Silk Stockings Reviews
[i]Silk Stockings[/i] was originally produced on Broadway in 1955 with songs by Cole Porter. Broadway musicals are frequently based on popular films with varying results, on a scale of [i]Carrie[/i] to [i]42nd Street[/i]. I would guess [i]Silk Stockings[/i] falls somewhere in the middle. The cast album went out of print before I could get my hands on a copy so I've never heard the score as it was presnted on the stage.
[i]Ninotchka[/i] is just about perfect as a film, so the only reason for exploring [i]Silk Stockings[/i] is the work of Cole Porter. Sadly, this is not the Cole Porter of [i]Anything Goes[/i] or [i]Kiss Me, Kate[/i]. This is not even the Cole Porter of [i]Out of This World[/i]. This is the Cole Porter of [i]Can-Can, High Society[/i] and, well, [i]Silk Stockings[/i]. Which is to say that, while there are some good tunes, the overall quality of the score varies and never approaches the level of, say, "So in Love" or "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."
Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse are in the roles originated by Melvyn Douglas and Garbo, with a pair of silk stockings filling in for the couture hat as the symbol of excess capitalism. Nina/Ninotchka is sent from the Soviet Union to bring a Russian composer back from Paris, as well as the three yahoos already dispatched on the same mission. The three yahoos are played by Joseph Buloff, whose only other screen credit I recognize is as Joe Volski - a character I don't remember - in [i]Reds[/i]. The second yahoo is Jules Munshin, the Cromagnon man from [i]On the Town[/i]. The trio is filled out by Peter Lorre, proving that there is something worse for a great actor to do than playing opposite a seal in [i]20,000 Leagues Under the Sea[/i]. Sigh. Janis Paige is pretty damn funny as an American actress based on Esther Williams about to appear in her first non-swimming film, [i]War and Peace[/i].
Charisse is no Garbo* and maybe I just couldn't get past that fact. Sadly, director Rouben Mamoulian is no Lubitsch, despite his very Lubitschian [i]Love Me Tonight[/i] from 1932, one of the best screen musicals ever. Neither [i]Ninotchka[/i] nor Ninotchka are well musicalised. Charisse sings far too early in the proceedings for the character to work. I could understand her breaking out into song as an expression of throwing off the emotional restaints of Soviet ideology, but in her first scene with Astaire, she sings a counterpoint to his "Paris Loves Lovers" and it's just not believeable, even in the realm of the musical. On the flip side, the character is beautifully explored in a solo dance by Charisse where she strips off her grey commie frock and black (woolen?) stockings and dresses herself in Parisian couture, silk stocking and all. It's a really beautiful expression of character and the film almost won me over entirely. Then Ninotchka goes back to the Soviet Union, [i]where she and her comrades break out into [/i]"The Red Blues." I actually had to turn on the closed captioning because I just couldn't believe that that was an actual Cole Porter song. There's also the dreadful "Ritz Roll and Rock" and the "Always True to You" retread "It's Chemistry, That's All." Sigh.
Astaire does well enough in his last starring role in a musical. His dances, choreographed by Hermes Pan (the rest were by Eugene Loring) from the RKO days with Ginger, make the movie. He's reteamed with Charisse from [i]The Band Wagon[/i] and they work together beautifully. Which brings me to my recommendation. Rent [i]Silk Stockings[/i] on DVD. Jump ahead to any song that doesn't feature Peter Lorre except "The Red Blues" which must be seen to be believed. Ignore the rest of the film. Then wait for [i]Ninotchka[/i] to be released on DVD. You're time will be better spent.
There you have it, kids. Six paragraphs on a movie musical I didn't really like and that put me to sleep. Welcome to Rodolfanadu.
*Charisee played another Garbo role when she replaced Liliane Montevecchi as Grusinskaya in the Broadway musical [i]Grand Hotel[/i].