Scandal! Lady Sybil Wren (Kay Kendall) has penned a tell-all memoir and what she told has landed her in court, subject of a case brought by her former colleague Angele Ducros (Taina Elg) who strenuously objects to her claim that Angele attempted suicide when they were rooming together in Paris, part of a trio of the main dancers with Joy Henderson (Mitzi Gaynor) in a show called Les Girls. The mastermind behind this was Barry Nichols (Gene Kelly), a choreographer and leading performer who is now the main player in a conflicting set of tales. As the trial begins, Lady Sybil takes the stand and commences her side of the account, something she avers is entirely accurate...
Cole Porter had mixed fortunes in the cinema, and Les Girls came at the end of a run of underwhelming musicals based on his stage shows, but shortly after the megahit High Society, a musical version of the classic comedy The Philadelphia Story he co-wrote. However, after this he never bothered the silver screen again, and Gene Kelly, once MGM's golden boy in this genre, found his contract had run out and no one was wanting to see and hear him dance and sing anymore. Well, it wasn't quite that bad, but his persona had worn thin with the public and though this saw him essaying more of a heel role, it was not enough to secure any more of the stylings that made him famous.
Sad for such a huge star, even an icon of fifties song and dance, but with Les Girls you could see that if this was the best he was being offered, better to branch off into other fields, as while it still has its fans today, it was really not very impressive. This despite George Cukor at the helm, who perhaps not coincidentally had directed The Philadelphia Story twenty years before, though that effort's sparkle was largely lacking here in spite of Herculean endeavours in the main cast to lift this above the ordinary. Many focused on Kendall as the most valuable player, and she certainly did much of work in trying to keep the mood buoyant, though too much of the plot was no laughing matter.
What else can you say about a story which features two characters attempting to kill themselves? It wasn't the most hilarious of scenarios, even if by the end we're left unsure if that was happening at all for the script was arranged like the then-big arthouse success Rashomon, the Akira Kurosawa movie that revolutionised the form with its concept of the unreliable narrators. Nevertheless, though there were comic scenes, even comic songs, there was precious little to laugh at in Les Girls when the humour was so heavy-handed, and feebly bolstering a selection of songs from Porter that were barely adequate considering what he had been capable of in the past. Unless you were dedicated to the musical, there was scant entertainment value in watching these struggles with the subpar material.
Not only were the songs deeply average, there were only five of them, if that, which over a two-hour movie classing itself as a musical was a bizarre choice. Then there was the dancing, which offered the foursome an opportunity for a degree of more accustomed hoofing, but who wanted to see Kelly indulge himself in modern dance, something even the film sends up when he falls flat on his face not once but twice, literally? Not that the décor was much better, a selection of obvious, drab sets that could have done with sprucing up: An American in Paris this wasn't, despite the same location. And Kelly's choice of one of his modern ballets for the finale was a curious send-up of Marlon Brando in then-current sensation The Wild One, which looked like sour grapes from a formerly established star with regard to a newly-minted one. Dragging on and on, never settling on a tone and prompting a talented cast to overexert themselves in search of a nugget of gold in all this tin, sadly Les Girls was a letdown from the great era of screen musicals.