Musical Monday: “Can-Can” (1960)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

Can_CanThis week’s musical:
Can-Can” (1960) — Musical #506

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Walter Lang

Starring:
Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Juliet Prowse

Plot:
Set in 1896 France, Simone Pistache (MacLaine) owns a nightclub that continuously is raided by police for performing the lewd can-can dance.  Simone is in love with her lawyer François Durnais (Sinatra) and helps keep her out of jail. Judge Philipe Forrestier is the one who keeps getting the club raided, but Philipe ends up falling in love with Simone and the two are engaged, jilting Francois.

Trivia:
-During the filming, USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev visited the set and was shocked by the film. He called it “immoral.” He said, “The face of humanity is prettier than it’s backside,” and Shirley MacLaine said he was just mad that the dancers were wearing underwear during the can-can dance. The incident gained the film national publicity, according to Shirley MacLaine.

Shirley MacLaine performs like a Can Can girl for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th Century Fox Studios. Left to right: Louis Jourden, Mr. Khrushchev, Shirley MacLaine, Mrs. Khrushchev, Maurice Chevalier, and Frank Sinatra.

Shirley MacLaine performs like a Can Can girl for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th Century Fox Studios. Left to right: Louis Jourden, Mr. Khrushchev, Shirley MacLaine, Mrs. Khrushchev, Maurice Chevalier, and Frank Sinatra.

-Juliet Prowse’s first film.
-Frank Sinatra requested Shirley MacLaine for this film, requiring 20th Century Fox to buy out her Columbia Pictures contract for “Who’s That Lady?” that Janet Leigh eventually starred in, according to Sinatra in Hollywood by Tom Santopietro.
-Frank Sinatra didn’t like to work before noon so they worked “French hours” when shooting the film. During the World Series, no one would know where Sinatra was until they would see him on TV in a box watching the game at the stadium, according to Shirley MacLaine.
-The original play opened on Broadway in 1953 and ran for 892 performance. Gwenn Verdon won the 1954 Tony Award for Supporting or Featured Actress in a Musical.
The film was rather different from the stage version which gave it some bad reviews: “The music has been reduced to snatches, the book has been weirdly changed and the dances-well they have been knocked out by some tired jigs, knocked out by Hermes Pan,” said the New York Times in 1960.
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design by Irene Scharaff and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture by Nelson Riddle.

Highlights:
-A man walks up, slaps Shirley MacLaine, rips off her skirt and then they start a strange dance of dragging each other around. This is the Apache Dance. I’m not saying this is a good dance, it’s just random and notable because of its oddness.
-The Garden of Eden Ballet is the best part of the film, aside from the dancers dressed as bunnies and monkeys. It gives us a chance to actually see the dancing talents of Juliet Prowse, Marc Wilder and Shirley MacLaine.

Shirley MacLaine and Marc Wilder dance the "Garden of Eden" ballet

Shirley MacLaine and Marc Wilder dance the “Garden of Eden” ballet

Notable Songs:
The movie is filled with famous Cole Porter songs such as “It Was Just One of Those Things,” “Let’s Do It” and “You Do Something to Me.” However, while Sinatra, Chevalier and Jourdan sing the songs well,  the song placements seem awkward.

My Review:
Why is there so much screaming when the can-can is danced?
But that’s besides the point.
This movie is overly long and the majority of the stars are miscast. Basically, the two leads are a mess, in my opinion. Shirley MacLaine is a fine dancer, her singing is only okay and her acting in this film is mediocre. Frank Sinatra seems silly as a Frenchman, but has good vocals. Louis Jourdan, as handsome as ever, and Maurice Chevalier-reunited together two years after “Gigi” (1958)- are just fine and fit into the plot well. A star-studded cast with Cole Porter songs shouldn’t go wrong, but it did.
I enjoy plenty of films that are full of fluff, but this one seems overly long for the plot we are given. While the score is chock-full of excellent Cole Porter songs, they just….seem oddly placed.
Visually, the movie is gorgeous with Louis Jourdan’s good looks and lovely costumes by Irene Scharff. The Garden of Eden Ballet is also gorgeous and the best part of the film.
When a five minute dance is the best part of a 131 minute film, this is a problem.

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