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Silk Stockings – Rouben Mamoulian

Submitted by on January 20, 2011 – 1:41 amNo Comment

A Cold War commentary on Soviet-American relations, Rouben Mamou­lian’s Silk Stockings also develops the theme of an individual’s emotional awakening and lightly satirizes the popular entertainment of the 1950’s. Based on the film Ninotchka (1939) by way of the 1955 stage play Silk Stockings, the film not only serves as a showcase for the dancing of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, but also reflects the political, social, and cultural values of the times. Politically, the film captures the stereotypes of Communist and capitalist ideologies that pervaded much of American culture. Socially, Silk Stockings celebrates an American view of warm femininity contrasted with the cold, brusque manner attributed to Russian women: Culturally, it reacts to the trend in motion pictures toward extravaganza and to a new musical form, rock and roll. Throughout, the musical numbers choreographed by Hermes Pan and Eugene Loring effectively provide continuity in plot, un­derscore the film’s thematic import, and graphically portray the awakening experience.

Although the film mirrors American values, the setting is elegant Paris, whose luxuriant decadence provides an antithesis to bleak Soviet life. During a concert tour in the French city, acclaimed Soviet composer-pianist Peter Ilyitch Boroff (Wim Sonneveld) is persuaded by American film producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) to write the music for his new film, supposedly a version of War and Peace. This production will inaugurate the serious film career of Peggy Dayton (Janis Paige), already well-known to moviegoers as “America’s swimming sweetheart.” The Soviet government, upset by Bor­on impending defection, sends -Brankov (Peter Lorre), Bibinski (Jules Munshin), and Ivanov (Joseph Buloff) to effect his return to Moscow. But Canfield introduces the three to the pleasures of wine, women, and song in capitalistic Paris, and they forget their mission. Meanwhile, back in Moscow, Vassili Markovitch (George Tobias) has become Minister of Culture in one of the characteristically abrupt changes in regime said to define Soviet pol­itics. Reflecting the hypocrisy of the Communist system, the minister’s busi­nesslike exterior is belied by his less than businesslike interest in one of the ballerinas under his charge. But now he faces the task of sending someone to retrieve the wayward Boroff and the three errant emissaries. The assign­ment falls to Ninotchka (Cyd Charisse), who appears before him in the drab garb of Soviet officialdom named Yoshenko, spouting Communist and an­tiindividualist rhetoric and exhibiting an impressive portfolio of credentials.

After Yoshenko arrives in Paris, Canfield tries to convince her by means of a falsified affidavit that Boroff s father was a French traveling salesman, thus making Boroff a French citizen. A day’s tour of Paris with Canfield makes no dent in the comrade’s severity. Although Canfield emphasizes the romantic beauty of Paris, she is interested only in mills and factories. How­ever, later that evening in his hotel room, Canfield introduces Comrade Yoshenko to emotional warmth. Though she asserts that love is merely a chemical reaction, Canfield proves her wrong with the concrete illustrations of dance, kiss, and the song “All of You.” Under his spell, Comrade Yoshenko begins to awaken and to doff Soviet impersonality and conformity for Western individuality. She becomes Ninotchka.

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