Cast & Crew
In the Montmarte district of Paris, womanizing attorney François Durnais escorts his old friend, Chief Judge Paul Barriere, to the Bal du Paradis cabaret to see a performance of the can-can. The dance, which has been deemed lewd and lascivious by the court, has been outlawed, and consequently, the police raid the club and, although François and Paul avoid arrest, Simone Pistache, François' sweetheart and the cabaret's proprietor, is hauled before the court to face Paul and his straight-laced young colleague, Judge Philippe Forrestier. Although Paul is eager to dismiss the case, Philippe is intent on prosecuting it, but when the police, who have been bribed by Simone, profess a lack of evidence, Simone is released. That night, Philippe, determined to prove Simone guilty, comes to the club posing as a rich roué. When Simone boasts that she has compiled a list of police bribes, Philippe bets her that she is lying. Just as Simone is about to turn the list over to Philippe, Claudine, one of the dancers, recognizes him as a judge and warns Simone. Philippe then sternly advises Simone to comply with the law, but unable to resist her charms, he passionately embraces her. When Philippe promises never to harm her, Simone takes him at his word and stages a performance of the can-can. Philippe's photographers are waiting in the audience to photograph the event, and as a result, Simone is arrested once again. When François, acting as Simone's attorney, ascertains that Philippe kissed Simone in her bedroom, he threatens to blackmail the judge unless he drops the charges. The threat proves unnecessary, however, when Philippe summons Simone to his chambers and, after apologizing for misleading her, drops the complaint. When Simone kisses him in gratitude, Philippe, smitten, invites her to dinner. After she protests that she has a prior engagement, Philippe proclaims his love and proposes to her. Afterward, Simone, stunned, invites François to her boudoir and asks him to marry her. When he refuses, she angrily informs him that she plans to marry Philippe. Certain that marriage to a showgirl would ruin Philippe's career, Paul conspires with François to prevent the union. Paul decides to host an engagement party aboard a luxurious yacht, and invites all of Paris society. Feeling unworthy and out of place, Simone is tricked by François into getting drunk and performing a ribald song that insults the distinguished guests. Humiliated, Simone runs into a cabin and Philippe follows to console her. After he leaves, however, Simone jumps overboard and swims to shore. The next day, Philippe worries about Simone until André, the headwaiter at the cabaret, delivers a letter from her, stating that their marriage would be a mistake. Next, Simone goes to François' office and asks for a loan to stage the Four Arts Ball, insisting that he accept the deed to her club as collateral. Arriving at the ball drunk, Philippe mimics François' flippant manner, thus endearing himself to Simone. When Philippe slams the window that no other man has been able to close, Simone reconsiders his proposal. After informing François that he is now the club's proprietor due to the deed he signed, Simone calls for a performance of the banned can-can, thus precipitating François' arrest. At the trial however, Simone relents and testifies that she has lost the deed, thus assuring François' acquittal. Paul then suggests adjourning court to observe can-can to determine if it is truly lewd, and when the crowd breaks into exuberant applause, the dance is vindiated. Afterward, the police pretend to arrest Simone and throw her into a police wagon with François, who then finally proposes to her.
John A. Neris
Jean Del Val
Marcel De La Broesse
Edward Le Veque
William H. Daniels
W. D. Flick
Paul S. Fox
Joseph E. Rickards
Walter M. Scott
Jack Martin Smith
Lyle R. Wheeler
Best Costume Design
Best Music Original Dramatic Score
As it turned out, Khrushchev was greatly displeased with the routine that was performed for him on the set, a rendering of the famous skirt-swirling, bloomer-exposing music-hall dance. The day after his visit, during a meeting with U.S. labor leaders in San Francisco, he used the spectacle he'd witnessed as an example of the difference between Soviet and American ideas of freedom: "When we were in Hollywood they danced the cancan for us. The girls who dance it have to pull up their skirts and show their backsides. They are good, honest actresses but have to perform that dance. They are compelled to adapt themselves to the tastes of depraved people." Khrushchev called what he'd seen "pornographic" and declared his preference for the Soviet idea of freedom: "You seem to like the 'freedom' of looking at backsides. But we prefer the freedom to think, to exercise our mental faculties, the freedom of creative progress."
Khrushchev's disapproval notwithstanding, the freedom of looking at backsides is one of the pleasures to be found in Can-Can, set in Montmartre in the decadent 1890s. The script was rather loosely adapted from Abe Burrows' original stage version, with songs by Cole Porter, which ran on Broadway for more than two years beginning in 1953: In the movie, MacLaine's character, Simone Pistache, the saucy proprietress of a Montmartre music hall, is an amalgam of two characters found in the play. The dancing was choreographed by Hermes Pan (whereas Michael Kidd devised the original numbers). And some older, familiar Cole Porter songs ("Let's Do It," "Just One of Those Things") were added to those that appeared in the original stage version (among them "I Love Paris" and "It's All Right with Me"). Also, the original was altered to provide a much larger starring role for Frank Sinatra, who plays Simone's lawyer and chief love interest, François Durnais.
The smooth-talking François has been wooing Simone for years, though he keeps refusing to marry her. When Louis Jourdan's uptight judge Philipe Forrestier falls for Simone, François finds himself competing for her affections. (Maurice Chevalier, as the older judge Paul Barriere, counsels both of the men as they navigate these tricky affairs of the heart.) Meanwhile, MacLaine's Simone high-kicks her way through life, keeping her little club afloat by staging the can-can every night, even though the allegedly improper routine has been banned in France.
MacLaine, at that point, was a quickly rising star, having recently completed Career (1959), with Dean Martin, and Ask Any Girl (1959), with David Niven. She had worked with Sinatra before, in the 1958 Some Came Running, and she jumped at the chance to appear with him in Can-Can. As MacLaine has written on her own web site, ShirleyMacLaine.com, Sinatra preferred to keep what the crew called "French hours," usually showing up for filming around noon. MacLaine didn't mind that - it allowed her to have a more normal life, with her nights to herself - and she loved working with Sinatra. She writes, "During filming I chewed gum excessively and I was always searching for a place to put my gum before I did a scene. Frank had noticed this and said, 'Hey kid, put it here behind my ear. It'll help both of us.'" Apparently, according to MacLaine, Sinatra had been a "forceps baby" and had a large scar behind one ear, which needed to be hidden with makeup for close-up shots. "So the gum would serve a dual purpose and nobody was any wiser."
MacLaine also claims credit for introducing Sinatra to Juliet Prowse, the leggy South African dancer who had a secondary role in Can-Can. (The two embarked on a romance and became engaged, though they never married.) Prowse is certainly a striking presence in Can-Can, particularly in the movie's otherwise somewhat busy Adam-and-Eve ballet number, in which she steals the show as a slithery serpent. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther had very few nice things to say about Can-Can in his review: He called the dances "tedious," noting that they were "nowhere near so naughty or bold as Premier Khrushchev proclaimed them." But he did offer some praise for Prowse, calling her "a healthy hoyden if ever we saw one." And Prowse does embody a kind of dangerous sensuality, something far more complex than the naughty silliness of the can-can itself.
It's probably a good thing Khrushchev didn't see Prowse's sensuous snake dance while visiting the set of Can-Can. Then again, if he had, he might have viewed the American version of freedom in a completely different light. It's possible, of course, that Khrushchev was just cranky on the day of his Twentieth Century Fox studio visit, particularly since a trip to Disneyland - a sight he really wanted to see - had been canceled for security reasons. And MacLaine claims that Khrushchev, whatever particular bee he may have had in his bonnet that day, eventually ended up liking her just fine. The actress says that after she finished her next film, The Apartment (1960), she saw Khrushchev at the Manhattan hangout Sardi's. The note he sent to her table read, "I have seen The Apartment and you have improved."
Producer: Saul Chaplin, Jack Cummings
Director: Walter Lang
Screenplay: Dorothy Kingsley (screenplay), Charles Lederer (screenplay), Abe Burrows (musical comedy)
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Music: Cole Porter (music and lyrics), Nelson Riddle (conductor and arranger)
Film Editing: Robert L. Simpson
Cast: Frank Sinatra (François Durnais), Shirley MacLaine (Simone Pistache), Louis Jourdan (Philipe Forrestier), Maurice Chevalier (Paul Barriere), Juliet Prowse (Claudine).
by Stephanie Zacharek
The New York Times
Greg Linnell, "Applauding the Good and Condemning the Bad: The Christian Herald and Varieties of Protestant Response to Hollywood in the 1950s." Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Volume 12, Spring 2006
Peter Carlson, "Nikita Khrushchev Goes to Hollywood." Smithsonian Magazine, July 2009
During filming, Nikita Khrushchev visited the set with his wife. He reportedly was shocked by the open sexuality on display, and remarked: "The face of mankind is prettier than its backside."
The film's title card reads: "Jack Cummings production of Cole Porter's Can-Can." The film version eliminated seven songs from the stage version and added three Porter songs from earlier Broadway shows, "Let's Do It," "Just One of Those Things" and "You Do Something to Me." According to a July 27, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, both M-G-M and Columbia were bidding on the rights to the play. In August 1954, according to a Los Angeles Times news item, Darryl Zanuck had just purchased the rights, intending to cast Jeanmarie and Gwen Verdon (who appeared as "Claudine" in the Broadway production) in the leads. Hollywood Reporter news items yield the following information about the production: In May 1955, Nunnally Johnson was writing a version of the screenplay, but dropped out of the project after Twentieth Century-Fox set back the start of production to 1956. An April 1955 Daily Variety news item adds that Johnson was to write, produce and direct the film, and that Cary Grant and Jeanmarie were tentatively set to star. February and March 1956 news items note that Claude Binyon was writing a script and that Henry Ephron was to produce and Dick Powell to direct the film, which was to be shot in Paris.
In April 1956, Henry King was announced to replace Powell as director. By October 1958, a Daily Variety news item noted that discussions were underway with Vincente Minnelli to direct and Marilyn Monroe to star. Studio publicity materials contained in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library add that Martine Carol was being considered for a top role. July 1959 Hollywood Reporter news items noted that Louis Jourdan initially refused the role of "Philippe," but later consented to play the part after Charles Lederer was hired to polish the script. The exent of Lederer's contribution to the released film has not been determined, however.
A May 1960 American Cinematographer article noted that the "Garden of Eden" musical number in the film took six weeks to rehearse and five days to shoot because of the complex lighting needed to capture the dancers' movements. As noted in a September 1959 Hollywood Citizen-News article, Nikita Kruschev, the Soviet Premier who was on a trip to the United States, was brought to the film's set to view a special Saturday performance and later described the can-can dance scene as "immoral."
Although Maurice Chevalier had appeared in several American co-productions from the late 1940s throughout the 1950s, all of those films were shot in Europe. Can-Can was the first film he made in the United States since his 1935 20th Century Pictures release Folies Bergère de Paris (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). Although dancer Juliet Prowse made a brief appearance in the 1955 picture Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (see below), Can-Can marked her first major film role. Can-Can was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Costume Design and Best Music Scoring. According to a January 1960 news item, the Carthay Theater in Los Angeles was leased for two years for an exclusive run of Can-Can. The picture was not successful, however, so it played there for only a few weeks.
Released in United States Summer July 1960
Released in United States Summer July 1960