The last MGM musical for both Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, Silk Stockings, while definitely a minor effort, is pleasant and diverting, an agreeable way to pass a couple of hours. Drawn from the classic Greta Garbo/Ernst Lubitsch comedy Ninotchka, Stockings retains that earlier effort's basic story line and adds an engaging if lightweight Cole Porter score. The songwriter's wit and inimitable way with a phrase are shown to good effect in numbers such as "Stereophonic Sound," which satirizes the then-current effort to lure audiences to cinemas via technical innovations; "Josephine," in which you learn that Napoleon's lover was "commonly called Jo;'" and "All of You," in which Astaire tells Charisse he likes "the lure of you" and wants to take "a tour of you." As always, Astaire is charming, sympathetic, and believable, and -- even at 57 -- is still an unparalleled dancer. Charisse has her best role in this film, and while she may not erase memories of Garbo, she still shines. Her dance to the lushly arranged title track is a special triumph. Janis Paige makes the most of her two big numbers, and Peter Lorre's rare comic performance is a real prize. Rouben Mamoulian's direction is solid. All Stockings lacks is a real reason for being a musical; without that basic spark, it has to settle for being likable and entertaining but no more.
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Silk Stockings, a musical version of the 1939 Greta Garbo film Ninotchka, was adapted for the stage by George S. Kaufman, Leueen McGrath (the then-Mrs. Kaufman) and Abe Burrows, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The Broadway production, starring Hildegarde Neff and Don Ameche, ran 478 performances. The 1957 film version cast Fred Astaire as a movie producer and Cyd Charisse as dedicated communist functionary Ninotchka. In the original 1939 film, Ninotchka was sent from Mother Russia to Paris to check up on three commissars, who in turn had been ordered to retrieve a fortune in Czarist jewels. This time the commissar trio, played by Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff, have been dispatched to Paris to reclaim defecting Soviet composer Wim Sonneveld. Since Astaire wants the composer to write the songs for his newest musical, he plies the commissars with wine, women and song, dissuading them from their mission. When Ninotchka shows up to retrieve the errant Russians, Astaire turns on the old charm with her as well. She gradually succumbs to the combined lures of romance and capitalism, but returns to Russia when she believes that Astaire has thrown her over for film-star Janis Paige (delivering a hilarious take-off of swimming star Esther Williams). But Astaire convinces her that he truly loves her, and all is well. Most of the Cold-War comedy in the Broadway production of Silk Stockings remains intact in the movie version (Soviet official George Tobias, seeking information on his predecessor, looks up the man's record in "Who's Still Who"). Also surviving virtually untouched is the Cole Porter score, including "All Of You," "A Chemical Reaction," "Without Love," "Satin and Silk," "The Red Blues," "Stereophonic Sound," and the rollicking "Siberia" (which offers the spectacle of a singing, dancing Peter Lorre!) Watch for Fred Astaire's future TV-special partner Barrie Chase as one of the dancers.
All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
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