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Friday, 2 January 2015

Classic Film Review: Silk Stockings (1957)

Silk Stockings, a musical adaptation of Ninotchka, stars Cyd Charisse as Ninotchka, a Soviet Agent sent to Paris to retrieve three fellow agents and a composer who have found living in the city preferable to returning home. Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) is eager to keep the composer in France to finish his film and gently persuades Ninotchka that Western decadence isn't all that bad. The film also stars Peter Lorre as Brankov, Jules Munshin as Bibinski and Janis Paige as Peggy.

A film like this naturally relies on stereotypes, some of which are still humorous but some of which have grown stale over the years. Nevertheless, it's entertaining enough with the straight-laced Ninotchka providing a good foil to the rest of the eccentric company for much of the film. Jules Munshin is excellent as the leader of the three agents in Paris while Janis Paige shines in her role as actress Peggy. My criticism of the Peggy strand of the narrative is that she just disappears and I would've liked to see more of her at the end of the film, particularly after her show-stopping (quite literally) number 'Josephine'.

The songs in Silk Stockings aren't some of Cole Porter's best known but they are witty, enjoyable and beautifully choreographed. 'Satin and Silk', another Janis Paige number, is bouncy enough, though it has to be 'Stereophonic Sound', a duet by Astaire and Paige as they satirise the conventions of modern movies, that steals the show. Cyd Charisse's singing is dubbed as usual but her dancing is phenomenal, with her dance to the title song comparable to a religious experience in some ways. She's utterly captivating, even if this is one of those films where Fred Astaire's age-gap relationships become slightly unsettling. Astaire himself is on-form with his dancing skills and wit and the cast works well together, even if the billing of Peter Lorre is a little generous considering the amount of time he's on screen.

Ultimately, two things linger from this film for me - the brilliance of Cole Porter's song 'Stereophonic Sound' and the beauty of Cyd Charisse's metamorphosis via the medium of dance. Here are both of them for you to sample...

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