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Silk Stockings

1 rating: 3.0
A movie

   Silk Stockings is a 1957 MGM musical film remake of Ninotchka. It was directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starred Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. The supporting cast included Janis Paige, Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, and George Tobias repeating … see full wiki

Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Genre: Comedy, Music, Musical
Release Date: July 18, 1957
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about Silk Stockings

By no means a miss, but not a smash hit. Fred Astaire's last leading man role in a movie musical

  • Jun 23, 2011
  • by
Rating:
+3
There are a number of good things about Silk Stockings, but there also is a professional finality about the movie that makes it easier to observe than to be delighted by it. It was one of the last of the big MGM musicals coming from Arthur Freed's production unit. It was the last musical Fred Astaire made as the lead. It was the last film directed by Rouben Mamoulian. It was based on the last Broadway musical Cole Porter wrote. Silk Stockings also was used to make a statement about the excesses some thought were ruining films and music...the advent of rock and roll and the technological changes in films with wide screen and stereo sound. It even takes a crack at the fashion for ballet in many musicals. You've got to be very clever and original to successfully parody things which are already self-parodies. Silk Stockings, even with its many entertaining moments, isn't that clever.
 
The story is based on Ninotchka, the Soviet commissar who comes to Paris and finds romance reluctantly...and then enthusiastically. Paris is presented as a place where decadence was never more innocent and persuasive. Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) is a Hollywood producer in Paris who plans to make a film starring a famous film star (Janis Paige), using the music of a famous Soviet composer who isn't thrilled at returning to Moscow. Three Soviet bureaucrats (Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff), bumblers all, have been sent to retrieve him...but they fall prey to the charms of Paris, too. So one of the toughest, most dedicated commissars is sent to bring them all back. She is Nina Yoshenko (Cyd Charisse), and she is as humorless as a training manual. Canfield piles on the charm, Ninotchka finally softens, romance blossoms. And then, of course, a misunderstanding arises. Ninotchka returns to Moscow, but a bit of sly dealing by Steve gets her back to Paris. The misunderstanding is solved, love blossoms anew, and East-West relations, at least for Steve and Ninotchka, warm up considerably. Marriage is just a kiss and a dance away.
 
One of the things that seems so odd is that, for a Fred Astaire film, Astaire spends a good deal of time doing knee drops, full-length on-the-floor sprawls and athletic dance moves that limit the sophisticated and smooth Astaire style. He was 59 when he made the picture, and this might explain the relative shortness of some of the sequences. Still, while he is assured and immensely watchable (and while he can still do wonders with a cane), three major dance productions he is in just seem choppy.
 
Most of the songs from the Broadway show were retained and Porter wrote a couple of new ones. It's become routine with Porter to say that whatever his latest show was, the score was never one of his best. In this case, it's true. The romantic songs are very good, but the topical speciality numbers seem tired.
 
--"Too Bad" is a raucous song and dance involving the three Soviet flunkies, Steve and three ladies Steve brought to convince the flunkies they don't need to hurry to go back to Moscow. There's a nice sequence involving Astaire dancing with each of the women. Watching Peter Lorre gamely taking part, however, I didn't find very funny. He had health problems, was over-weight and it showed.
 
--"Paris Loves Lovers" is a charming song Astaire sings to Charisse, and then she counterpoints in the reprise.
 
--"Stereophonic Sound," for me, just isn't particularly clever or funny. Janis Paige plays a character who has no subtlety, and she delivers the song the same way. This is the first of the production numbers that have Astaire sliding under desks and dropping onto the floor.
 
--"It's a Chemical Reaction, That's All." This clever little throw away is used by Ninotchka to explain to Steve that love is nothing more than predictable chemistry.
When the electro-magnetic of the hemale
Meets the electro-magnetic of the female,
If right away she should say, 'This is the male,'
It's a chemical reaction, that's all.
 
And though you fascists may answer with kisses
The same applies when you're mister and missus.
Hey diddle diddle with middle class kisses.
It's a chemical reaction that's all.
 
--Which leads immediately to one of Porter's first-class songs, "All of You," which includes the naughty line that sends schoolboys to sniggering every time they hear it. The song is sung by Astaire to a skeptical Charisse.
I love the looks of you, the lure of you.
I'd love to make a tour of you,
The arms, the eyes, the mouth of you,
The east, west, north, and the south of you.
 
I'd love to gain complete control of you
And handle even the heart and soul of you.
So love at least a small percent of me, do.
'Cause I love all of you.
 
--"Satin and Silk," a speciality number for Paige.
 
--"Silk Stockings." This is one of Porter's great brooding, throbbing latin melodies, danced by Cyd Charisse.  The lyrics don’t match the quality of the music.
 
--"Without Love" is such a paean to the wholesome hetero love of a woman for a man that Porter must have had a great time writing the lyrics.
 
--"Fated to Mated" is a jaunty song sung by Astaire to Charisse which leads into an extended dance routine for them. The dance is the second number that winds up more athletic than we're used to.
 
--"Josephine," another speciality number for Paige, much abbreviated from the Broadway version.
 
--"Siberia," a not-too-funny specialty number for Lorre, Munshin and Buloff. Lorre, fat and out of breath, can barely move.
 
--"The Red Blues." This is probably the second least inspired number by Porter. It's redeemed by a driving arrangement, vivid choreography and a knock-out performance by Charisse. She was a skilled, precise dancer who could handle any steps they gave her. She does a great job here.
 
--"The Ritz Roll and Rock." Astaire is said to have asked Porter to come up with a big finale number that would poke fun at all the changes in the musical scene that had been happening in the Fifties. This was the result and, to my view, it simply isn't very good. The song lacks cleverness and wit. Astaire was always expert, but this has him starting out in a classic white tie and tails pose, then sends him spinning on the floor and finishing by smashing his top hat with his fist. As Cyd Charisse said years later in one of the extras on the DVD, "Though Fred was wonderful, it was clear that the age he had come to emulate was over." This number just doesn't do the job.
 
Astaire, as always, is first class. Charisse is easy to look at and a fine dancer. George Tobias, as a commissar in Moscow and Ninotchka's boss, gives a sly and dead-pan performance. Some of Porter's songs are very good. Mamoulian brought the film in on time and under budget. And Silk Stockings was a success with ticket buyers. Well, maybe that’s enough.
 
The DVD transfer is excellent. There are several light-weight extras, the best of which is a 1934 musical short based on Porter's Fifty Million Frenchman. It stars Bob Hope and a singer-dancer named Dorothy Stone. It only runs 21 minutes but it features four fine Porter songs from the show, including Hope singing "You Do Something to Me." At any excuse for a cue, a group of chorus girls and boys prance in to dance with that endearingly clunky style of early musicals.
By no means a miss, but not a smash hit. Fred Astaire's last leading man role in a movie musical By no means a miss, but not a smash hit. Fred Astaire's last leading man role in a movie musical By no means a miss, but not a smash hit. Fred Astaire's last leading man role in a movie musical By no means a miss, but not a smash hit. Fred Astaire's last leading man role in a movie musical

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