DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Ninotchka (RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Sep 12, 2005.

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  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]
    Ninotchka





    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1939
    Rated: NR
    Film Length: 110 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: English & French
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $19.97
    Package: SIngle disc - Keepcase





    The Feature:
    To celebrate her 100th birthday, (1905-1990), Warner Bros. have released The Greta Garbo Signature Collection. The 10 disc Collection contains many of the legendary actresses most celebrated films and is made up of the following titles: Anna Christie (1930) - included here is the 1930 American version as well as the 1931 German version, Mata Hari (1931), Grand Hotel (1932) - re-packaged in a new Keepcase, Queen Christina (1933), Anna Karenina (1935), Camille (1936), and the feature film, Ninotchka (1939) - all on separate discs. Also included in the set is this year's version of the TCM Silents in which The Temptress (1926), Flesh And The Devil (1927) and The Mysterious Lady (1928) appear. And finally, the 2005 TCM Original Documentary: Garbo, completes this extensive Collection. The 6 individual single titles list for $19.97, while the entire Collection lists for $$99.92. The TCM Garbo Silents (two-discs) lists for $39.92.

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    "Garbo laughs". So read the advertising for the star's first outright comedy, and it brilliantly sums up the appeal of this remarkable film. Director Ernst Lubitsch leads the actress as the stern Communist who warms to the appeal of Paris champagne and playboy Melvyn Douglas. Combining farce, romance and satire, yet still maintaining moments of that soaring Garbo intensity, Ninotchka is a special film indeed.

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    A trio of Russian delegates, Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski (played by Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart, and Alexander Granach) are sent to Paris to sell the Imperial Jewels. Grand Duchess Swana (played by Ina Claire), who once owned the jewels, sends her boyfriend Count Leon d'Algout (played by Melvyn Douglas) to retrieve the diamonds, and he turns the trio into full-fledged capitalists, wining and dining them all through Paris. Moscow then dispatches the humorless, doggedly loyal Comrade Ninotchka (played by Greta Garbo) to retrieve both the prodigal Soviets and the gems.

    When Leon turns his charm on Ninotchka, she regards him coldly, informing him that love is merely a "chemical reaction." Even his kisses fail to weaken her resolve. Leon finally wins her over by taking an accidental fall in a fancy restaurant, whereupon Ninotchka laughs for the first time in her life. She goes on a shopping spree and gets drunk, while Leon begins falling in love with her. As a bonus to the frothy script, by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett (who also co-wrote the legendary Sunset Boulevard and The Lost Weekend), and its surefire star power, Ninotchka features what is perhaps Bela Lugosi's most likeable and relaxed performance.

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    Many of Garbo's films rely on her presence alone for their appeal. That's not the case here. Working from a brittle, witty script by no less than Wilder, Brackett, and Reisch, the gifted Lubitsch brings his patented "touch" to scene after scene. Garbo rarely had a partner as slick as Douglas, who is as polished as any star of the period. He plays the gushy romantic dialogue early on with the perfect combination of conviction and playfulness, and one of the film's beauties is watching Garbo shift gears into this mode herself. The lovely scene in a cafe where Douglas cracks Ninotchka up only when he falls off his chair remains a highlight of both film comedy and screen romance.

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    The film is also noted for being one of the earliest political spoofs of Stalin's Communist Russia, especially remarkable because the film was released during the war in Europe (a month after Hitler's Nazi Germany invaded Poland). The Russian emissaries in the film are portrayed as comedic, stereotypical caricatures who actually take a liking to the capitalistic system. When the film was released, it was banned in the Soviet Union. Lubitsch would go on to make an even more biting wartime comedy a few years later, To Be or Not to Be (1942), with Carole Lombard and Jack Benny.

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    In what was perhaps the single greatest year of film (1939), Ninotchka was nominated for four Academy Awards - unsuccessful in all categories including Best Picture, Best Actress (Greta Garbo - her fourth and final unsuccessful nomination), Best Original Story (Melchior Lengyel), and Best Screenplay (co-writer Billy Wilder's first of a career 21 nominations). Although Garbo never won an Academy Award, in 1954 she received an Honorary Oscar for a career that contained a number of "unforgettable screen performances".

    The Feature: 4/5
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    Video:
    Presented in a 1.33:1 AR, I was mostly pleased with the video portion of Ninotchka. Contrast levels as well as shadow detail looked quite nice. Blacks were satisfactorily deep while whites clean resulting in a nice display of grayscale. Image definition was what we might expect from a film from 1939. The level of detail was satisfactory, with many of the close-ups on Greta on the soft side.

    There is a moderate amount of fine film-grain present and the overall image is impressive in terms of texture and dimensionality. There are instances of dust and dirt as well as scratches and blemishes, however given the age of the film, this should come as no surprise. What is noticeable is the amount of shimmer and jitter that appear infrequently throughout the film - perhaps a shrinkage problem given the time frames when this becomes noticeable. Not a huge problem per se, but noticeable none the less.

    The compression seems to have been handled flawlessly as artifacts were never an issue nor was edge enhancement ever a factor.

    All in all, a very nice job.

    Video: 4/5
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    Audio:
    Presented here in DD monaural, the soundtrack does an admirable job at doing what needs to be done. The track is mostly clean and free of any pops or noisy distractions however, the slightest hint of hiss is present - no big deal. Dialogue is clear and always intelligible however is rather thin, albeit mostly natural.

    As we would expect from a film of this age, not much to speak of in terms of dynamics as the overall track is on the thin side. Given the limitations of the period, no surprises here. A job well done.

    Audio: 3.5/5
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    Special Features:
    While, the Collection contains its fair share of supplemental material, the disc itself contains one lone feature.
    [*] The Theatrical Trailer has been included and appears to be in very good condition. Duration: 2:16 minutes.

    Special Features: 1/5
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    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



    Final Thoughts:
    As a result of dwindling foreign revenues, MGM decided to put Greta Garbo, a bigger draw in Europe than the US, in a box-office-savvy comedy, engaging the services of master farceur Ernst Lubitsch to direct. While not necessarily regarded as one of Hollywood's best actresses, she embodied everything that was glamorous and alluring about Tinseltown. Considering the magnitude of her name and reputation, she made relatively few movies between the mid twenties through the early forties and at age 36, she left the film industry. In retrospect, she left while she was still on top, still thought of and remembered to this day as the young, beautiful, enigmatic and alluring actress. She spent the next forty years enjoying her retirement living in semi -seclusion in New York City's Upper East Side.

    Masterfully produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, known for sophisticated, witty, and stylish comedies, this film was Garbo's 26th film (and only Lubitsch film), and considered to be her last great film. Few of the easily-recognizable, elegant "Lubitsch touches" are obvious throughout the film, although the film gracefully and elegantly presents the romantic love affair between the two lead characters. Melvyn Douglas and Greta Garbo had previously appeared in only one other film, As You Desire Me (1932), and later, they also starred together in Two-Faced Woman (1941), which would be Garbo's last film before she left the business.

    While the disc itself is light in extras, there are plenty to be found throughout the Signature Collection. From a quick glance, the scope of the Collection is enormous and is unquestionably, one of the most comprehensive packages ever dedicated to an individual actor. Not only is the presentation of the film itself grounds to please most fans, but the work on the collection as a whole makes this one of the most impressive releases of 2005. If you are a fan of The Swedish Sphinx, you won't be disappointed.

    Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)
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    Recommended.





    Release Date: September 6th, 2005
     
  2. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    Garbo's best film by far, and I'm exstatic to finally have it on dvd. [​IMG]
     
  3. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    I love this film and would also recommend the DVD, but I was disappointed by the visual presentation. There seemed to be lots of uneven contrast within the frame throughout the film. This could very well be a result of the source elements available for use, but whatever the reason, it was not the revelation compared to previous video presentations of "Ninotchka" that one might expect based on some of WBs finer DVD work on films of this era.

    Regards,
     
  4. DeeF

    DeeF Screenwriter

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    I too mentioned on the other thread that I'm disappointed by this disk. The video seems soft and marred by shimmer and moving grain. My copy from TCM really does look better. I don't know what happened, and WHV is exemplary in every way -- it must be the source material.
     
  5. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    I thought the grain looked pretty natural, if a bit heavy, but, to be a bit more specific than my previous post, it was the undulating vertical bands of varying contrast that bothered me. I think the most recent broadcast version I saw was processed a bit more so there was less visible grain, but it was also a bit softer. That's just an impression from memory, not an actual A/B comparison, so take it for what it's worth.

    Regards,
     
  6. Jaime_Weinman

    Jaime_Weinman Supporting Actor

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    I have the same problem with those vertical bands -- and since I don't think WHV is infallible (George Feltenstein does great work on selecting the films, but the mastering department can be responsible for some real glitches, like the interlacing on the 1925 Ben-Hur) I'll say that I suspect it could have looked a lot better. Indeed, I've seen 35mm prints of Ninotchka that did in fact look better.

    A great movie, but a disappointing release. And it's a bit unfortunate that none of WHV's three Lubitsch releases have had any film-specific extras.
     

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