On its release, the NYT said of it,
Stalin won't like it. Molotoff may even recall his envoy from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. We still will say Garbo's "Ninotchka" is one of the sprightliest comedies of the year, a gay and impertinent and malicious show which never pulls its punch lines (no matter how far below the belt they may land) and finds the screen's austere first lady of drama playing a dead-pan comedy role with the assurance of a Buster Keaton.Deep Focus Review has an in-depth examination and includes the political ramifications:
Politically, Ninotchka treads on delicate ground in its favor of Western culture and Capitalism over Communism, and the film was inevitably banned from several Soviet countries upon its release. The picture takes a bold step forward by representing Communism with some degree of realism for a Hollywood production, and by further representing a woman of some power—though Ninotchka reports to a male, Bela Lugosi’s Commissar Razinin—as a significant member of the party. Wilder later observed that, while writing, he knew he could not avoid the truth when representing Communist Russia. The film’s depiction of Soviet life would not only break gender role taboos of the period, but it would present a serious-minded satire of the facts. In 1939, Russia was a needed ally, and so referencing Stalin’s Great Purge and Ninotchka’s five-year plans with a sense of humor represented an undeniable risk and required political awareness from the film’s audience. When Ninotchka first arrives in Paris, her three comrades ask “How are things in Russia?” She replies coldly, “Very good. The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.” As Capitalism prevails, the message underneath the love story becomes clear, so much so that in 1948 the U.S. State Department sent 35 prints of Ninotchka to Italy during the “Red-threatened” elections in hopes of impacting voters.Film Site opens with this:
Ninotchka (1939) was the long-awaited, classic romantic comedy, with a clever and witty script and the magnificent presence of actress Greta Garbo in her first official American comedy (in her next-to-last film). The charming film about clashing ideologies (Soviet communism vs. capitalism) begins with Garbo portrayed at first as a humorless, cold, curt, deadpan, and seriously-austere Russian envoy (in a parody of her own stiff onscreen image), who soon melts and is transformed and softened by Parisian love (and a persuasive playboy Count) into a frivolous, romantic figure and converted Communist.Time Out says, "Ninotchka is delicate flirtation and political satire made into a perfect whole, and a reminder of skills that studio writers have largely lost." This film is listed in the book 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 97%.