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Gene Kelly had long wanted to do a musical version of Idiot's Delight, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a song-and-dance man touring Europe with a troupe of chorus girls. When he and producer Sol Spiegel decided to adapt Vera Caspary's original story in 1957, he had little idea that it would be his last MGM musical. And though the film featured some surprisingly serious commentary on the nature of truth, it featured some of his most inspired dance numbers.
Spiegel had worked with writer John Patrick and songwriter Cole Porter the year before on High Society, the musical version of The Philadelphia Story. For this film, he told the writer to not even bother reading Caspary's story, but just to see what he could do with the basic situation. Patrick decided to tell the story in conflicting flashbacks after one former chorus girl sues another for libel. When Patrick finally met Caspary, she thanked him for making her the industry's top-paid writer. She had gotten $80,000 for just two words - the film's title, Les Girls (1957).
Patrick didn't meet with Porter to discuss the songs until after the first draft was completed. Then they discussed the best places for them. Porter only asked for one change in the script. One of the leading ladies was named Samantha, and Porter protested that there was no way to rhyme it. When Patrick suggested "Lovely as a panther," Porter threw him out of his home.
During the initial casting, Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron and Carol Haney were announced to play the three chorus girls, but by the time the film got into production all that was changed. Finnish ballerina Taina Elg, who was being groomed for big things that never really happened, was cast as the French girl. British comedienne Kay Kendall all but stole the show as the tipsy British dancer and Mitzi Gaynor played the American. The latter choice almost cost Siegel George Cukor's services as director.
Cukor had come to the project late and, according to some participants, resented not having any input on the script or casting. He decided to make a stand against Gaynor, only to be told that he could work with her or go on suspension. He stayed with the film, but focused all of his energies on the visual elements. As he often had in the past, he used fashion photographer George Hoynigen-Huene as a color consultant. They developed a washed out color scheme that captured the squalor of the low-rent musical act while still providing a rich palette for the complex story.
In fact, Cukor's concentration of the film's look paid off. It freed Kelly to design a series of dazzling dance numbers ranging from the modern-dance parody performed with Elg to a show-stopping, seemingly improvised number with Kendall. It also brought the film its only Oscar® recognition, earning a nomination for Best Art Direction and the Oscar® for Orry-Kelly's costumes.
Producer: Saul Chaplin; Sol C. Siegel
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: John Patrick
Art Direction: Gene Allen
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Costume Design: Orry-Kelly
Film Editing: Ferris Webster
Original Music: Cole Porter
Cast: Gene Kelly (Barry Nichols), Mitzi Gaynor (Joy Henderson), Kay Kendall (Lady Sybil Wren), Taina Elg (Angele Ducros), Jacques Bergerac (Pierre Ducros).
C-115m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller