I don’t think there’s a musical that I enjoy watching more than Silk Stockings.
Released in 1957, the movie co-stars Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Janis Page, and Peter Lorre in what could be the best musical adaption of a film that originally wasn’t meant to be one.
The film follows Fred Astaire‘s character, an American producer named Steve Canfield, as he travels to Russia to convince musician Peter Illyich Boroff (played by Wim Sonneveld) to compose some music for his new movie that is being shot in Paris. After some coaxing, Boroff agrees and starts working on Canfield’s score. A few weeks and many pieces of paper later, Boroff finishes Canfield’s request. The only problem is, Boroff doesn’t want to return to his homeland.
This doesn’t go over too well in Russia. To fix this, three incompetent commissars played by Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, and Joseph Buloff are sent over to Paris bring him back to the motherland. Brankov, Bibinski, and Ivanov, as they’re called, try to do the best they can to return Boroff back to Russia.
Steve Canfield has other ideas.
To prevent his composer from returning to that ice-filled abyss that is Russia, he comes up with a very clever excuse. Steve, ingeniously tells them that his friend Boroff isn’t really who he says he is. According to Steve, he’s found an affidavit that disputes Peter’s Russian heritage and that they need to go to court to resolve the issue.
Being the bumbling numpties that they are, the trio believes the lie and lets Boroff stay.
Steve spends the next couple of weeks exposing the three commissars to Western culture.
Women, nightclubs, French champagne, you name it.
Back in Russia, they get word that their commissars are having an extended Parisian ‘holiday.’ Worried and frustrated (as most Soviets were) they send a militant, “homely” looking women named Ninotchka (ha ha!) Yoschenko played by Cyd Charisse to drag all four of the men home.
(I put homely in quotations because it’s Cyd Charisse, there’s absolutely nothing homely about her! But, in this film, she was supposed to be, oh well!)
Ninotchka walks into their hotel’s lobby and, immediately, her Communist sensibilities begin to get assaulted. She shocked at what she sees; servile laborers, a lavish interior, and an advertisement that happens to be selling silk stockings. After recovering from that shock, she finds Boroff’s suite (with Steve inside) she instantly asks him to see the affidavit.
Steve tries to woo her, hoping to divert her attention away from her investigation with tales of late nights in Paris. Ninotchka refuses his advances, claiming they were part of the West’s “bourgeois propaganda.” The next morning, Steve semi-successfully seduces Ninotchka when she, begrudgingly, agrees to let him take her on a tour of Paris.
He makes sure that the trip is tailored to her interests while also managing to sneak a few beauty store locations in the itinerary with the hope of enticing her.
When the pair returns Steve’s hotel room later that night, Canfield tries to set the mood with romantic music and low lighting.
When that doesn’t work, Steve takes Ninotchka into his arms and starts dancing with her. She struggles against his lead for a few moments then, subsequently, starts moving to the rhythm, eventually succumbing to his advances. Being a dancer, Ninotchka quickly picks up Steve’s steps. Their close proximity culminates in a kiss, and her cold, Communist exterior slowly melts away.
Fearing that she’s getting too emotionally attached to Steve and that she’s neglecting her duties, Ninotchka decides to return to Russia with Boroff and the three commissars.
A few months later, Ninotchka receives a letter from Steve. She invites the three commissars and Boroff into her apartment and tries to read it to them, but, so much of it has been redacted that only Steve’s name, greeting, and the ending remains on the sheet of paper. Disappointed, Boroff finds a piano and starts to play the composition he wrote for Steve in Paris.
Overcome with joy, Ninotchka starts leaping through her apartment, showing that she’s been ‘corrupted’ by her stay in that “Western hell-hole” that is France.
Back in Paris, Steve is concocting a plan to get Ninotchka, Boroff and the three commissars back to his hotel room. His scheme involves getting the commissars back to Paris to sell Russian films. He hopes that the three will overstay their welcome again and that Ninotchka will be forced to come back and retrieve them.
Surprisingly, the plan works and the four of them return Paris.
The rest of the movie sees Ninotchka and Steve fall in love and get married, Boroff, ultimately, accepting Western culture, Brankov, Bibinski, and Ivanov standing up to their higher ups and finally, everyone ends up living happily ever after in Paris.
The Wicked Fun Dancing Sequences
Oh, boy, where do I begin?
This film is astonishingly fun to watch. There are so many entertaining musical numbers in this movie, I don’t think I can count them on one hand.
The one number I keep on coming back to is this scene: here. It’s Cyd Charisse as Ninotchka just kicking back, and letting loose. In the movie, she plays this stuffy character that is no nonsense, the fact that she’s able to have this moment of rapturous joy just by dancing is phenomenal.
Next, of course, is Fred Astaire. We couldn’t possibly talk about this movie without discussing him. There’s this musical number where he dances alongside the lead actress in his movie, Peggy, played by Janis Page that is absolutely a riot (in a good way.) In the scene, they’re explaining that in order to sell movies, you need Technicolor, CinemaScope, and stereophonic sound, not good acting. It sounds absurd but, it couldn’t be more entertaining. If you like, you could watch it: here.
If you want to see more, here’s a list of honorable mentions:
All in all, Silk Stockings is a fabulous film to choose for this blogathon. Yeah, the plot could get confusing at times, but, for what the plot lacks more than makes up for in its musical numbers.