The year is 1957. Major movie studios are feeling pressure to get people back into the theaters and away from their television sets. Cinemas were losing business and subsequently closing locations. International moviemakers, who had fewer restrictions in showing sex and other themes in the films that were not friendly to the still active Hays-Code, were luring American viewers away from domestic films. So what we see during the late 1950s are American studios making desperate attempts to produce films that will capture the public's eye and make movie goers reach for their wallets.
What we get during are a lot of films that push boundaries and test the waters. Films like Baby Doll (1956), The Night of the Hunter (1955), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Studios were using the shock value of their new films to keep themselves in business. So where does a tame little movie like Les Girls (1957) come in?
Let's take a look at what was on television in 1957:
Leave it to Beaver
Have Gun - Will Travel
What did 1957 American television not have?:
A Metrocolor musical directed by George Cukor starring Gene Kelly with Cole Porter songs and wardrobe designed by Orry-Kelly.
Who cares if Les Girls (1957) comes out like Les Blech?! As long as it's pretty, has song and dance numbers, has a lot of big names attached to it all while Gene Kelly's ego can be fed, then why the heck not. It's pure money.
For the moviegoer who can't go to Broadway to watch a big theatrical production, a film like Les Girls is the next best thing. It's a reason to get out of the house. It's a reason to abandon the TV. It's a reason to spend some of your money.
And yes. I feel a bit strange having seen this film on my own home television.
I didn't much care for this movie. It seems like the sort of film that was made just so Gene Kelly could be pleased (and hey, it was his last musical so why not!). As Millie from ClassicForever describes it, the film is Gene Kelly's love letter to himself. However, this film still managed to fascinate me. I think it's mainly because it's so different from the other 1950s films that I'm normally drawn to.
I like how it's a sign of the times. I like how it's so bad that you can't help but watch the whole thing. I like how pretty all the women look and how I want each and every single outfit they wear. I like the fact that the title is "Les Girls" but it's really about "L'homme".
And on a final and somewhat related note, I'm oddly curious about Kay Kendall, and have been ever since I saw The Reluctant Debutante (1958) . She passed away of Leukemia in 1959 at the tender age of 33, only a couple of years after Les Girls (1957) hit theaters and after she had been diagnosed. At the time of her diagnosis, she was having an affair to then-married Rex Harrison. He learned of her diagnosis, knew she only had two years to live, didn't tell her about it, divorced his wife and immediately married her to take care of her. But Harrison and his original wife planned to remarry after Kendall died. Huh?! She went on working in films, theater and television until the day she died. All the while she thought she had an iron deficiency. Harrison never remarried his original wife because she fell in love with someone else. How did Harrison get the diagnosis? Why didn't the doctor tell Kendall? Doesn't this strike you as odd?