Musical Monday: Les Girls (1957)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Les Girls – Musical #80

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Cukor

Starring:
Gene Kelly, Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Kendall, Taina Elg, Jacques Bergerac, Leslie Phillips, Henry Daniel, Patrick Macnee, Barrie Chase (uncredited)

Plot:
Performer Sybil Wren (Kendall) is on trial for libel after she releases a tell-all book. While on the stand, she tells the story of her days with the traveling act Les Girls, led by Barry Nichols (Kelly) and co-starring with two other dancers Joy Henderson (Gaynor) and Angèle Ducros (Elg). Sybil’s book accuses Angèle of having an affair with Barry, while Angèle accuses Sybil of the same. Each person retrospectively tells their side of the story.

Trivia:
• The film was originally set to star Cyd Charisse as the American girl, Leslie Caron as the French girl and Kay Kendall as the English girl, according to the DVD’s documentary.
• Carol Haney was originally considered for the American girl role, according to That Was Entertainment: The Golden Age of the MGM Musical by Bernard F. Dick
• “Les Girls” was Gene Kelly’s last film under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
• The film was adapted into a short-lived television show called “Harry’s Girls” in 1963.
• Betty Wand partially dubbed Kay Kendall
• Costumes by Orry-Kelly
• Choreography by Jack Cole

Tiana Elg, Kay Kendall, Gene Kelly and Mitzi Gaynor

Highlights:
• The Technicolor cinematography by Robert Surtees
• Costumes by Orry-Kelly

Notable Songs:
• “Les Girls” performed by Gene Kelly
• “Ladies in Waiting” performed by Mitzi Gaynor, Tiana Elg, and Kay Kendall – dubbed by Betty Wand
• “Why Am I So Gone (About that Gal)?” performed by Gene Kelly and Mitzi Gaynor

Tiana Elg, Kay Kendall and Mitzi Gaynor in the “Ladies in Waiting” number with costumes by Orry-Kelly (you can’t see it, but the skirts have no back.

Awards and Nominations:
• Orry-Kelly won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design

My review:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is known for releasing some of Hollywood’s top Technicolor, movie musicals.

But while the studio was the leader with this genre, all things have to come to an end eventually.

And as film expert Farran Nehme notes in her Film Comment review, “Les Girls” (1957) gives the feeling of a final performance.

The film also brought endings and changes to some of the stars in the film.

For one, it was Gene Kelly’s last film under contract with MGM, the studio that made him a star with musicals like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “An American in Paris.” Actress Kay Kendall only would star in two more films, before she passed away of myeloid leukemia in 1959 at the age of 33.

The studio was trying to build Tiana Elg into one of it’s new stars. While the Finnish actress and dancer worked steadily through the 1990s, Elg didn’t reach the level of stardom as other MGM stars did. However, the studio was a sinking ship by 1957.

Mitzi Gaynor, who had been working in films since the early 1950s, was on the brink of her big break – starring in the plum role of Nellie Forbush in “South Pacific” (1958), which was her next film.

“Les Girls” (1957) is a colorful comedic musical about a former performer, Lady Sybil Wren (Kay Kendall) wrote a book about her time traveling with Barry Nichols (Gene Kelly) and his act, Les Girls. Lady Sybil is sued by one of her fellow Les Girls Angèle Ducros (Taina Elg). On the witness stand, Lady Sybil, Angèle and Barry all give very different accounts of their time together.

The stories in the trial leave the audience wondering what is true, if any of it, or if bits of each have glimmers of truth.

“Les Girls” is an extremely fun and humorous musical – the comedy is really more memorable than any of Cole Porter’s songs.

A real highlight are Orry-Kelly’s Academy Award-winning costumes, especially those in “The Ladies in Waiting” number. Orry-Kelly wasn’t afraid to use color in this gorgeous Technicolor film.

For me, the most memorable of the numbers is Gene Kelly’s Marlon Brando-like motorcycle gang number with Mitzi Gaynor as a sultry waitress.

Of the three women, Gaynor feels like she has the least of the screentime, but once Gene Kelly gets around to his confession we see more of her. She’s extremely funny, particularly when she “slips into something more comfortable” – curlers and an oversized robe.

“Les Girls” is a beautiful and marvelously entertaining film. But films of this era also make me sad, knowing we were slipping closer to the end of the great musical era.

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1 thought on “Musical Monday: Les Girls (1957)

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