. In this case, we have the no-nonsense party member and the warm-hearted aristocrat. The audience laughs at human failings and being caught committing a sin. The rude arbitrariness of whether it is considered a passable sin or a life-forfeiting error makes for some rather enjoyable bits of dark humor. But all of this dark humor and glum Soviet stereotypes were treated with light-hearted humor, almost innocent in its optimism and hope for a struggling country finding its footing. Ninotchka was released two months after the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. It would be another two years before Germany would invade the Soviet Union. During the war years that immediately followed, the Soviets were our allies and the portrayal of them on the big screen was still mostly positive. It wouldn’t be until after WWII, when the fear of communism would be used as a political tool that the Red Scare would leave an ugly scar on Hollywood. Ninotchka then has a unique place in cinematic history. It’s a light and fluffy film that carries none of the foreboding and direness which later films would inherently imply by the weight of history.
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