SILK STOCKINGS was based on the Cole Porter Broadway musical; the musical in turn was based on the Melchior Lengyel story which was the basis for MGM's 1939 comedy hit NINOTCHKA (1939), starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.
Close to two decades after Garbo's success as Ninotchka, MGM obtained the Broadway rights for SILK STOCKINGS and resurrected the story for one of the studio's last big musicals. In fact, this was the final MGM musical in which Astaire starred in the leading role. Watching him in a succession of dances, a viewer would be hard pressed to believe the man was nearly 60!
Astaire plays Steve Canfield, a movie producer who plans to film his latest musical in Paris. The movie will feature addlepated swimming star Peggy Dayton (Janis Paige), who can no longer swim due to ear troubles, and the score will be written by Russian composer Boroff (Wim Sonneveld).
Unfortunately the Soviet Union wants its composer back, and three commissars (Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff) are sent to Paris to retrieve the composer and bring him back behind the Iron Curtain. Instead the three men fall in love with Paris and invent reasons to remain in the city. Soviet Commissar Markovitch (George Tobias, reprising his Broadway role) then sends straight-laced Ninotchka (Charisse) to Paris to herd everyone home from the City of Light.
Given all the talents involved, including director Rouben Mamoulian, I've always felt SILK STOCKINGS could have been better. At times it feels underdeveloped, not to mention silly; for instance, I like Janis Paige, but her character seems like a bit of a tacked-on misfire here who's not essential to the story.
Nor does the bland Metrocolor photography by Robert Bronner help; the movie's Paris is strictly a backlot affair, filmed in muted hues.
Porter's score is not his best, though it has some moments, with "All of You" a classy standout. A plus in this department is the film's typically lush MGM sound, with Andre Previn conducting Conrad Salinger's orchestrations.
Despite my criticisms, the movie has stood up to numerous viewings by me over the years. I find Charisse's deadpan line readings amusing, and there is some simply splendid dancing, including two of my all-time favorite MGM musical numbers, "Fated to Be Mated" and "Red Blues."
The former number, choreographed by Hermes Pan, is a bouncy dance for Astaire and Charisse through a succession of movie sets; it's pure joy which leaves the viewer smiling as broadly as Astaire and Charisse do in their final clinch. (And watch for Charisse's skirt to magically change to culottes!) "Red Blues," choreographed by Eugene Loring, is a high-energy dance with some terrific fancy footwork by Charisse. Both dances make great use of the film's widescreen Cinemascope framing.
In the end, SILK STOCKINGS provides 117 minutes mostly spent in the company of Astaire and Charisse, and that's a good enough reason for me to pull this film off the shelf for another look every so often. Those who feel the same way will enjoy this new release.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a good-looking, clean print; it may not be as dazzling as some of the Archive's other recent Blu-ray releases, but I attribute that more to the fact that the film's color wasn't especially vibrant in the first place.
The extras from the 2003 DVD were reproduced on the Blu-ray, including a featurette, shorts, and a trailer.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop.