On July 18, 1957, one of the last great Hollywood movie musicals premiered in theaters. Silk Stockings, a song-and-dance remake of Ninotchka, starred Fred Astaire as Steve Canfield, the Paris-based director of a new production for aquatic movie star (think Esther Williams) Peggy Daiton (Janis Paige): a musical adaptation of War and Peace. Steve enlists Russian composer Peter Boroff (Wim Sonneveld) to compose the score, but the Russians want Boroff back. Commisars Brankov (Peter Lorre), Bibinski (Jules Munshin), and Ivanov (Joseph Buloff) are dispatched to persuade Buloff to return, but succumb to the pleasures of decadent, capitalistic Paris themselves (with help from Steve). The Russians back home then up the ante with their “secret weapon”: special agent Ninotchka Yoschenko, who personally puts the “cold” in the Cold War. Cyd Charisse takes on the role of Ninotchka, originally played by Greta Garbo in the 1939 version. Will Steve win Ninotchka over? Will Peggy’s movie career make the transition from pool to steppe? Will Brankov, Bibinski, and Ivanov settle for bad vodka after tasting French champagne?
Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse as they appear in “Silk Stockings.”
With Astaire and Charisse, we know there will be great dance numbers, and Cole Porter’s score provides plenty of humor and opportunities for dazzling footwork. Silk Stockings was Astaire’s last movie musical; his hint for this post-release announcement was smashing his signature top hat in his final solo number, The Ritz Rock and Roll (a parody of the emerging musical genre). Cyd, while an actress not quite up to par with Garbo (a tall order), shined as brightly as the City of Lights in her dance numbers. She held her own with Astaire (another tall order). She also partnered well with Gene Kelly in several films, including Singin’ in the Rain, Brigadoon, and It’s Always Fair Weather. Charisse had previously paired with Astaire in Ziegfeld Follies and The Bandwagon. The beautiful (former) Tula Ellice Finklea from Amarillo, Texas was able to make a wonderful new name for herself in America’s movie star elite.
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Evening Standard/Getty Images