Cast & Crew
American producer Steve Canfield is in Paris to collaborate with leading Russian composer Peter Ilyitch Boroff on the score for his next picture, when Soviet commissars Brankov, Bibinski and Ivanov attempt to escort the composer back to Russia. To keep Boroff in Paris, Steve contests the composer's Russian citizenship by producing an affidavit disputing his parentage and insists that any conflict must be resolved in court. Despite their initial resistance, the gullible commissars readily accept the position of supervising the American/Russian collaboration when Steve suggests that assignment will win them promotions back in Moscow. As the commissars get settled in their luxurious royal suite, they sing a happy number expressing their "disappointment" about not returning to Moscow.
Weeks later, Boroff and the commissars are enjoying the pleasures of Paris when their extended absence causes the Soviet authorities to send one of their staunchest agents to return the men. The soldierly Ninotchka Yoschenko, dressed in uniform gray, meets the commissars in the hotel lobby, where her Communist sensibilities are immediately assaulted by the decadent interior, the amount of servile laborers and hotel advertising, which includes a display of silk stockings. Once in their suite, Steve shows Ninotchka the affidavit, but she insists on meeting Boroff's alleged French father. Steve then tries to charm the stern woman with tales of romantic Paris, but Ninotchka insists that she will not fall for the city's bourgeois propaganda.
Later that evening, Hollywood star Peggy Dayton arrives at the hotel, where a throng of reporters interview her about her role in Steve's picture based on War and Peace . Peggy, who once starred in swimming films, clumsily taps her waterlogged ears during the questioning. When the dimwitted actress' replies reveal that she is not prepared for a serious role, Peggy and Steve perform a comedic song and dance number explaining that Technicolor, CinemaScope and stereophonic sound, not acting, sell films.
The next morning, Steve escorts Ninotchka on a tour of the city, alternating between her interests in municipal boiler rooms and his flagrant attempts to entice her with shop windows and beauty salons. When they return to his hotel room that evening, Steve sets a romantic mood with low lights and music, but Ninotchka insists that romantic attraction is purely "electro-chemical." After Steve takes her in his arms for a waltz around the room, Ninotchka finally accepts his lead. Once a dancer, Ninotchka's enjoyment builds as the steps become more complicated and then culminate in a kiss.
Later, Steve suggests that Peggy use her feminine wiles to seduce Boroff into adapting his music to a popular style. Peggy then invites Boroff to a costume fitting, where she strips while asking him to consider lyrics for his music, effectively pacifying Boroff into accepting the idea.
Later that afternoon, Ninotchka, transformed by Steve's attention, locks herself in her room and exchanges her proletarian garments for Parisian lingerie. After luxuriating in the finery of stockings, slips and camisoles, Ninotchka changes into a sexy evening gown and joins Steve for a night on the town. When a giddy Ninotchka returns to the commissars' room at 2:00 am, the commissars confess that Boroff's "Ode to a Tractor" is being transformed into popular music for Steve's film. Contrary to their suspicions, Ninotchka is delighted by the idea and dismisses them. Now alone with Steve, Ninotchka raves about Paris' beauty, convinced that love, not utilitarianism, leads to happiness. The next day, prior to the initial film shoot, Steve suggests to Ninotchka that their meeting was fated and proposes to her. Swept away by their love, the two dance from one stage to another, finally arriving at the film's set. As Peggy begins singing a swinging version of Boroff's music, both Boroff and Ninotchka are insulted by the unrecognizably altered version. Steve defends the transformation, asserting that Americans make popular songs out of classical music for the public to enjoy. A defiant Ninotchka tells Steve that she is neglecting her duty because of her brief emotional attachment to him and decides to return to Russia immediately with Boroff and the commissars.
Months later in Russia, Boroff and the commissars, who have been saved from punishment by Ninotchka's favorable report, visit her at her apartment, a room created by curtains, which separate her from several dozen other tenants. Ninotchka shows the men Steve's letter, which has been so censored that only the greetings remain. Soon after, Boroff, now fascinated with "decadent" western music, begins to play his new popular composition on the piano prompting the tenants to pull back their curtains and join Ninotchka and the commissars in a frolicking dance.
Meanwhile, Steve devises a scheme in which the commissars are sent to Paris to sell Russian films, knowing that when they overstay their allotted time, Ninotchka will be assigned to retrieve them again. When she arrives in Paris, the commissars whisk Ninotchka away to their new Russian café, where Steve performs a dazzling top hat routine as the first act. The commissars hint that Steve will soon be married and explain that they have deserted the Soviet Union, in favor of sharing their Russian culture through the café. When a disappointed Ninotchka announces that she has no reason to remain in Paris and will return to Russia that night, Steve bursts into the room, revealing that he wrote the anonymous report on the commissars' extended absence in order to get her out of Russia and reminding her of the marriage proposal contained in his letters. Now realizing that Steve created the scheme out of his love for her, Ninotchka rips up her plane ticket and embraces him, while the commissars open another bottle of champagne to celebrate.
Marcel De La Brosse
Jean Del Val
Charles K. Hagedon
William A. Horning
Harold F. Kress
William B. Lee
Dr. Wesley C. Miller
Edwin B. Willis
On a more upbeat note, Silk Stockings did contain a first - for the brilliant producer Arthur Freed. It launched his independent production unit at the studio; no longer was he merely a higher echelon employee. From here on, Freed had a 25% profit participation deal with the studio with whom he helped define and even re-write the rules for the motion picture musical. That Silk Stockings turned out as memorable as it is remains a miracle, particularly to those intimately involved with the picture.
Silk Stockings was a Broadway smash that even its producers had little faith in. An updated version of the original movie that starred Greta Garbo (in her first comedy), the play, although directed and co-written by George S. Kaufman, tread in perilous political waters, appearing at the height of the Cold War. Yet, with a cast led by Don Ameche and Hildergarde Kneff, the stage remake garnered great word of mouth in previews and swept the New York critics and audiences off their highbrow feet. Most of the credit went to the man who wrote its witty score - Cole Porter. The songs, including the sensual "All of You", quickly became one of Porter's most popular creations and is still a standard today. But there were liberties taken with the original storyline of Ninotchka and one of the changes included jettisoning the character of Parisian gigolo Count Leon, the man who's hired to charm the Kremlin emissaries. In the play, he became an American film producer, negotiating for the services of an avant-garde composer.
Arthur Freed, who had helped back the play, decided that it would indeed make an excellent debut piece for his new production unit and set to work preparing it at the same time he was in pre-production on Gigi (1958). In addition, he loaned most of his old unit to Paramount emigre Roger Edens, who was in the process of preparing Funny Face (1957) with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. Meanwhile, Charisse and Astaire were pegged for the leads in Silk Stockings, with Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff as the three Moscow-ites converted to the pleasures of capitalism.
The choice of Rouben Mamoulian as director was another matter entirely and set the MGM executives into a tailspin. Mamoulian still had the studio smarting over his lavish musical remake of Ah, Wilderness! (1935). Released in 1948 as Summer Holiday, the Technicolor songfest went over budget and over schedule and died a quick death at the box office. Astaire, who had threatened retirement no less than three times, also voiced reservations about working with Mamoulian; in addition, he saw problems about the relationship between his character, now called Steve Canfield and Ninotchka, which he viewed as an uncomfortable May-December affair. A meeting with Mamoulian, wherein the director concurrently charmed the star while laying out his filmic interpretation successfully cured the dancer of any doubts - in that area.
Astaire still had qualms regarding Leonard Spigelgass' first draft and the Porter score, which he felt needed at least two more numbers. Freed agreed and writer Leonard Gershe, who was already getting raves for his solo work on Funny Face (which was still in post-production), was brought in to work on the Silk Stockings script. Veteran scribe Harry Kurnitz, a favorite of Howard Hawks, also came on board to spice up the dialogue and eliminate some of the grimmer aspects of the narrative (Ninotchka's military past where she regales her shocked listeners with tales of bayoneting her enemies in the stomach).
Astaire himself was elected to discuss the score with Cole Porter, and was alarmed by the composer's utter boredom with the matter. Porter, who once he finished a show considered it ancient history, was more interested in previewing his recently penned tunes for Les Girls (1957, an MGM musical being shot by George Cukor) for Astaire. Nevertheless, the songwriter perked up when an increasingly nervous Astaire asked about two additional numbers for the movie. Wanting to be "up to date," Astaire prevailed upon the composer to create something fresh and contemporary. The result, "Ritz Roll and Roll," which climaxed the picture, perfectly brought Astaire into the late 1950s doo-wop era while still kidding the star's "deco" roots. Porter's other contribution to the movie was "Fated to be Mated," which rapidly became another standard in his spectacular catalogue.
Meanwhile, Cyd Charisse, without whom there would be no Silk Stockings, was faced with problems of her own. As Fred Astaire stated in his biography, Steps in Time, the actress (whose singing voice was dubbed by Carol Richards in the film) "had no easy task following Garbo in that part but she did it beautifully, carrying a slight accent all through the piece. Her solo dances were outstanding. We had plenty of dances together, too, and they did not miss. That Cyd! When you've danced with her you stay danced with." Choreographer Eugene Loring revealed (in The World of Entertainment), that Charisse was "not a powerhouse, she just looks that way. In the 'Red Blues,' for instance, she looks like a dynamo. She has bursts of energy, not for long, and then she gives up. I had planned the shooting so that the tough stuff came in the morning when she was energetic and I'd do the easy scenes in the afternoon. So we had to shoot out of sequence." As for Charisse, she recalled the film in her dual memoir with her husband Tony Martin, The Two of Us: "One thing I'll always remember about Silk Stockings. On the day we began shooting, I went to my dressing room and there was a fabulous gift from Fred. He had sent me a cage full of the most beautiful finches, white ones with red beaks, representing the red theme of the movie. [Peter] Lorre was already a good friend of ours. He and Tony had worked together in Casbah (1948) some years before. We had often visited him and his wife, the nurse he married when she helped him lick his drug problem in Europe. But, during the shooting of Silk Stockings, he was having troubles again. He was using pills in alarming numbers. It was very sad to watch his decline. We all knew he was very sick even then."
One of the most fondly remembered moments in Silk Stockings is "Stereophonic Sound," Porter's hilarious take on the then on-going Hollywood battle against television with the luring of audiences back to the theaters through numerous audio and visual processes. In a case of Life imitating Art, Astaire, an astute observer of technology (he was an ardent 3-D still photographer) made Freed aware of his preferences. Almost mimicking Porter's lyrics, Astaire inquired of his producer, "Incidentally - are you using VistaVision or CinemaScope? " hinting that "Cinemascope "sends" me more than VV." Freed concurred, and Silk Stockings was exquisitely shot in CinemaScope and Eastman Color...and stereophonic sound.
For all of the studio's many concerns about the production, Mamoulian brought Silk Stockings in on time and on budget. It practically followed Funny Face into New York's famed Radio City Music Hall in the mid-summer of 1957, playing for two months before opening nationally. Crossing the age barriers, the movie became a huge hit with both older crowds and teenage audiences, grossing nearly 4 million dollars domestically (far surpassing its $1.9 million production cost). Perhaps The New York Times' Bosley Crowther said it best when he stated that "There should be legislation requiring that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse appear together in a musical picture at least once every two years (S)omebody should declare a holiday"
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Screenplay: Leonard Gershe, Abe Burrows, Leonard Spigelgass
Art Direction: Randall Duell, William Horning
Cinematography: Robert J. Bronner
Editing: Harold Kress
Music: Cole Porter, Andre Previn
Cast: Fred Astaire (Steve Canfield), Cyd Charisse (Ninotchka), Janis Paige (Peggy Dainton), Peter Lorre (Brankov), George Tobias (Vassili Markovitch), Jules Munshin (Bibinski), Joseph Buloff (Ivanov).
C-118m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Mel Neuhaus
Soundtracks - Silk Stockings
One of MGM's greatest musicals is Silk Stockings (1957), a song-filled remake of Ninotchka starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse with a score by the inimitable Cole Porter. The soundtrack album has long been a favorite among fans but now Rhino/Turner Classic Movies has made it even better by releasing an expanded and remastered CD. Previous editions had monophonic sound (except one in the 80s taken directly from the lower quality film audio) but the new disc is in true stereo from the original pristine masters. Appropriately enough, one of the tracks (sung by Astaire and Janis Paige) is the wonderful technology romp "Stereophonic Sound" which is surely the only song in history to mention the Todd-AO widescreen process.
The music on the Silk Stockings CD works quite well even without the visuals. Songs like "All of You," "It's a Chemical Reaction, That's All" and "Without Love" are real delights. Even the orchestral interludes are more than just time fillers, perhaps because they often were meant to accompany dances. You can even hear Peter Lorre sing on "Siberia"! Among the disc's 30 tracks are 18 previously unreleased ones. These include instrumental pieces like "Fred's Feet" and "Paris Montage" but also extended versions of "Too Bad" (additional dance material) and "Josephine" (added verses). One of the more interesting selections is an unused demo where Cyd Charisse sings "It's a Chemical Reaction, That's All" with piano by Andre Previn followed by a fully orchestrated version sun by Carole Richards (who actually supplied Charisse's singing voice in the finished film). The CD is rounded off by a nice booklet that has extensive background on the film's production and the music, illustrated by numerous rare stills.
Here's the complete track listing (including several CD bonus tracks)
Main Title - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
Fred's Feet - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
Too Bad (with alternate dance orchestration) - Fred Astaire, Joseph Buloff, Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin & Chorus
Close - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
Paris Loves Lovers - Fred Astaire & Carole Richards (for Cyd Charisse)
Stereophonic Sound - Fred Astaire & Janis Paige
Paris Montage - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
Paris Loves Lovers (instrumental) - members of The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
Easy To Love - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
It's A Chemical Reaction, That's All - Carole Richards (for Cyd Charisse)
All Of You - Fred Astaire
Medley: Love Of My Life/You Can Do No Wrong - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra Satin And Silk - Janis Paige
Silk Stockings - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
Without Love - Carole Richards (for Cyd Charisse)
I Feel Better Now - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
Medley: Fated To Be Mated (extended version)/All Of You - Fred Astaire & Cyd Charisse
Josephine (extended version) - Janis Paige
Siberia - Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin & Joseph Buloff
Cyd Leaves Paris - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
High Heeled Shoes - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
The Red Blues - Wim Sonneveld, Bill Lee, Jules Munshin & The M-G-M Studio Chorus
Oatmeal/Cyd Returns To Paris - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
All Of You (Vielli Russio) - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
The Ritz Roll And Rock - Fred Astaire & The M-G-M Studio Chorus
We Are Getting Married - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
Too Bad (reprise)/Finale - Jules Munshin, Peter Lorre & Joseph Buloff
It's A Chemical Reaction, That's All (unused demo) - Cyd Charisse with Andre Previ
n It's A Chemical Reaction, That's All (unused alternate orchestration) - Carole Richards (for Cyd Charisse)
In The Still Of The Night (Poodle Cafe) (outtake) - The M-G-M Studio Orchestra
To find out more about the SILK STOCKINGS CD or to purchase a copy, go to Rhino Records.
By Lang Thompson
JACK WEBB - JUST THE TRACKS, MA'AM: The Warner Brothers Recordings
Fans of singing celebrities have plenty to discover. Tucked away in musical corners are records by Tallulah Bankhead, Joey Bishop, Telly Savalas, Bruce Willis, William Shatner, the list is almost endless. But now you can pick up one of the more fascinating examples on CD: Jack Webb's Just the Tracks, Ma'am: The Warner Brothers Recordings (available only over the Web from http://www.rhinohandmade.com). Yep, it's Mr. Dragnet inviting you for a soothing evening.
The disc actually contains two albums. The first is You're My Girl: Romantic Reflections By Jack Webb from 1958. Webb doesn't actually sing so much as recite the lyrics of several standards ("But Beautiful," "Try a Little Tenderness") over a thick orchestral base provided by the legendary Billy May. While this might sound suspiciously cheesy, the album's pull-out-all-the-stops approach actually makes for a fascinating listening experience. The second album is more of an odd duck. Released less than a month after the previous album, Jack Webb Presents Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down was titled in reference to Webb's character from the film Pete Kelly's Blues though this isn't a soundtrack. Kelly is supposed to be a trumpet player and this album consists of 13 instrumentals, all supposedly related to a color ("Magenta," "Turquoise," "Periwinkle"). What if anything Webb contributed to the music is open to question since the band consists of several top-rate studio musicians like Matty Matlock, George Van Epps and others. This too could have been a disaster but instead turns out to be pleasant, mildly intriguing mood music.
For more information, visit visit Rhino Records.
By Lang Thompson
Soundtracks - Silk Stockings
"So you may have to persuade him"- Steve Canfield
"How can I persuade him if you can't ?"- Peggy Dayton
"Because we're built differently..."- Steve Canfield
After this film, Fred Astaire effectively retired from musicals, preferring to concentrate on non-musical roles, though he would produce several musical specials for TV in the next few years. Astaire wouldn't make another musical until 1968.
The film's opening title cards read: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents an Arthur Freed Production starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse in Silk Stockings." Melchior Lengyel's story Ninotchka was first used as the basis for the 1939 film by the same title starring Greta Garbo and directed by Ernst Lubitsch (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Actors Gregory Gaye and Rolfe Sedan appeared in both Ninotchka and Silk Stockings, although not in the same roles. On February 24, 1955, a musical stage version of the story, entitled Silk Stockings, with songs by Cole Porter, opened on Broadway, directed by Cy Feuer and starring Hildegard Neff and Don Ameche. According to a June 22, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, Porter and Feuer originally wanted Gloria DeHaven for the picture, presumably for the role played by Charisse. As noted in the May 20, 1957 Daily Variety review, Porter created two new compositions, "Fated to Be Mated" and "Ritz Roll and Rock," for the film to augment his original Broadway score. Two songs from the Broadway show were not included in the film: "Hail Bibinski" and "As Through the Seasons We Sail."
Like the Broadway musical, the film had some differences from the original story and film. In the original story, the three Russian envoys are in Paris to sell jewelry for money to buy tractors. The character "Ninotchka" is sent to retrieve them in Paris, where she meets a French aristocrat, instead of the Hollywood producer in the musical version. According to a biography of Silk Stockings Rouben Mamoulian, the director also lengthened several dance sequences to allow them to embody the emotional transformation of the characters.
Silk Stockings marked the second of two films in which Astaire and Charisse co-starred. Their first co-starring picture was the 1953 M-G-M musical The Band Wagon (see entry above). Although Astaire and Charisse also appeared in the 1946 M-G-M production of The Ziegfeld Follies (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50), they appeared in different sequences. Silk Stockings also marked the first time that Astaire worked with Barrie Chase, his dance partner on several television programs, beginning with the multiple-Emmy-winning 1958 special An Evening with Fred Astaire.
According to a biography of Astaire, choreographer Hermes Pan deliberately included acrobatics in the dance numbers to prove that the 57-year-old Astaire was still an athletic and talented dancer and a convincing love interest for the 35-year-old Charisse. In his autobiography, Astaire claims to have had the idea for the ironic twist on the "Ritz Rock and Roll" song and dance number in which "swells" interpret the new musical form. Another biography of the dancer claims that both Porter and Astaire were saddened by the growing popularity of rock and roll music, which Astaire referred to as having a "sameness" to it. Silk Stockings was Astaire's last film as the dancing debonair romantic lead for which he had become famous and was his last film for M-G-M until the 1974 historical compendium That's Entertainment. Silk Stockings was also the first film Mamoulian had directed in nine years and was his last.
During the duet "Stereophonic Sound," Astaire and Janis Paige's voices are over amplified while singing the chorus lines "stereophonic sound." As noted in the Daily Variety review, Silk Stockings marked the American film debut for Dutch actor Wim Sonneveld. A January 7, 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item adds ballerinas Pat Tribble, Gloria Stone, Sally Whalen, Charlene Baker, Iona McKenzie, Pat Wharton, Ann Mauldin and Francesca Balleni to the cast, and a December 6, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news items adds Florence Wyatt to the cast; however, their appearances in the film have not been confirmed. The first stage production of Ninotchka opened in Paris on April 4, 1950 and starred Sophie Desmarets and Henri Guisal. An ABC Special television production of Ninotchka aired on the network on April 20, 1960, directed by Tom Donovan and starring Maria Schell and Gig Young.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1957 New York Times Film Critics.
Released in United States 1997
Released in United States December 1990
Released in United States Summer July 1957
Shown at Norwegian Film Festival in Haugesund (Norwegian Film Institute Golden Aniversary) August 19-25, 1989.
Last completed film of director Rouben Mamoulian.
Musical remake of "Ninotchka" (1939) directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1997 (Shown in Los Angeles (Laemmle) as part of program "Makes Great Musicals: A Salute to MGM's Legendary Freed Unit" September 6 - December 21, 1997.)
Released in United States Summer July 1957
Selected in 1990 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States December 1990 (Shown in Los Angeles (Laemmle's Monica) as part of program "MGM Musical Festival" December 7-13, 1990.)