Can-Can

CAN-CAN was given prestige treatment in 1960, produced for at least $4,995,000, maybe a million more, lensed in Todd-AO 70mm and festooned with an Overture and Intermission like the year’s epics Spartacus, The Alamo and Exodus. It’s not as lengthy as those historical dramas, but the 131 minutes feel longer. Despite pro work from the cast under a seasoned director, and decorated with a slew of Cole Porter’s most recognizable tunes, it comes of as forced musical-comedy whimsy. Things look bright in William H. Daniels camerawork, and it was considered mildly naughty at the time, but today it’s best watched with a remote handy to skip through the endless, uninspired twaddle for the Porter standards, but even they’re done better elsewhere. On top of it, the infamous dance of the title is a letdown.

Montmartre, Paris, 1896. Nightclub owner ‘Simone Pastiche’ (Shirley MacLaine) stays slim dealing with police raids over the scandalous dances she hosts and partakes in and deciding who is the best choice between suitors ‘Francois Durnais’ (Frank Sinatra) and ‘Philipe Forestier’ (Louis Jourdan). Both are lawyers; Francois a breezy partier, Philipe a stuffed shirt with social connections. Judge ‘Paul Barriere’ (Maurice Chevalier) offers sage Gallic wisdom on the side.

Directed by Walter Lang, the script by Charles Lederer and Dorothy Kingsley was based on the hit musical play written by Abe Burrows (Gwen Verdon scooped a Tony from it), with other established Porter songs added to the film besides those he’d done for the play. Set-bound and blandly talky, other than costumes, any semblance to period flavor is specious, both in the jokey back & forth between Rat Pack pals Frank & Shirley (looking fresh and frisky) and the modernist “expressive” choreography designed by Hermes Pan. Jourdan and Chevalier rehash what they just did in Gigi, which at least was shot on location (Yours Sourly not a fan of that overpraised bouillabaisse) and stayed in step with its time setting. Is this the movie when MacLaine began her irksome habit of screeching that continued testing eardrums throughout the decade (Irma La Douce, What A Way To Go!, John Goldfarb Please Come Home, etc.) Frank walks through unruffled, at one point injecting a “Ring-a-ding” to remind us he’s just fooling around. He fared better that year with Oceans 11. MacLaine scored big in The Apartment.

Most flavorful item in this was the introduction of saucy Juliet Prowse, who flaunts her dance moves and come-hither mien. The leggy performer and a demonstration of movement would garner the best-remembered items of publicity from this flashy but otherwise forgettable film. *

Eventual grosses of $12,000,000 placed 17th in the ’60 field. Nelson Riddle’s scoring was nominated for an Oscar, ditto the costume design work of Irene Sharaff. Those Cole Porter numbers include “C’est Magnifique”, “l Love Paris”, “Let’s Do It,” “You Do Something to Me” and “Just One of Those Things”.

With Marcel Dalio, Jean Del Val, Nestor Paiva, Peter Coe, Marc Wilder, Wilda Taylor (later to shimmy as ‘Little Egypt’ in Roustabout).

* Prowse, 23, and Sinatra, 44, shortly commenced a two-year romance that included an announced engagement before they (probably wisely) called it quits. Chairman of the Board to The King: she did manage a quick fling with Elvis after Can-Can wrapped, during the making of G.I. Blues.

Dateline, Burbank: “Local dame touches head of state”

Less-than-admiring of her gam action and that of others in the cast was grumpy Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev. On a tour of the set he was treated to one of the ribald dance numbers. Not won over, he coldly warred back with “You and we have different notions 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. People in your country will go to see it, but Soviet people would scorn such a spectacle. It is pornographic. It is the culture of a surfeited and depraved people. Showing that sort of film is called freedom in this country. Such “freedom” doesn’t suit us. 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.”   Once an ogre…

The USSR boss and his Red-faced scold aside, a more pointed kvetch about this petit bourgeois movie is that when they finally do get around to the can-can, they don’t even use the classic Jacques Offenbach music associated with those high kicks and derriere teases. For a real & rousing can-can, see 1952’s Moulin Rouge.

Juliet Prowse, 1936-1996

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