Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Les Girls (1957)

Les Girls
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:

Perry Mason
Leave it to Beaver
Have Gun - Will Travel
Wagon Train

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?


  1. Great analysis, Quelle! I completely agree about the clothes. That's the only reason I was able to bear my only viewing of it.

    And Millie is so right about Gene Kelly!

    About Kay Kendall: the whole situation seems extremely suspicious and odd. Rex Harrison was forever involved in bizarre circumstances. He was having an affair with Carole Landis while he was married to Lilli Palmer. The night he broke up with Carole, she killed herself.

    I agree that it's terribly odd Kay Kendall would not have been informed of her diagnosis. Of all the people to discuss her health with, why Rex Harrison? I don't get it. It seems like Harrison had big pull with the studio, so maybe that is how he had so much power with the doctor? Worth investigating, anyway.

  2. Casey - Oh I didn't know that about Carole Landis! Lilli Palmer was the wife I was talking about in my post. I can't imagine either how she put up with his shenagians or how she encouraged them. Dang! I also know that Rex Harrison had some tax problems and was on the lam for a while.

    Oh and I knew, when I watched the film, that you especially would love their clothes. :-)

  3. Great review. I saw this movie for the first time last like 3am (an odd experience to say the least!). I doubt I'll ever watch it again! Haha! But, the music and clothes are cool. And the film made me NOT hate Mitzi Gaynor, but overall it was just weird. Haha!

    I knew the circumstances around Kay Kendall's death were weird, but I didn't know they were THAT weird. Craziness!

  4. I thought Les Girls was kind of cute and the best part of Les Girls was the dance Gene Kelly did with Mitzi Gaynor, "Why Am I So Mad About That Girl." Well, that was the only time Kelly was given creative control in the film because the choreographer, Jack Cole was sick with hepatitis. Obviously, the film would have benefited a great deal had they given more creative control to Kelly.

  5. I have to admit that I actually like Les Girls. Granted, it is a case of style winning out over substance, but then you have some great Gene Kelly dance numbers and some great Cole Porter songs. It's hardly one of my favourite Gene Kelly movies--it's not a classic like Singin' in the Rain--but I've found it entertaining.

  6. I've never seen this, but I've always thought that it looked very...hmm....full of 50s fluff? I actually think I caught about 2 minutes of it once on TCM and even then it looked like Gene was like "STEP BACK, Y'ALL, THIS IS MY MOVIE" so I don't know.

    I've always thought that Kay/Rex thing was so weird. I didn't know he was planning on remarrying wife #1, that is SO bizarre.

  7. Interesting that you call the film a love letter from Gene Kelly to himself. You could also say that about "Invitation to the Dance" a few years earlier. But then, if I were Gene Kelly in the 1950s, I suppose I'd just hire a staff to remind me how great I was every day.

    A bad period for him, though. I was on a Cyd Charisse kick a while back and saw Brigadoon, which is, ahem, not good.

    1. Gene wasn't even planning to dance in "Invitation" until the studio insisted, and as for "Les Girls," it spends more time poking fun at his character than anything else. Love letter, indeed!

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