Looking up Silk Stockings on Google informs us that it was released at the fag end of the ‘Hollywood Musical’ era. MGM lost a lot of money on it, and both Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse retired from musicals after it.
But seeing the movie 60 years later it is easier to sit back and enjoy the spectacle and revel in the brilliance of its stunning stars, perhaps shedding a tear when Fred flattens his iconic top hat in the last song of the movie, a symbolic coda to his career.
Silk Stockings is based on a Broadway musical of the same name, which was based on a 1939 movie named Ninotchka that starred Greta Garbo which was based on a play of that name.
What exactly was gained or lost in these multiple adaptations I’m not sure, but what we get is a largely light-hearted comedy that does not, however, shy away from some pointed humour at the expense of both communist Russia and frivolous Hollywood.
Fred Astaire plays Steve Canfield, a producer determined to have his new movie’s score composed by Ivan Boroff (Wim Sonneveld). But mother Russia is not too pleased about their national treasure dawdling in Paris and being associated with such a commercial, capitalist endeavour as a Hollywood movie. The Culture ministry sends three commissars to track down and retrieve Boroff. Canfield throws enough food, drink and women at them to seduce them into staying in Paris and permit Boroff to make the movie. Further enticement is offered in the form of Peggy Dayton (Janis Paige) the brassy, sexy star of the movie who plays a parody version of Esther Williams (Given that Williams was also contracted to MGM, she probably couldn't do anything about it, but I can only imagine she was incensed).
|Canfield salts the mine|
Back in Moscow, the enraged ministry sends down its best agent to find out what’s going on – Nina Yoschenko, played by Cyd Charisse.
|The Capitalist and the Comrade|
The ice-cold Comrade Yoschenko finds herself melting under the influence of Canfield, who also learns a thing or two from her, and as the movie takes its course, we are treated to a series of set-piece and non-set-piece numbers from all the cast. Cole Porter’s genius scored this musical, and while it may not be his best work, it maintains a fine standard throughout.
An ageing Astaire, after carrying co-stars through most of his career, allows Charisse to steal the show for most of this one, and steal it she does.
You see, the thing you have to understand about Cyd Charisse is that while other women have legs, she had Legs.
Beautiful in the drab Comrade’s trench-coats, she is absolutely divine after her transformation, with the silent sequence where she tries on the titular Silk Stockings for the first time being an exercise in elegant sensuality that perhaps only she herself could emulate.
As the movie winds down to its logical end, the last gasp of a dying Hollywood Tradition shows itself to be still capable of generating enough of a spectacle to entertain and enthral.
Silk Stockings may not be in the class of The Band Wagon and Singin’ In the Rain, but it stands well on its own. Worth an indulgent look-see.
|Who said them Comrades can't dance?|