Review by Ed Nguyen
Gene Kelly, Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Kendall, Taina Elg
Director: George Cukor
Audio: English and French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Video: letterboxed widescreen, color
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Featurette, vintage cartoon, trailer, awards
Length: 114 minutes
Release Date: April 22, 2003
love is when suddenly you sigh at someone for whom you yearn, ca, c'est l'amour,
and when to your delight, he loves you in return, ca, c'est l'amour."
the mid-1950's, the musical genre had effectively run its course.
Although decent musicals continued
to be made sporadically over the years, they were virtually all film
translations of previously successful Broadway musicals.
The golden age of the musical was over.
The vitality and need for escapism that had fueled the genre during the
Great Depression and war years had long ebbed away.
With the gradual collapse of the studio system, musicals had simply
become too expensive and risky to produce on a large scale anymore.
The further emergence of television and the new musical style of
rock-and-roll essentially signaled the end of the musical as a commercial art
were still big stars attempting musicals, however. Gene Kelly, for one. He
had opened the decade with some of the most memorable musicals ever.
These included the Oscar-winning Best Picture An
American in Paris and Singin' in the
Rain, the only musical included on Sight and Sound's list of the greatest
films of all time. As the decade
progressed, he experimented more frequently with ballet, contemporary dance
styles, and extended fantasy sequences. Invitation
to the Dance is a good example of such a film, but while innovative, it
failed to attract a significant audience. Likewise,
Les Girls (1957) met a similar fate.
during the final years of musicals' viability, Les Girls certainly appeared to have a solid pedigree.
It was a Gene Kelly musical with songs by Cole Porter.
Kelly was back in Paris once again, this time portraying Barry Nichols,
an American entertainer with chorus of three lovely ladies.
It was perhaps an attempt to re-capture the success of his An American in Paris. But,
Les Girls would instead mark a
symbolic end to the musical era. It
featured Gene Kelly's final role as a romantic lead in an MGM musical.
It also featured Cole Porter's final score for film or stage.
original female trio of Les Girls at
one time was purported to have included Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron, and Kay
Kendall. Charisse, however, opted
to do Silk Stockings with Fred
Astaire, instead. And Caron chose
not to work with the film's director, George Cukor.
Their roles were eventually filled by Mitzi Gaynor, best remembered today
for her starring role in South Pacific,
and Taina Elg, a pretty ballerina just getting started in Hollywood.
for Kendall, she did not want to leave New York City initially to make the film.
In the end, she was eventually persuaded to join the cast.
Modern audiences will not remember her today, but in the 1950's, Kendall
was an up-and-coming star of romantic comedies.
Kendall even won a Golden Globe award, too, for her humorous performance
in Les Girls.
More infamously, she was also Rex Harrison's mistress and eventually his
with a short exposition scene as Sybil (Kendall) sets the stage for what will be
a long flashback. In the flashback,
American trouper Barry (Kelly) is an entertainer in post-war Paris.
He is holding auditions at the Music Hall Parisien for a new girl for his
revue act, which currently includes Joy (Gaynor), a blonde American
girl-next-door type, and Sybil, a cool brunette from England.
During the auditions, a young French ballerina, Angèle (Elg), catches
Barry's eye, and he decides to offer her a part in his troupe.
He only has three simple rules: he wants his girls to be prompt,
persistent, and perfect. What he
doesn't realize is that Angèle is a bit of a gold-digger and quickly reels him
in hook, line, and sinker. Unfortunately,
she neglects to mention that she is already engaged, and when her fiancé comes
to Paris for a surprise visit, the situation quickly unravels!
is only when the film returns to the present time that the story's true nature
is revealed. This is not a tale
about Barry Nichols. Rather, it is
a multi-part story about the three women of his chorus. Drawing a page directly from Rashomon,
Les Girls shows three distinctively
different versions on the events that transpired to eventually break up the
musical act after the three women's brief year together.
In the present time, Angèle, now married to her former fiancé, is suing
Sybil for libel over some chapters in her biography.
Sybil, with the first flashback, defends the verity of her biography. For the second flashback, it's Angèle's turn to rebuke
Sybil's remarks and to suggest that it was Sybil, not Angèle, who was having an
affair with Barry. While the first
flashback resembles a backstage musical, the second flashback has a more
screwball comedy element to it and also allows Kendall's comic performance to
truly shine. There will eventually
be a third flashback, of course, this time centering on Joy and narrated by a
mystery witness (I wonder who it could be?).
This flashback has a new tone as well, feeling more like an American
light romantic comedy. For a man
who wants no complications, Barry Nichols certainly gets around!
Which version is the truth? Are
any of them true? That is up to the
viewer to decide, of course. In the
end, this atypical style of narration accentuates the comedic aspects of Les
Girls and also keeps the story flowing with its intriguing and fresh
Avengers fans out there?
The present-day British barrister attempting to fit the pieces of this
jigsaw puzzle together is none other than Patrick Macnee!
He looks and sounds very much here as he would a decade later in the TV
Les Girls is an enjoyable and
light-hearted film, it is easy to understand why the film was not a great
success with audiences initially. For
one, it often feels like a throw-back to the glory days of the MGM musical,
conveniently ignoring the shifting changes in American pop culture taste towards
rock-and-roll. There is certainly
nothing wrong with this cheerful, romantic comedy approach, but young audiences
simply were not as interested in these sorts of films anymore.
Furthermore, Gene Kelly's character is not always given a sympathetic
portrayal, and he seems at times harsh and business-like.
Of course, the very nature of the film suggests that this may or may not
actually be the truth, but such mind-twisting logic was probably too much for
audiences seeking just simple-minded entertainment.
Also, as a musical, Les Girls
strangely has very few songs, and most of the numbers are not as well-integrated
into the plot as in Kelly's earlier films.
It is perhaps more accurate to consider the film as a romantic comedy
with incidental musical numbers.
musical sequences are fairly decent, though.
The first is a classic revue-style number to the song "Les
Girls." It has a French
flavour, with a twist of jazz at the end. There
follows an unusual, avant-garde rope dance between Kelly and Elg; it looks
interesting but doesn't last very long. Its
reprise later in the film is even shorter and played strictly for laughs.
The "Ladies in Waiting" routine is also played for laughs but
features some jaw-dropping, risqué costumes worn by the three ladies.
Hey, I'm not complaining! Surprisingly,
Taina Elg gets the film's only solo for "Ca, C'est l'Amour," which she
serenades to Gene Kelly! Well,
that's a switch. Next is
"You're Just Too, Too," a comic duet between Kay Kendall and Gene
Kelly that showcases Kendall's talents as a comedian.
Lastly, there is "Why Am I So Gone About That Gal," a ballad
sung in a manner that parodies Marlon Brando's The
Wild One. The backdrops are
painted in a style reminiscent of the fantasy sequence for An
American in Paris. If the
choreography seems similar as well, it is because Gene Kelly served as
choreographer for both sequences, although this time the object of his
affections is a sexy Mitzi Gaynor, not Leslie Caron!
Les Girls, Gene Kelly only did a few
more musicals. Among these were the
French New Wave homage film Les
Demoiselles de Rochefort and the Olivia Newton-John roller derby musical Xanadu.
Let us not forget Hello, Dolly!,
either, which he directed. That's
quite an eclectic group of musicals! But
while his career inevitably slowed down as musicals lost their appeal, Gene
Kelly still had to his credit an impressive legacy comprised of some of MGM's
most memorable musicals. Les
Girls may not be his finest work, but as a musical in that classic MGM mold,
it is a worthy tribute to one of the studio's most beloved stars.
presented in a letterbox widescreen format that preserves the original aspect
ratio of its Cinemascope release. Color
is provided by Metrocolor. This is
quite a pleasing transfer, with no discernible artifacts or defects.
The source print is quite very nice, without much debris or any
discoloration. Warner Brothers has
done a solid job here, and I only wish older musicals would always receive this
degree of care.
Girls has a
new 5.1 Dolby Digital audio but probably does not really need the upgrade. The film's audio sounds alright, but dialogue seems to have a
slight echo effect to it. It isn't
very noticeable, but it is there. Fortunately,
it will not interfere with your enjoyment of the film.
The musical numbers spread the sound around nicely, even if there are not
many musical numbers. Coincidentally, Cole Porter had originally written twelve
songs for the film, of which only five eventually made it into the final
picture. I wonder what happened to
those other tunes?
cover mentions a behind-the-scenes section which doesn't appear on the DVD.
Ooo-kay. The DVD does have a Les
Girls trailer, which promotes Les
Girls as "rhymes with playgirls." Ooo-kay. There
is also a one-page section on the awards won by the film. It's not too terribly exciting.
only significant features are a cartoon and a short featurette.
That's not very much, but c'est la vie.
The cartoon is Flea Circus, an obscure 7-minute cartoon about a French flea circus,
a clown flea, and a can-can flea. It's
mildly diverting, and I was actually surprised to realize that I'd seen it
somewhere before. The featurette is
hosted by Taina Elg as she takes a nostalgic look back at Les
Girls and its production. The
most notable comment she provides concerns Kay Kendall, whose promising career
was sadly cut short by leukemia only a few years after the premiere of Les