SILK STOCKINGS ($20) is one of the last truly great musicals made by MGM in their heyday of the 1950s. And while SILK STOCKINGS is indeed a personal favorite, there isn’t a bit of bias in my opinion, because this is a movie that had everything going for it. First of all, SILK STOCKINGS is a musical adaptation of the classic Lubitsch screen comedy NINOTCHKA. Second, SILK STOCKINGS features incredibly delightful songs, which were composed by the incomparable Cole Porter. Finally, there is the film’s superb cast that includes movie musical legends Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse (in their final musical roles for MGM), as well as (a scene stealing) Peter Lorre, Janis Paige, George Tobias and Jules Munshin.
Set in Paris during the 1950s, SILK STOCKINGS tells the story of Ninotchka Yoschenko (Cyd Charisse), a Russian Special Envoy who is sent to the decadent western city to reign in a famous Russian composer that was seduced by the city of lights, as well as three Commissars that were initially sent after him. At the center of Ninotchka's problem is Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire), an American movie producer, who has tapped the Russian composer to score an upcoming motion picture starring swimming musical star Peggy Dayton (Janis Paige). Of course, a Russian composer can play no part in such a capitalist enterprise, which intensifies Ninotchka’s resolve to bring her wayward comrades home to Mother Russia. However, the slick producer has other ideas, and Steve quickly begins chipping away at Ninotchka's stony Soviet bred resolve.
SILK STOCKINGS is one of those movies that I would have to classify as a perfect confection. Every frame of the film has an effortless, lighter than air quality that holds up to repeated viewings. Fred Astaire was the absolute master of the dance, who made each and every one of his partners look brilliant, maybe none more so than Cyd Charisse- the two of them together are absolute magic. Speaking of magic, the songs Cole Porter’s composed for SILK STOCKINGS find him at his effervescent best. I personally love Stereophonic Sound, Too Bad, Satin and Silk, Red Blues, All of You, Paris Loves Lovers and Siberia. The only thing about SILK STOCKINGS that may not fly as well as it once did, are the jokes pertaining to Soviet Russia. While those of my generation and older will find the material to be rather humorous, younger generations will probably be left scratching their heads at some of the references.
Warner Home Video has made SILK STOCKINGS available on DVD in a marvelous-looking 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The film element used for the transfer is in excellent shape, displaying very few minor blemishes and little perceivable grain. Optical fades are the only real weakness in the presentation- appearing a bit soft, as well as displaying ever so slightly weaker colors. The image itself is relatively sharp and rather nicely defined. Colors were by MetroColor and lack the brilliance of the IB Technicolor process. For the most part, the hues have a very pleasant pastel tone, while the flesh tones have a uniformity best associated with a makeup man's kit. Stronger colors are present from time to time and appear completely stable, without noise or smearing. Blacks appear accurate, whites are clean and contrast is generally smooth. Depth of field is pretty good considering the CinemaScope lenses of the style in which the movie was photographed to show off the wide screen process. Digital compression artifacts remain out of sight during the presentation.
For this release, SILK STOCKINGS has been upgraded to a Dolby digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Although the recordings are circa 1957, fidelity is pretty nice, lacking harshness in the higher frequencies and a decent bottom end. The music and musical numbers have nice stereo imaging, as well as providing a wraparound effect in the rear channels. Dialogue is very cleanly rendered, although one will notice an immediate acoustical difference between the spoken dialogue and song lyrics that come within an instant of one another. A French monaural track is also encoded onto the DVD, along with English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some very nice extras. Cole Porter In Hollywood: Satin And Silk is a new ten-minute program hosted by Cyd Charisse that looks the evolution of SILK STOCKINGS from its movie origins to Broadway show and finally to its classic motion picture form. Paree, Paree is a 1934 two-reel mini-musical with three Cole Porter songs, which stars Bob Hope as an American in Paris who falls for a fellow passenger while making the crossing. The Poet And Peasant Overture is a CinemaScope short featuring the MGM orchestra playing the title piece. A theatrical trailer, cast listing and production notes close out the supplements.
SILK STOCKINGS is a true musical delight that is amongst the first titles to be released under Warner's new Classic Musicals Collection banner. The DVD presentations is absolutely first rate, and I doubt that SILK STOCKINGS has looked this good since it was initially released. SILK STOCKINGS is a DVD that I can't recommend highly enough to movie buffs and those discovering classic musicals for the fist time.
Lastly, I am looking forward to future titles from the Classic Musicals Collection and hope that Warner will be bringing us films like THE BAND WAGON, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and THE PIRATE as well as revisiting SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS and BRIGADOON- offering newly remastered 16:9 transfers that include both the CinemaScope and simultaneously filmed "flat" versions of these two classic musicals.
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