Gene Kelly starred in a lot of great MGM musicals. Cole Porter wrote a lot of brilliant music. And George Cukor directed many fine films. Put them all together and you get 1957's Les Girls, a film that shows that even the best often go out not with a bang, but with a whimper. After the phenomenal success of High Society, MGM brought an ailing Cole Porter back to pen twelve songs for this new musical, Kelly's last at MGM. Only five made it into the film and all are, sadly, quite forgettable. Kelly plays Barry Nichols, a song-and-dance man traveling through Europe with his "Les Girls" stage show. The story's told in flashback as one of the girls, played by Kay Kendall, is being sued for libel by one of the others (Taina Elg) over a tell-all autobiography. The tales that the girls tell are wildly different (one of the film's biggest weaknesses is that their stories share almost no common elements, destroying any cleverness in the gimmick), and finally, in the third act, Kelly shows up to give his version of events. The film is overly talky and awkwardly paced, with Kelly doing some of his worst overacting ever; between his one-dimensional performance and Cukor's lackluster direction, the picture has a knocked-out-quickly-to-fulfill-a-contract feeling. The one set-piece with real sparkle is Kelly's dance number with third "Les Girl" Mitzi Gaynor set to Porter's "Why Am I So Gone About That Gal?" in which Kelly parodies Marlon Brando's The Wild One persona before segueing into one of his trademark modern ballets. The women are gorgeous, the costumes delightful (the "Ladies in Waiting" number has all three in rather risqué, backless Marie Antoinette outfits, with blue bows decorating their almost-naked backsides), but the songs are too few and too far between, and the story is just silly. Patrick Macnee pops up as a barrister in the courtroom scenes, though, which is good for a giggle. Warner Home Video's DVD release of Les Girls, part of their "Cole Porter Collection," offers a new digital transfer in anamorphic widescreen preserving the film's original CinemaScope screen ratio (2.35:1). The Metrocolor has been nicely preserved, with its vivid blues and reds; the transfer is very clean, but some scenes are unaccountably darker than others, making the picture occasionally appear murky. The new Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix (in English or French, with English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles available) is fine, if unexceptional. Also on board is a behind-the-scenes featurette, "Cole Porter in Hollywood: Ca C'est L'Amour" (8 min.), hosted by Taina Elg. It's a bit of fluff, but it does provide an overview of the film's background, including a segment on Kay Kendall, who'd been diagnosed with leukemia and died just three years after making the film. Also included is the theatrical trailer (which helpfully tells us that the title "rhymes with 'playgirls'") and Tex Avery's 1954 cartoon "Flea Circus," about fleas who run away from the circus to join a dog. Snap-case.
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