The Best of M-G-M: Les Girls (1957)

LES Girls

source: MGM

The M-G-M movie musical has become intrinsically linked with the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The rouge stained faces, silk dresses, and elaborate backdrops are all staples of MGM’s musical repertoire. Unlike their soulless modern counterpart (I don’t know why producers subject us to this mumbo jumbo) classic Hollywood musicals have a magical quality to them that could only exist in that specific era in movie history.

No other film personifies this feeling better than 1957’s Les Girls.

Directed by the legendary George Cukor and starring a talented cast of dancers, actors, and singers that include the fabulous Mitzi Gaynor, the witty Kay Kendall, the very sensual Taina Elg, and of course, everyone’s favorite hoofer Gene Kelly, Les Girls is every francophile’s dream.

Told in 3 segments, the film tells the story of three women and their experiences working in Paris as showgirls. It goes sours when, 10 years later, one of the women writes a shocking memoir detailing the unglamorous side of being in show business.

Les_Girls

source: MGM

The movie begins in London at the Royal Courts of Justice where Angele DuCros (played by Taina Elg) is suing her former dance troupe member Lady Wren- formally known as Sybil Wren (played by Kay Kendall) for defamation.

Sybil’s memoirs recount the days and memories she had while working for Barry Paris (played by Gene Kelly) and his vaudeville act – Les Girls ironically, in the same city that shares his last name. In one of the book’s chapters, Sybil alleges that Angele stepped out on her then-fiancé now-husband Pierre DuCros with Barry and tried to commit suicide after he rebuffed her advances.

Ready to take the stand to defend her honor, Sybil’s testimony takes us back to Paris circa 1949, where the streets were white and the wine was dark.


Barry is looking for another woman to add to his already very successful dance group, which already has Sybil, of course, and American Joanne “Joy” Henderson (played by Mitzi Gaynor.) Being the overbearing man he is, Barry has 4 rules that each girl must abide by:

  • Be prompt
  • Be persistent
  • Be private

and the last and most absurd important of them all….

  • No marriage.

Well, then!

Angele joins the troupe and instantly break the one rule that essentially holds the group together when she reveals that she’s engaged to Pierre.

Les Girls 1957

source: MGM

A couple of days go by and Les Girls finally make their debut as a trio with a song (whether you like it or not) that will invade your mind and become a VERY catchy earworm. After a performance that would’ve made Louis the XIV proud, the girls head to their dressing rooms where Angele makes a startling confession.

She has a bit of a crush on Barry.

Sybil and Joy attempt to warn her about Barry’s playboy lifestyle.

“But it is ze French way to ‘ave an affair!” she snaps back. Sybil and Joy can only shake their head in grief, loathing what they might have to do to keep this lie going.

Later in the evening, Barry and Angele run off to have an impromptu “rehearsal” to “go over” the new dance number they created. Back at the apartment, Angele’s fiancé unexpectedly drops by for a visit. Unwillingly to break the ‘girl-code’ Joy and Sybil comes up with all sorts of lies to cover for their friend’s lack of foresight.

When Angele returns from her rendezvous with Barry, Pierre excitedly tells her that his parents are in Paris to meet her, the final step in their courtship.

Uh, oh. There’s a problem here.

Les Girls 1957 2

source: MGM

Pierre believes Angele is in Paris studying to be a nurse and is cohabitating with Joy and Sybil to save on rent costs; she’s neglected to tell him that she’s actually a dancer. Nevertheless, she still plans on performing the following night… IN FRONT OF Pierre and his parents, seeing as they have tickets for the show.

Believing that this her only chance at true happiness, before the show begins Angele pleads with Barry to confess his ‘love’ for her. Barry being reasonable, obviously rejects her efforts, Angele takes the stage a beaten and broken woman. On top of that, she also makes a fool of herself, trying to hide her face from being seen by Pierre.

Too late!

In trying to conceal her face, she manages to screw up the number and ruin her costume. Assuming she’s ruined her chances with both men, Angele looks to Sybil and Joy – particularly Sybil, for comfort. Nighttime begins to fall, and Joy and Sybil go out for a bite to eat, leaving Angele in the apartment alone. When they return, they find her passed out from inhaling gas fumes.


Returning to the courtroom, Sybil explains that Angele wanted to die because of her unrequited feelings toward Barry. Pierre horrified during the duration of the testimony, is humiliated by the alleged affair that took place between Angele and Barry and raucously argues with her. The next day in court, Angele gets to right her wrongs by telling her version of events.

Back to 1949 Paris, we go….


Les Girls 1957 3

source: MGM

Sybil’s fiancé London businessman Gerald Wren (of course his name is Gerald…) pays her a surprise visit (what’s with the surprise visits?) to Paris to see how’s she’s doing.

Turns out she isn’t well at all, in fact, she’s terribly drunk.

Being the good friends they are, Joy and Angele use their wit and charm to distract Gerald and cover up Sybil’s indiscretions. Barry notices Sybil’s declining status and threatens to fire her until Angele convinces him not to when she explains that her drunkenness is due her unreciprocated love for him.

Barry ego is said to have swelled 5x that day and he soon takes pity on her.

Months later, Barry asserts that he was able to convince Sybil to go sober; Oh, and they also end up having an affair as per tradition.

Touring the small Carribean country of Grenada (odd, but understandable) Gerald, again, pops up suddenly on this tiny island offering Barry a job in London. Little did he know that Gerald had ulterior motives. You see, Gerald did this with the hope that Sybil would return to London, and stay there – permanently.

Later that night, Sybil and Barry head to a Flamenco club where they discuss the proposition Gerald gave them. However, when Barry brings up the subject Sybil tells him that Gerald canceled his offer after he learned about the affair that they’re having. Befuddled at this statement, when Gerald show up at the club a few moments later, Barry disavows Sybil’s statement.

Les Girls 6

source: MGM

Gerald, naturally, shocked that his fianceé would cheat on him, starts a good ole’ fashioned barfight with Barry. After that whole ordeal, Sybil tries to apologize to Barry with no luck. He comes clean saying that he only showed interest in her intending to curb her habit of alcoholism.

Shocked and saddened, Sybil relapses.

The group returns to Paris where Sybil’s nasty habit starts to bleed into her performances.

Barry ends up firing her in a fit of rage.

Back at the apartment later that night (there are sure a lot of night scenes in this movie) Angele finds Sybil unconscious from inhaling gas fumes and comes to the conclusion that she tried to commit suicide, thus ending Angele’s “side” to the story.


We return to the courtroom where the session has been adjourned. Sybil confronts Angele claiming she invented every word of her story.

Well, Sybil’s accusations aren’t enough for her husband Gerald, and he ends up telling her that their marriage is over.

The next day, Barry is called into court to make sense of all of these conflicting testimonies.


Les Girls 1957 8

source: MGM

Perhaps my favorite of the 3 stories (mostly because I identify with Joy so strongly here) Barry admits that he wasn’t in love with Sybil or Angele; as matter of fact, he had he eyes set the quieter more conservative, Joy.

His attempts to court her fail – repeatedly. Joy doesn’t want to dirty her unblemished reputation by dating a man with Barry’s womanizing history.

One night after rehearsals, Barry offers to drive a very tired Joy back to her apartment. Fully aware that he’s trying to take advantage of her, Joy allows him upstairs and tells him she’s going to slip into something “a little bit more comfortable.”

Fully believing that he’s got his way, Barry takes off his shoes, looses up his tie and makes himself comfortable only to have his dream crushed when Joy returns looking like she’s ready to travel to the spa, pinned up hair and all!

Les Girls 1957 9

source: MGM

Barry storms out of the apartment in sexual frustration. A couple of days later, Pierre and Gerald ask Barry to fire Sybil and Angele so they could marry them (how ridiculously selfish!), Barry doesn’t think so, however. Intrigued at the prospect of being alone with Joy, he plots a plan that would disband the group forever.

That night after performing the greatest and most sensual musical number I’ve ever witnessed, Barry collapses backstage feigning a heart condition prompting Joy to console him. He tells Joy that even though he’s been diagnosed with a terminal heart condition, “the show must go on.”

“Absolutely not!” she retorts back.

Barry’s plan appears to have worked.

Joy charges back to the apartment where she tells Angele and Sybil the ghastly news.

A few days later, the girls and Barry have an anniversary party celebrating the group’s existence. It’s at this gathering that Sybil and Angele agree to quit the group due to Barry’s health (among other things.) He accepts their resignations and asks Joy if she could kindly take him home.

When they get to his apartment, Barry falls on top of Joy still pretending to have a heart palpitation. She desperately wants to succumb to his advances, but she fears if she gets his heart rate up, he could be in worse shape than he already is.

Les Girl 1957 10

source: MGM

That’s it!

Barry gives up this shtick that he’s doing and tells Joy that it’s all a facade. This clearly does NOT go over well with Joy and she races out of his apartment while Barry runs after her. In a very Say Anything… type of moment Barry gets to Joy’s apartment (really the apartment she shares with the girls) and essentially screams out that he loves her. Jokes on him, if he only knew that Joy was standing a few yards away from him, he might’ve never done that.

Oh, well.

Disappointed that he didn’t get the response he wanted, Barry sulks up to her apartment where he finds Angele and Sybil passed out from gas fumes from a wonky water heater.


Back to the present day, Barry explains that both girls were taken to the hospital and Les Girls never performed as a group again.

Both Sybil and Angele were troubled that the cause of their asphyxiation was never made clear to them, but that doesn’t matter anymore! Sybil accepts Angele’s motion to drop the case and all is right with the world, except for Pierre and Gerald.

Insulted by their husband’s scheme to end their careers Angele and Sybil embrace like old friends as they walk off to their cars.

As for Barry? Well, he and Joy got married.

I guess everyone did get what they wanted in the end.

How sweet.

Conclusion

Les Girls 4

source: MGM

Now, Les Girls is a film that stands out above the rest.

Released in 1957, just as the musical craze in Hollywood was starting to die down due to 1960s obsession with rebellion and counterculture, Les Girls brings back that old Hollywood flavor to musicals that harken back to the day of Busby Berkeley.

That’s what I love about this film.

It’s absolutely heavenly.

It makes you want to fly to Paris find the nearest bistro order a café au lait while smoking Virginia Slims with a cigarette holder.

Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor, and Taina Elg gave this move an extra *umpfh* that the original cast of Leslie Caron, Jean Simmons, Cyd Charisse probably couldn’t.

Gene Kelly was positively charming (and kind of scummy) playing the egomaniacal, fame-hungry Barry Paris.

This is definitely a movie that I cherish. When I first viewed it, I was enchanted. The lights, the dresses, the sets, the costumes by Orry Kelly, all of it sucked me in. I supposed this a lesser-known musical that doesn’t nearly get enough attention – it’s a shame because it should. Without it, I never would’ve never known who Kay Kendall was; trust me, folks she lived a crazy life, an unfortunate one at that.

All in all Les Girls is my second favorite musical (behind Seven Brides for Seven Brothers of course.) It deserves that spot because it’s truly in a league of its own and I’m glad it is.

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The Best of M-G-M: Summer Stock (1950)

summer stock

source: MGM

Ahhh, there’s nothing like watching a good ole’ fashioned MGM musical during the summer months. Funny enough, the perfect musical for this season has the word “summer” in its title.

It isn’t necessarily about rainy days or hot summer nights, but when you watch it, you’ll definitely feel compelled to go outside and experience the great outdoors, or in this movie’s case, a farm.

Directed by Charles Walters and co-starring Judy Garland, Gloria DeHaven, Phil Silvers, Marjorie Main and Gene Kelly, Summer Stock is a lovely little film about love, farms, and stage performances.

summer stock judy garland

source: MGM

In the film, Garland plays Jane Falbury, a headstrong Connecticut farmer who has a religious dedication to her craft. Even though she’s worked hard to make sure that her property runs like a well oiled machine, three years of bad crops have seen her farm go to ruin.

Unfortunately, with no crops, comes no revenue.

Despite going bankrupt, Jane still manages to pay for her sister Abigail’s acting lessons in upstate New York. To add to her list of problems, two of Jane’s farm hands quit to take office jobs in Hartford.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, she is forced to beg her boyfriend’s father (played by Ray Collins) for a loan to buy a tractor to kick-start the effort to try to revitalize her farm. Asking for a favor from her future father-in-law knocks her ego down a peg, but, she swallows her pride and gets it done.

When Jane returns to her property, she finds it being overrun by a group of troupe performers. Frustrated and confused about what’s happening, she demands to speak to the person responsible for this.

After a couple minutes of looking around, she runs into her sister, Abigail (played by Gloria DeHaven). Abigail explains that she invited the troupe down to Connecticut so they would be able to have a space to put on their stage play.

summer-stock-kelly-garland

source: MGM

Naturally, Jane doesn’t take the news too well.

She tells Abigail to send these people packing, but before Jane could really get worked up, Abigail’s boyfriend, Joe Ross (played Gene Kelly) steps in to diffuse the situation. His attempts to sweet-talk Jane work, however, there’s a catch. In order for them to stay, they must put in their fair share of farm work; in other words, they must help Jane with her daily farm duties.

The troupe agrees, and Jane proceeds to split them into groups of three, showing each trio how and what needs to be done around the farm.

Later that day, after an exhausting few hours of showing actors how to manage a farm, Jane lends her housekeeper a hand by washing dishes from the previous night’s dinner. In an attempt to lighten the mood, Jane decides to do an impromptu tap dance for her own amusement, but in actuality, it was to poke fun at Abigail’s boyfriend, Joe.

Unbeknownst to Jane, Joe was standing behind her the entire time. Embarrassed, she swiftly apologizes, but he didn’t mind. To her surprise, Joe was impressed that she could even dance in the first place. Fast forward a couple of days and, somehow, word gets out that Jane is hiding an acting troupe on her farm.

summer-stock-kelly-garland-1950

source: MGM

Because of this, she is concerned about what the local townsfolk might think when they encounter a bevy of stage performers in a relatively small, quiet town. Unfortunately, her fears come true when she’s summoned to explain herself in front of the town leaders.

While she’s gone, an actor back at the farm thought it would be a good idea to take Jane’s tractor out for a joy ride.

In true classic Hollywood fashion, something bad has to happen, right? Absolutely! The guy ends up wrecking Jane’s tractor and has no quick way to fix it before she returns home from her meeting. By the time a solution to the problem has been found, Jane has already returned.

She finds out what happened, and angrily tells Joe that his troupe needs to return to where they came from. Panicked, Joe tries to maneuver his way out of another sticky situation.

Before anything gets too out of hand, Joe reveals that he and his troupe members pulled together some cash to buy Jane a new tractor.

summer-stock

source: MGM

Jane reconsiders her decision, and changes her tune. While all of this is happening, however, Abigail disappears from the farm. This is a problem, considering that the play is about open in a few days time. Joe, Jane and the rest of the troupe try to search for her, with no use.

Instead of going to search for Abigail, Joe gets another ‘bright’ idea. He suggests that Jane takes her sister’s place in the show. Well, Jane’s boyfriend overhears this, and staunchly objects. Jane, sick of his act, threatens to call off their engagement. Orville takes offense to her tone, and storms off of Jane’s property.

As the film progresses, we see Jane and Joe rehearsing, laughing, singing, and eventually falling in love.

A couple of days pass, and opening night for the musical finally arrives. Just before Jane and Joe are about to take the stage, Orville returns, this time he has Abigail with him.

summer stock get happy

source: MGM

When Abigail confronts Joe and Jane, she instantly expects her sister to relinquish the role that she had before she went rogue. Obviously, Jane flat out tells her no, and when she sees that her sister and Joe, clearly have feelings for each other, she quits harassing them.

At the end of the film, we see Jane and Joe get on stage to perform together, but before they do, Joe proposes marriage which Jane, happily, accepts.

Conclusion

garland-kelly

source: MGM

Perhaps, Summer Stock is better known for its antics off-screen than the acting that you see on screen.

Judy Garland was going through a rough time making this film- and it shows. In certain scenes, you see Garland looking pretty overweight and tired. Now, I don’t have an issue with this, a Judy Garland movie is still a Judy Garland movie to me, but at the time Summer Stock was released, it was very noticeable.

This was the period where Garland‘s drug addiction was spiraling out of control. According to Gene Kelly, he tells film producer Joe Pasternak that he was only doing Summer Stock as a favor to Garland because he, “had every reason to be grateful for all the help she had given me.”

It was a well-known secret that Garland had a problem with psychiatric medications, going all the way back to her Wizard of Oz days, and unfortunately, the problem lasted well into her adult years.

Luckily, for Garland who was hoping to get her life back on track, the script for Summer Stock happened to land right on her lap. Fresh out of rehab, and ready for a new start, MGM offered Garland the lead role with the hopes of getting her to work consistently again.

behindthescenesof Summer Stock

Behind The Scenes of Summer Stock (1950)

During production, however, it proved to be a difficult problem.

There were multiple instances where Garland couldn’t work due to depression. This inevitably caused delays in the movie’s schedule, which frustrated the cast and crew. Emotionally, physically, and mentally Garland was gone.  But somehow, someway director Charles Walters and company got through the difficult shoot and created a pretty decent movie.

Despite the behind the scenes hubbub that Summer Stock is known for, the movie manages to be incredibly entertaining.

With its high flying dance scenes, interesting plot, and a hilarious supporting cast of actors like Phil Silvers, Marjorie Main and Eddie Bracken, Summer Stock is certainly a classic movie musical. Even though the movie had some issues off camera, it never showed. In fact, it added to the movie’s enjoyability.

When watching it, you appreciate Judy Garland even more, just due to the fact that she went through all of that and still managed to put out the performance that she did. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend that you do. Not only is it a fantastic musical, it also gives you a chance to appreciate how much of a professional Judy Garland was.