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Star of the Month: Jane Powell
Remind Me

The Girl Most Likely

Both director Mitchell Leisen and star Jane Powell were reaching the end of their film careers when they made The Girl Most Likely (1957) at RKO. And by the time the film was finally released, RKO itself was history. Owner Howard Hughes had sold the studio to General Tire in the mid-1950's, but the new owners were more interested in the studio's film library, and in television production, than they were in making feature films. The few films they were producing were mostly remakes of earlier hits, including The Girl Most Likely - a remake of Tom Dick and Harry (1941), a Ginger Rogers vehicle directed by Garson Kanin. Powell plays a dreamy young woman who can't decide among three suitors: charming-but-unambitious Cliff Robertson, rich playboy Keith Andes, and earnest, hard-working salesman Tommy Noonan. So she accepts all their proposals.

Powell began her career in MGM musicals as a teenager. She reached her peak in the hugely successful Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). But by the mid-50's, musicals were declining, and consequently so was Powell's career. The following year, she parted ways with MGM. The Girl Most Likely, her first film since leaving MGM, was made in 1956, but because of RKO's problems, was not released until early 1958. It was Powell's last starring role in a film, although she continued to work onstage and in television.

Now nearly forgotten, Mitchell Leisen was one of Paramount's top directors in the 1930's and 1940's, directing such critical and popular successes as Easy Living (1937), Midnight (1939), Lady in the Dark (1944), and To Each His Own (1946). But by the late 1940's, his big-budget films were less successful, and he was experiencing some health and personal problems. Paramount was offering him inferior films, and Leisen re-negotiated his contract with the studio so he could accept outside assignments, although they were few and far between. Critics said The Girl Most Likely proved he hadn't lost his touch, but it would be his last feature film, though he continued to direct television episodes into the mid-1960's.

Broadway star Carol Channing was supposed to play Powell's best friend in The Girl Most Likely. Channing had recently played a similar role as Ginger Rogers' pal in RKO's The First Traveling Saleslady (1956). But according to Leisen, problems with Channing began even before production began on The Girl Most Likely. She did not show up for makeup and wardrobe tests, and when she did arrive, she told RKO executive William Dozier that she wanted the starring role. She felt that she was too big a star to play second fiddle to Powell. And Channing wanted to insert some gags for herself into the film. Dozier fired Channing, and on the suggestion of choreographer Gower Champion, replaced her with comedienne Kaye Ballard, who earned some of the film's best reviews.

Champion, who had been half of a very successful movie dance team with his wife Marge, and had choreographed many of their routines, moved into full-time choreography with The Girl Most Likely. His two production numbers in the film, set on a southern California beach, and in the border town of Tijuana, Mexico, were highlights of the film. Champion later created a nightclub act for Powell, and persuaded her to make her Broadway debut, taking over the lead in a revival of the musical Irene, which he was directing. But according to Powell, ten days before her opening, Champion withdrew from the production, making some disparaging remarks about her and the incident ended their friendship.

Those associated with the production of The Girl Most Likely described the eeriness of working at the nearly abandoned RKO studio. When production began, a few other films were also in production. As they wrapped, more and more departments would close down. Finally, The Girl Most Likely company was the only one left. By the time the film was finished, so was RKO. Universal finally picked up the distribution rights, and released it on the bottom half of a double bill. The New York Times called The Girl Most Likely "a silly, crawling little bore," but critics over the years have expressed appreciation for the film's breezy style and regret that a director and star who still had a lot to offer were unable to continue their careers.

Director: Mitchell Leisen
Producer: Stanley Rubin
Screenplay: Devery Freeman, based on an uncredited story and screenplay by Paul Jarrico
Cinematography: Robert H. Planck
Editor: Harry Marker, Doane Harrison
Costume Design: Renie
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, George W. Davis
Music: songs by Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane
Choreography: Gower Champion
Principal Cast: Jane Powell (Dodie), Cliff Robertson (Pete), Keith Andes (Neil), Kaye Ballard (Marge), Tommy Noonan (Buzz), Una Merkel (Mom), Frank Cady (Pop).
C-99m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri