Updated: May 2, 2018
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“LES GIRLS: WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION”
Blu-ray; 1957; Not Rated, contains sexual content, smoking and drinking; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “Taina Elg Hosts Cole Porter in Hollywood: Ca C’est L’Amour”
SURPRISE! For once Gene Kelly is upstaged by his co-stars – Taina Elg, Kay Kendall and Mitzi Gaynor in this “comedy with music” from MGM.
“‘Les Girls’” was to be Cole Porter’s final film score and was Gene Kelly’s final role in an MGM musical,” Taina Elg of Finland says in “Cole Porter in Hollywood: Ca C’est L’Amour,” one of the bonus features on Warner Archive Collection’s presentation.
Porter, who also penned the scores for “Kiss Me Kate,” “Can-Can,” and “Silk Stockings,” was ill, but wrote 12 new songs for the film although only five were used. George Cukor, who also directed “My Fair Lady,” “The Philadelphia Story,” and scores of other popular films, was a hit with his stars. “He was a very charismatic director, so involved in the scenes,” Elg says. “He would say that ‘Les Girls’ was not a musical comedy, but a comedy with music and he was a master at directing comedy.”
The story is based on “Idiot’s Delight,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a stage entertainer touring Europe with a troupe of chorus girls. Initially, MGM announced Leslie Caron, Cyd Charisse and Kendall to star with Kelly, but Caron and Charisse dropped out due to creative differences and scheduling conflicts. Kendall, who had just been diagnosed with leukemia, didn’t want to leave New York and her lover, Rex Harrison starring on Broadway in “My Fair Lady.” MGM arranged for her to return to New York on weekends during filming. Kendall’s diagnosis was kept secret from her, but Harrison divorced his wife to marry Kendall right away. She died three years after making “Les Girls.”
The story opens in the midst of a libel suit. Sybil Wren (Kendall) has just published a gossipy biography about her time with Les Girls managed by performer Barry Nichols (Kelly). The dirt is hot, and sister headliner Angèle Ducros (Elg) sues Sybil after she reports Angèle tried to commit suicide after a break-up with Nichols. Each lady gets a chance to tell her story before the judge with broadly comic flashbacks and a few musical numbers. The suicide element makes the film sound dark, but it’s anything but.
Musical sequences include “Why Am I So Gone about That Gal” with Mitzi Gaynor as a waitress, and Kelly leading a motorcycle gang in a parody of Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One.” Kelly created the choreography since Jack Cole, who also worked on “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Kismet,” was ill. “Ladies in Waiting” is a bright, risqué number about a trio of ladies taking care of their king, while “Rope Number” is a modern “spider web” dance featuring Kelly and Kendall.
Eventually, after two conflicting personal recounts, the real story comes out when Nichols takes the stand.
Get ready for another journey into Warner Archive Collection’s new, masterful 1080p restoration (2.40:1 ratio). This was a more difficult job than usual, since “Les Girls” had been shot on film that leached color from the negative. After Warner found a good Interpositive Print to use, their technicians worked their magic stabilizing color, removing scratches and dirt, and sharpening detail. Color is rich, with deep blacks and good contrast. Film grain is also stable throughout.
The film was Oscar nominated for Best Sound/Recording and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. It won Orry-Kelly an Academy Award for Best Costume design, all of which look beautiful here. The gifted designer also created costumes for “An American in Paris,” “Gypsy,” “Some Like It Hot,” and “Casablanca.”
“Les Girls” has a sterling DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack, presenting clear dialogue, good effects and Porter’s score. It’s a solid track filling the room with music, pratfalls and chatter.
“Taina Elg Hosts Cole Porter in Hollywood: Ca C’est L’Amour” in Standard Def headlines the bonus features. She provides a charming narrative loaded with details about her co-stars, director and Porter. A trailer reveals the amount of work Warner techs went through to bring us a polished HD picture and six-channel soundtrack, while “Song Selection” allows viewers to jump to favorite numbers.
“The Flea Circus” (1954) is an adorable Tex Avery cartoon about a French musical revue starring performing fleas – perfect for a Warner Night at the Movies.
“Les Girls” also won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture/Comedy or Musical, and tied for Best Actress/Comedy or Musical for Kendall and Elg. It hasn’t been seen on TV or cable very often, which lends the musical a fresh, new quality setting it apart from “An American in Paris” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” Kendall, Elg and Gaynor shine; Kelly, as always, is in excellent form. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy.
- Kay Reynolds