Greta Garbo

A Word About Garbo’s Hat

We are equals in map-reading, comrade

Greta Garbo, in a dapper French beret, tells Melvyn Douglas to cool his jets.

We want to show you something remarkable about the comedy Ninotchka.

Much has been said about this movie, one of the great films from Hollywood’s Golden Year (1939). For example, there are all the witty lines. In one scene, the delightful Ina Claire says to her mirror: “I’m so bored with this face. … Oh well, I suppose one ends up with the face that one deserves.”

Also, much has been made about the famous Greta Garbo laugh, which MGM actually used as the tagline – and the marketing strategy – for Ninotchka.

About Garbo: Believe it or not, she’s charming as a humourless Russian Bolshevik who arrives in Paris to oversee the sale of Russian royal jewels. Garbo hooks her thumbs in the belt of her utilitarian dress when barking out orders, and delivers her lines with a deadpan expression: “The last mass trial [in Moscow] was a great success. There are going to be fewer, but better, Russians.” No wonder the playboy Melvyn Douglas character falls for her!

We must say we are greatly amused by the way “jewels” is pronounced in this movie. Everyone pronounces the word as “JOO-elllls”, which makes them seem more valuable than the script lets on. (The JOO-elllls, when we finally get to see them, are, well, meh. These are what Russian royals would wear? From the country that made the Fabergé egg a legend? But, we digress.)

Let us turn our attention to the most remarkable thing of all.

This:

Look at this hat. In Ninotchka, this hat symbolizes Garbo’s inner struggle: free-choice capitalism vs. duty-bound communism. When she first sees this hat in a store window, Garbo dismisses it as a waste of money. Even though she remains contemptuous every time she passes the window display, we can see she is torn. Finally, she succumbs to this hat’s (capitalism’s) appeal and secretly buys it.

Look at this hat! It’s a toilet plunger! But that’s what is so remarkable. Garbo looks stunning in this thing. Here is a true movie star, able to wear a toilet-plunger hat without a trace of irony, and you find yourself wondering if you could even wear it.

This movie and this hat show us why Garbo was so famous and why many consider her to be the quintessential Golden Era movie star. Make the time to watch Ninotchka; we bet you’ll want to add it to your DVD collection.

Ninotchka: starring Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas and Ina Claire. Written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, BW, 1939, 110 mins.