Jun 6, 2018

On Blu-ray: Les Girls (1957)

Les Girls (1957) was Gene Kelly’s last contracted MGM musical. It’s a curious film, modern in some respects, old-fashioned in others. In this Rashomon-like story of a successful dancer, and his various entanglements with the trio of women who form his troop, elation and tedium rest side-by-side. I recently had the opportunity to watch this intriguing film on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive.

The film begins in a courtroom. Retired dancer Lady Sybil Wren (Kay Kendall) is being sued by her former troop mate Angèle Ducros (Taina Elg) for claiming in her memoir that she once attempted suicide because of her lover Barry Nichols (Kelly). Most of the rest of the film is in flashback, as the two women, and the third dancer in their group Joy Henderson (Mitzi Gaynor) share their widely differing perspectives on the situation. This drama is juxtaposed with a series of saucy song and dance numbers, written by Cole Porter (this would be his final film score).

Les Girls starts out with a boisterous feeling: colorful, alive, and showing great promise. However, as the songs gradually take a backseat to the drama, it becomes less engaging. No one wants to see a long scene with Kay Kendall and Gene Kelly discussing their relationship difficulties. It’s better when she gets drunk and wheels around her apartment singing at the top of her lungs, or really does anything that showcases her ability to show complete faith in absurd behavior.

The five Porter numbers are the highlight of the film, combining a modern sensuality with more dated elements like the back-up dancers in brown face. Kelly could get pretentious in his ambition to be arty; a number in which he tangles with a metallic rope is more silly than avant garde. There are some intriguing numbers though, the best of them partnering Gaynor wit Kelly, a wise choice, because she is more suited to the choreography than ballet-trained Elg and non-dancer Kendall.

Elg and Gaynor are engaging in their roles, but as she often did, Kendall steals the film. I doubt the humanity of anyone who is able to resist the charms of this astoundingly charismatic woman. Everything about her sparkles. That she would die of cancer only two years later is one of the great losses of cinema.

The disc image is sharp and clean, as is the sound. Special features include the interesting short Cole Porter: Ca C’est L’Amour, hosted by Taina Elg, which is actually more of a general overview the production. There’s also a theatrical trailer and the vintage cartoon Flea Circus.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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