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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Les Girls (Blu-ray)
Les Girls (Blu-ray)
Warner Archives // Unrated // April 17, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted May 22, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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Although today MGM is most famous for its classic musicals, in truth many of the most beloved films from that era were much less successful than you might imagine, particularly during the 1950s. The decade began well, with Show Boat and An American in Paris (1951) both big hits, earning profits of $2.3 million and $1.3 million. Singin' in the Rain (1952) cost $3.2 million but made a profit of just $666,000.

The majority, however, sold a lot of tickets but also cost so much they ended up in the red. Summer Stock lost $80,000, The Band Wagon (1953) lost $1.2 million, Hit the Deck another $454,000, while Brigadoon (1954), It's Always Fair Weather (1955), Kismet (1955), Invitation to the Dance (1956), and Silk Stockings (1957) all flopped big, with losses of $1.5 million, $1.7 million, $2.2 million, $2.5 million, and $1.4 million, respectively. Gigi (1958), the last of the classic MGM musicals, ended the decade on an upbeat note, earning a profit of nearly $2 million.

There are many reasons for this sudden decline: the growing popularity of television, and its musical variety shows that could be enjoyed at home, for free. Rock and roll was cutting into the market, and big roadshow adaptations of hit Broadway shows (e.g., Oklahoma!, South Pacific, etc.) steered the genre away from original movie musicals and MGM-type loose adaptations of popular stage shows.

Les Girls (1957), directed by George Cukor, was the last musical Gene Kelly starred under his original MGM contract. It was reasonably popular but not profitable, the $3.4 million production losing $1.6 million after prints and advertising costs. It's a curious film, in some ways more subtle and sophisticated than the emblematic early ‘50s MGM musical, and Cole Porter's songs are good, but though it tries hard the film just sort of sits there. Missing is the exuberance of The Band Wagon and Singin' in the Rain or the intelligence and adult screenplay of Cukor's A Star Is Born (1954), made for Warner Bros.


The nearly two-hour film is a long-winded musical take on Rashomon (1950). In the London Royal Courts of Justice, Angele (Taina Elg) is suing Sybil Wren (Kay Kendall) for libel for allegations, specifically a suicide attempt, made in the latter's tell-all bestseller. From the witness box, the movie switches to flashbacks to Paris in 1949, when Angele replaces one of the three women of "Barry Nichols and Les Girls," Nichols being a celebrated American dancer (played-by-guess-who) performing in France with British dancer-singer Sybil and wholesome American Joy (Mitzi Gaynor).

Nichols is notoriously strict, even autocratic in insisting that his dancers refrain from any sort of love life, but according to Sybil the ambitious Angele basically dumps her secret fiancé Pierre (Jacques Bergerac) in favor of Barry. Pierre, believing Angele is a nurse, unexpectedly turns up at a performance of the show with his parents in tow. Angele, vainly trying to hide her face, turns the night's show into a colossal disaster, and Sybil later finds Angele unconscious in their apartment with the gas oven running at full-blast.

Naturally, Angele and later Barry himself offer very different versions of what happened, like Rashomon each testimony favoring the person telling the tale.

Early in the development of Les Girls, Leslie Caron and Cyd Charisse, longtime MGM players, were to have played two of Les Girls, while Jean Simmons and dancer Carol Haney were also discussed. The threesome of Kendall, Elg, and Gaynor is certainly a change of pace, and their performances were generally well received, though only Gaynor could both sing and dance, the other two actresses apparently dubbed, and Kendall, while certainly beautiful, doesn't move particularly well, so what should have been spectacular unified dancing comes off as just okay.

Though top-billed, Gene Kelly has less screentime than just about any of his starring films, even though the story revolves around his character. Rather, it's the loyalties and betrayals among the three women that's at the heart of the story, but the script seems more interested in highlighting their differences rather than trying to establish any sense of camaraderie. Never are they convincing as friends nor does one feel that their profession and association with their sometimes-arrogant boss bond them.

Instead, what's interesting about the film is how visually it contrasts so with the MGM musicals of earlier in the decade. Director George Cukor did a masterful job on A Star Is Born, using color and the then-new CinemaScope format in myriad innovative ways. Some of this is also present in Les Girls: the much subtler, thematic use of color, gauzy lighting here and there, baroque art direction vs. the minimalist style of the earlier Arthur Freed-produced films. It's interesting to look at, if over-cluttered with set direction. Indeed, the girls' apartment overflows with bric-a-brac, and its layout seemingly designed by Escher.

Cole Porter's music and lyrics in this, his final film score, are pleasant and often clever, and the supporting cast is great. Brits Leslie Phillips and Patrick Macnee were imported, joining Hollywood-based character actors like Henry Daniell and Philip Tonge. (Only second unit footage was shot in England and France.) There's not much actually wrong with Les Girls. But it does just kind of sits there.

Video & Audio

A Warner Archive release, Les Girls is presented in its original 2.35:1 CinemaScope and generally looks good. Apparently the picture was widely released in Perspecta Stereophonic Sound, but the Blu-ray offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixed, perhaps adapted from limited 4-track magnetic stereo prints. English subtitles are offered.

Extra Features

Supplements include "Taina Elg Hosts Cole Porter in Hollywood: Ca C'est L'Amour", a trailer, and a cartoon, curiously Flea Circus, a 4:3 short from 1953.

Parting Thoughts

Not at all bad but unmemorable, despite being visually lush, Les Girls is Recommended.





Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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