Lubitsch's classic, co-written by Billy Wilder, is one of the first American movies to predict the Cold War and, under the cover of a satirical, light romance, to depict Stalin's Soviet Union as rigid and grey – in this instance comparing it with the free and sunny Parisian society of the pre-war era.
The film opens during the aftermath of the Russian revolution. A trio of Russian delegates are sent to sell the Imperial Jewels for ready cash (which may sound strange to contemporary ears, but was in fact standard practice). Count Leon d'Algout (Melvyn Douglas) is enlisted to retrieve the jewellery before it is sold. The Soviet Union then sends comrade 'Ninotchka' Yakushova (Greta Garbo), a special envoy whose goal is to go through with the jewellery sale and bring back the three men. "Garbo Laughs!" declared the ads at the time.