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.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Musical Monday: Night and Day (1946)

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.

This week’s musical:
“Night and Day” –Musical #101

night-and-day-1946 

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Michael Curtiz

Starring:
Cary Grant, Alexi Smith, Jane Wyman, Donald Woods, Ginny Sims, Selena Royle, Eve Arden, Dorothy Malone, Henry Stephenson, Alan Hale, Sig Ruman, Carlos Ramírez
As themselves: Mary Martin, Monty Woolley

Plot:
Fictional biographical film of songwriter Cole Porter.

Cole Porter and his wife Linda Lee

Cole Porter and his wife Linda Lee

Trivia:
-Cole Porter is a celebrated songwriter who was active from post-World War I teens through the 1950s. He was born in 1891 and died in 1964.
-Warner Brothers chose “Night and Day” to mark the studio’s 20th anniversary of sound films, according to an Oct. 4, 1946, article in the Montreal Gazette.
-“Script writers had a hard time finding crisis in his life to sustain a storyline,” according to a mention of the film in his Oct. 16, 1964, Associated Press obituary in the Gettysburg Times.
-Footage shown of Roy Rogers singing “Don’t Fence Me In” is from the Warner Brothers film “Hollywood Canteen” (1944)
-Ray Heindorf and Max Steiner were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Highlights:
-Eve Arden as a French performer, simply because it’s ridiculous.
-Mary Martin cameo

Notable Songs:
-“Night and Day”
-“I’m in Love Again” performed by Jane Wyman
-“Let’s Do It” performed by Jane Wyman
-“You Do Something to Me” performed by Jane Wyman
-“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” performed by Ginny Simms
-“Don’t Fence Me In” footage of Roy Rogers
-“Begin the Beguine” performed by Carlos Ramirez

Cary Grant as Cole Porter  and Alexis Smith as Linda Lee in "Night and Day"

Cary Grant as Cole Porter and Alexis Smith as Linda Lee in “Night and Day”

My Review:
There were about 10 years between my first and second viewings of this film. I didn’t find it any better.

Starring Cary Grant and filmed in gorgeous Technicolor, you know you are about to hear some fantastic music going into this film. It’s basically Cole Porter’s Greatest Hits.

But the celebrated songs by Porter can’t save this film. The ridiculous story line of the highlighly fictionalized biography is just a dud. The fact that the biography is fictionalized isn’t surprising. Musical Monday has highlighted the “fictionalized musical biography” many, many times before now.

The San Francisco News said in a review, “This is no more the story of Cole Porter’s life than a two-cent stamp is of Washington.” LIFE magazine said “Film About Cole Porter’s Life is an Example of What’s Wrong with Hollywood Musicals,” saying the numbers were tasteless, the dialogue forcefully recreated from real conversations and a timeworn plot. I can’t say that I disagree. But a made up life story is more forgivable if it is at least entertaining and enjoyable. “Night and Day” is just fairly painful.

Even Cole Porter said, “If I could survive that, I can survive anything,” after the premiere of the film.

Some of the scripts of these biographical films, such as this one, are reviewed by the topic person-Porter did not die until 1964- and the 2011 William McBrien Porter biography discusses Porter reading over the script. With any of these biographical films, I’m not sure how much say the subject matter or their family members have in the script. Maybe it is simply that they don’t want the film to be accurate and their private lives on display.

However, there are almost too many inaccuracies to list in a brief review.

In the film, Alexis Smith plays Porter’s wife Linda Lee Porter, Porter’s wife from 1919 until her death in 1954. It is rare for the romantic lead in a biographical film, to be based off of a real person. Many times, the romantic lead is made up or a mix of multiple people. An example of this is Evelyn Keye’s character in “The Al Jolson Story.” It is obvious that she is supposed to be Ruby Keeler, but her character is named something different. Probably because Keeler was still alive and didn’t want to be associated with the film.

Though Porter and Linda were married, the culture of 1946 and the Hays Production Code prevented the prevented the film from giving the true nature of their relationship and marriage. Porter and Linda’s marriage was more of a marriage of convenience. Porter was gay and his marriage to Linda gave a heterosexual appearance during a time when homosexuality was not as accepted. The marriage gave Linda prominence in society.

Monty Woolley, Jane Wyman and Mary Martin’s brief role are probably the only highlights of the film. Woolley and Martin play themselves, as they were connected with Porter in real life.

It’s not the highly inaccurate plot that makes “Night and Day” bad. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” is also fiction but is an entertaining film. It’s really just that the fictionalized premise is terrible and often downright ridiculous.

The only thing thing “Night and Day” has going for it is the music. In that case, buy some of Cole Porter’s songs instead.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

 

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.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com