Musical Monday: Silk Stockings (1957)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Silk Stockings (1957) – Musical #50


Rouben Mamoulian

Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Janis Paige, Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, George Tobias, Wim Sonneveld, Barrie Chase (uncredited)

Russian composer Peter Illyich Boroff (Sonneveld) is living and working in Paris, France. Film producer Steve Canfield (Astaire) plans to use Boroff as the composer for his upcoming musical film, but this is complicated when three comrades from Russia — Comrades Brankov (Lorre), Bibinski (Munshin) and Ivanov (Buloff) — come to Paris to take Boroff back to Russia. However, Canfield steps in and charms the comrades with the highlights of Paris in the spring. Russia sends Ninotchka Yoschenko (Charisse) to Paris to bring Boroff and the comrades home, and Canfield works to charm her with Paris as well.

– A musical remake of “Ninotchka” (1939)
– This is an adaptation of the 1955 Broadway musical “Silk Stockings,” written by George S. Kaufman, Leueen MacGrath, and Abe Burrows with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The Broadway musical was based on “Ninotchka.”
– Cole Porter wrote the song “Ritz Rock and Roll” specifically for the film, according to the book Dance’s Duet with the Camera: Motion Pictures
– Choreographed by Eugene Loring and Hermes Pan.
– Produced by Arthur Freed
– Gregory Gaye and George Tobias were both in the original “Ninotchka” film
– Cyd Charisse dubbed by Carol Richards

– Janis Paige
– The Technicolor

Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse Silk Stockings, the remake of Ninotchka

Notable Songs:
– “Stereophonic Sound” performed by Fred Astaire and Janis Paige
– “All of You” performed by Fred Astaire

My review:
Musical remakes of 1930s and 1940s comedies was a phenomenon in the 1950s — from “The Awful Truth” to “Philadelphia Story.”

And Ernst Lubitsch’s “Ninotchka” (1939) fell into the mix of being recreated as a Technicolor, Arthur Freed musical. In the 1939 film, the issue that causes Ninotchka to arrive deals with selling the jewels of a grand duchess. In this musical film, the plot follows a composer, who is going to score a film, and being sent back to his home of Russia.

This musical version didn’t originate on screen. Lubitsch’s story was first adapted in 1955 as a stage musical with music by Cole Porter. Many, but not all, of the songs are used in the film. Cole Porter is one of the greatest American songwriters that every lived, but this music isn’t his best. For example, I’m not a fan of the songs “Too Bad (We Can’t Go Back to Moscow)”, “Satin and Silk”, “Josephine” and “Siberia.” (But Peter Lorre being in a musical number for “Too Bad” and “Too Bad” is great). However, the song “Stereophonic Sound” knocks it out of the park. I almost want to give it a standing ovation after watching the number. To me, that number (and Janis Paige) is the highlight.

The dancing in the film is also gorgeous, particularly the duets with Charisse and Astaire.

Since the movie deals with Hollywood, there are some Hollywood jokes. For example, Janis Paige’s character is Peggy Dayton is a former “swimming star,” which is a joke on Esther Williams.

I do think this version of the “Ninotchka” story is interesting, because of the United States relations with Russia during both times. In 1939, the USSR and the U.S. were allies. But by 1957, the two were enemies and the Cold War was in full force.

But one thing I don’t like about the film, or other remakes/musical remakes, is when scenes and dialogue are pulled and delivered straight from the original. For example, some lines from the original Ninotchka are delivered and the scene of blindfolded Ninotchka waiting for the “firing squad” and falling down when she hears a champagne cork pop is a straight from the 1939 version. That generally bugs me, because I feel like a remake should deliver as much new content as possible and not a rehash.

When I first saw this musical in high school, I remember feeling very disappointed. Rewatching it now, I enjoyed it more. It is extremely colorful, and while it has a few clunkers of songs, it is a fairly fun musical. It just isn’t one of Arthur Freed’s best.

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Confessions of a VHS User

222 classic movies on VHS tapes

Recently my mother told me that we had an estimated 222 movies taped off of Turner Classic Movies. Why you ask?

Every month I flip through the “Turner Classic Movie Now Playing Guide” and make a list of 20 to 50 movies to tape.

Our family owns a DVR but we use VHS tapes, because they hold more, are reusable and usually give us higher quality.

I tape so many movies so I can fulfill the many lists I have made to organize my old movie obsessions.

Here is a very brief summary of the lists I have so far:
-Movie Musical list: I have currently seen 374 musicals. I started this list back in 2004 when I was in 9th grade.  This includes any movie musical I have seen, new or old; anything from a Kay Kyser musical to “Chicago.”
-Silent Movie list: This currently only has 40 movies. I only started really getting interested in silent films in late 2008 and just started the list in March 2010.
-Screen teams: This is a list of famous screen teams such as Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland, Myrna Loy and William Powell, Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.  I try to see all of the movies the screen teams were in together.
-Movies Series: Similarly to the Screen Teams list, I am trying to see all the movies in certain film series such as Andy Hardy, Dr. Kildaire and Maisie.
-Actresses Lists: I have 47 actresses that I am trying to see all of their movies. A few of these are Jean Arthur, Bette Davis and Kay Francis. So far I’ve only seen all of Judy Garland’s movies.
-Actors Lists: Similar to the actress list, except with 19 actors. Lists include Van Johnson, Dana Andrews and George Brent.

Recently, I have started a rather ambitious list. It is all of the movies from 1939- a total of 514 movies and I have only seen 84.

“The Rains Came”: 20th Century Fox’s contribution to the 1939 royalty

The year of 1939 is important not just for “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind,” but it also birthed other well known movies such as “Ninotchka,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” “Stagecoach” and “The Grapes of Wrath.”

It’s amazing to look at all of the films that came out during what is known as “Hollywood’s Greatest Year,” and I was inspired to try to see all of them.

Turner Classic Movies showed a documentary in the summer of 2009 called “1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year.” The documentary said the reason this year was profitable was the United States was slowly getting out of the depression and the film companies were able to fund bigger projects.

However, this glory only lasted one year.  Two years later World War II hit, actors were drafted and America and Hollywood put their efforts toward the war on the home front and overseas. Once the war was over, the tone of America and movies changed from light and happy 1930s films to darker and angsty melodramas, according to the documentary.

In a way, this is why I want to make the list. I feel like when people hear 1939, they think of “Gone with the Wind” or “Wizard of Oz,” but there were so many other special movies that year. I want to see if the other films that you don’t hear about have that same magic. Who knows, once I finish watching all 514 movies maybe I’ll try my hand at writing a book.

Making the list took maybe three days, however I know that the watching process will take much longer. I’m worried about being able to track some of the movies and making it through low budget crime movies.

Wish me luck!

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