10. Ninotchka (1939)
Wilder began in movies as a screenwriter, first in Europe and then America, and like many writers he always claimed that he only became a director to protect his own words (and word-pictures) from being desecrated by others. In fact, he said that would never have become a director at all if he had always been able to have his scripts directed by the director of Ninotchka, Ernst Lubitsch, who directed classics such as To Be or Not To Be, Heaven Can Wait and, of course, Ninotchka itself. Lubitsch, a fellow German émigré, was probably the greatest influence on Wilder. Wilder said later in life that he would always ask himself as a director, “How would Lubitsch do it?”, and then try to do the same.
Among the other major influences on Wilder were his stellar writing partners throughout his long career. The first, and probably most important of them, was Charles Brackett, his co-writer (along with Lubitsch) on Ninotchka and then on several classics, including Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. In many ways, the two men were complete opposites: Wilder the recent immigrant; Brackett the epitome of upper-class East coast patrician attitudes. But their writing styles complemented each other so beautifully that they became a brilliant co-writing team, with Wilder directing and Brackett producing. Indeed, some critics (and some of Brackett’s heirs) have argued that the early Billy Wilder films ought to be credited as “Wilder-Brackett” movies.
Ninotchka was billed and sold as the film in which “Garbo laughs.” She was not the only one, as she played a Soviet envoy dispatched to Paris in the wake of the Russian revolution, who is initially dismissive of the West and capitalism, only to be slowly seduced by its treasures and pleasures.