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Sunday, June 1, 2008


This musical version of NINOTCHKA doesn’t get the critical respect it deserves. Even Cole Porter’s score is better than you may recall. (Conrad Salinger’s orchestrations make the title number positively orgasmic.) Rouben Mamoulian moves from one knock-out WideScreen composition to another with a seamless style of staging & editing that even his old nemesis Otto Preminger might envy. Cyd Charisse is no Garbo in the acting department (who is?), but she’s got her own special gifts and two devastating solos to show them. As a bonus, Peter Lorre is hilarious thru-out, beaming in the divine "Siberia" 11 o’clock ‘numbo.’ And someone ought to give a special medal to lenser Robert Bronner for figuring out how to flatteringly light & shoot Fred Astaire in color. Just in time, since it’s his last musical as the romantic lead. The script is not without its stale/obvious moments & the reworked plot removes the sacrificial side of Astaire’s character as seen in the Lubitsch original, but the film just gets better as it goes along. No second act troubles in this musical.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: There's a particularly warm chapter on SS & Mamoulian in THE WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT, Hugh Fordin's classic study of the Arthur Freed unit @ M-G-M. But for the full picture on the much maligned Mamoulian, try to find Tom Milne's superb monograph, cleverly titled MAMOULIAN. It was #13 in the fine old Cinema One Series from the BFI.

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