Les Girls (Blu-ray)

May 17, 2018 7 Min Read

Review by: Jake Keet

Plot: What’s it about?

Warner Bros Archive Collection continues its multifaceted approach to film distribution with the 1957 musical-romance-comedy Les Girls. Les Girls is significant for one major reason- this was the last musical that Cole Porter would write compositions for before his death. He wrote eleven songs and five were used. While I am not a big musical fan, I have been actively trying to expand my palette, so I have not turned down reviewing musicals as they pop up. I sat down to watch Les Girls and will approach it from the viewpoint of a layman.

Les Girls begins in London at the royal courts where Lady Sybil Wren (Kay Kendall) is being sued for libel by Angèle Ducros (Taina Elg.) Sybil wrote a book named Les Girls about her experiences with a dance troupe named Barry Nichols and Les Girls. Angele has sued for libel because the book accused her of attempting suicide, To defend herself, Sybil gives a flashback to the relationship of Barry and Angele. Barry (Gene Kelly) is a perfectionist. When one dancer gets cut out of the troupe he accepts Angele and they become romantically involved despite Angele’s fiancé, Pierre Ducros (Jacques Bergerac.) to defend er reputation, Angele gives an account of Sybil and Barry’s relationship despite Sybil’s fiancé Sir Gerald Wren (Leslie Philips.) To clear everything up, a Barry gives his testimony.

Les Girls at the end of the day is neither good nor bad. When the film relies on musical numbers it can be pretty effective. The musical number where the film pokes fun at Marlon Brando and The Wild One is pretty to look at and features some great dancing by Gene Kelly. The musical number that revolves around Porter’s “Ladies in Waiting” is entertaining, but I found it pretty annoying personally. The numbers themselves are not Cole Porter’s finest hour. I actually have a small connection to Porter – I sang his song “Kick Out of You” at my seventh grade talent show. I love his song “Under My Skin” and most of the stuff that Sinatra made famous from his oeuvre. The songs in this film don’t come close to that level. Honestly, the songs are a little bit too cute for my taste, but they are still the main reason to watch the film.

In fact, the biggest problem with the film is the lack of music. The movie is almost two hours long and we are treated to five songs? The rest of the time is telling the stories about the characters that manage to get very little development. The result is that I found myself bored. Also, the stakes of the trial are not high enough. A libel suit? Can that put somebody in prison or are we just supposed to be worried that somebody may need to pay royalties from a book? Yawn. Oh, and the guy walking around with a sign that says “What is truth?” outside of the courtroom – are we supposed to find this deep or comedic? Either way, it falls flat.

Look, this movie has some good qualities also. All the actresses in the film are decent enough and Gene Kelly is great. The cinematography by Robert Surtees is good and occasionally pretty great. The film just doesn’t quite stick the landing. It is like if Rashomon was rewritten by a musical lover without any of the intelligence of the other film.

My recommendation – rent prior to a purchase if you rent it at all. I will also say that there are much better musicals out there to spend your time with.

Video: How’s it look?

This transfer is interesting. Like some films from this time frame, it has suffered some of the yellow layer collapse that other films from this time period experienced. This was most apparent on the recent release of The Barefoot Contessa, but here it shows up occasionally. I really think that Warner have put forward their very best foot on this release. While the colors can occasionally get out of sort, there are some truly dazzling images at points in this film. Cinematographer Robert Surtees does some great work, especially the final musical number which looks amazing. Scanned in 2K in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1, the film has a great level of detail even when the color reads as incorrect. I am willing to let Warner off the hook on some of the color grading due to an overall impressive amount of detail present.

Audio: How’s it sound?

As Warner occasionally does, they have expanded the field of sound to a full surround off of the magnetic tapes on which the soundtrack was recorded. This surround track sounds very appealing with the dialogue front and center while Cole Porter’s music fills the room nicely. This is another great example of the smart work that can be done to preserve and enhance the films of yesteryear.

Supplements: What are the extras?

All of these supplements have been ported over from the previous 2003 DVD release

  • Cole Porter in Hollywood: Ca C’est L’Amour  – a short but informative remembrance on the film and its stars from Taina Elg.
  • The Flea Circus – a short Tex Avery cartoon. No idea why this is included.
  • Trailer 

The Bottom Line

Les Girls is not very good and it is not very bad. It is overlong and the plot is pretty boring with no real character development. That said, some of the musical numbers are pretty well done and Gene Kelly is great on screen. Overall, I recommend a rental prior to a purchase and unless you are interested in this genre you may just want to skip it.

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