Wednesday 6 June 2007

Silk Stockings (1957) Rouben Mamoulian

I feel almost guilty watching a movie called Silk Stockings while my better half is elsewhere on babysitting duty. After all, with a title like Silk Stockings it has to be a porn film, right? Well, in 2004 it was but this is the 1957 musical version of Ninotchka, starring Fred Astaire and Peter Lorre. Now it may be a musical but that's a strange combination of stars and story and not one that's easily ignored.

Astaire is an American movie producer called Steve Canfield, who is in Paris to work with a Russian composer, Peter Boroff. He wants Boroff to write the score for his new movie, to star the world famous musical swimming star Peggy Dayton. Unfortunately the Russians want him to come back to Moscow, because this is the era of Lenin and the Soviet Union and it's just unthinkable that he should be involved in such a capitalistic project. So they send three commisars to return him to Russia, but they're notably inept and soon fall for Canfield's charms. French mademoiselles and an opulent suite is all it takes, but the Russian response is yet another envoy. This one is Ninotchka Yoschenko, a cute little battleaxe of a woman who will not be so easy to win over, but naturally Canfield is more than willing to try.

My first impression was that Fred Astaire was getting old. After all this is the same year as Funny Face and two before On the Beach. My second impression was that Peter Lorre seems very out of place, not in comedy but just in this film, doing half hearted Cossack dances between a chair and a table while his fellow commisars tumble over the couch with beautiful young ladies. Cyd Charisse does a fair Garbo impression and Janis Paige isn't bad at all pretending to be Ginger Rogers. She also gets the first song to grab my attention, a clever Cole Porter duet called Stereophonic Sound that points out that nobody wold care nowadays to go to see any of the classic stars unless they could experience them in 'glorious technicolor, breathtaking cinemascope and stereophonic sound'.

My last major impression was that a lot of what made me hate Funny Face so much was still present here in Silk Stockings. I'm all for getting Ninotchka to loosen up, put the interests of the state behind her every once in a while and actually enjoy life. I just see enjoyment beyond French poodles, hairdressing and diamonds. Astaire is also still as creepy making overtures to Cyd Charisse as he was to Audrey Hepburn. He was 58 in 1957, however well he could move, while Hepburn was 28 and Charisse was 36. At least he didn't force Charisse into anything. He tried though.

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