#5 – Silk Stockings (1957)
Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, and Janis Paige
Director: Rouben Mamoulian, Producer: Arthur Freed, Production Company: MGM
When a Russian pianist and composer decides to stay in Paris to write the score for a Hollywood producer’s film, the Soviet Union sends three agents to bring him back to the motherland. When the producer entices those three men into enjoying Paris’s delights, an icy female Communist is sent to end the capitalist fun, yet she may not be as immune to the charms of the city and the handsome American producer as she thinks.
This is a musical remake of Ninotchka, Greta Garbo’s famous 1939 comedy. Since I have yet to see the acclaimed original, I can only judge this film on face value. It was made in 1957, three years into the Shurlock Era, and it is very obviously a Shurlock Era movie. It has the usual problems of musicals from this era, such as indecent costumes, suggestive dance moves, racy lyrics, and improper song themes. Some lyrics were self-regulated, such as lines in “Stereophonic Sound” referring to “Marylin’s behind,” a bride’s “bosom’s five feet wide,” and Ava Gardner appearing as Ava Gardner “in the bare.” The line about a bride’s figure was changed to “mouth’s five feet wide,” but, alas, this was shurlocking and not true self-regulating like breening. There are some suggestive lines spoken regarding the three Communists’ French female friends, some of whom are married but having affairs with other men. The most shocking element is musical number “Silk and Satin,” which is sung by movie star Peggy Dayton (Janis Paige). A couple of verses were eliminated from the stage play, but that didn’t help this completely objectionable song. Peggy is trying on clothes at a Parisian boutique, modeling them for composer Boroff (Wim Sonneveld). For no reason other than to seduce him, she begins dancing around suggestively and singing about how far a girl can get if she wears “expensive underwear” made of satin and silk. She mentions intimate garments like a bra and G-string. She suggestively opens her pink wrapper/house dress with her back to the camera, only showing Boroff her lingerie. She eventually takes the pink garment off to dance around in her merry widow (a strapless corset). This song is shocking for the 1950s and totally unnecessary to the plot. Another questionable scene is Ninotchka’s (Cyd Charisse) dance to the theme song. It is just an instrumental arrangement, which was a good choice, as the man’s lyrics about a woman’s stockings are rather suggestive. She does this dance while doffing her drab, businesslike attire in favor of feminine and beautiful lingerie of satin and silk. Women’s undergarments seem to be the main focus of this film! Her dance around the room as she pulls delicate items out of strange hiding places is beautiful and so graceful. For a vintage fashion aficionado like me, it is a rare opportunity to see the lovely underpinnings which women wore at the time. However, she is a little too exposed at times. When her slip drops to her feet, we see her pointed toes as she steps into a satin camisole/leotard, implied to be wearing only the most intimate garments. We then see her in the camisole alone for too long before she puts on a transparent petticoat. Near the film’s end, Fred Astaire performs his only solo dance, “The Ritz Roll and Rock.” This is the only time I have ever seen the elegant Fred Astaire perform in a rock-and-roll number. Although it is the jazzy rock of the 1950s, it is still a sign of declining times and a shameful waste of Mr. Astaire’s talents.
Today is Geoffrey Shurlock’s birthday. Since he was born in 1894, he would have been 126 this year. To learn more about this complex self-regulator’s life, background, and personal beliefs, read the in-depth article I wrote for his 124th birthday. This movie is a perfect example of the content which became normalized in Hollywood within a few years of his tenure. Although Broadway and writers like Cole Porter had tended toward the objectionable for years, Hollywood films maintained Code standards of decency which reflected throughout the rest of the country. Although some objections were raised at first, the Code’s weakening was immediately noticeable. Within ten years of this film’s making, almost every film was so objectionable that its content excluded young and moral-minded audiences, paving the way for the Rating System in 1968. If you want to know where moral decay starts, just watch the two above videos. It’s hard to tell whether Geoff allowed this decay through weakness or intent. If he destroyed the Code intentionally, as I suspect, he would probably be very happy to see the current state of entertainment, which he helped create!
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