Thursday, June 14, 2012

Les Girls (in the presence of Taina Elg)

Tytöt. US © 1957 Loew's & Sol C. Siegel Productions. PC: MGM. P: Sol C. Siegel. D: George Cukor. SC: John Patrick – based on a story by Vera Caspary. DP (CinemaScope, Metrocolor): Robert Surtees. AD: William A. Horning, Gene Allen. Cost: Orry-Kelly. M: Cole Porter – »Les Girls», »Flower Song», »You’re Just Too, Too», »Ça c’est l’amour», »Ladies In Waiting», »La Habanera», »Why Am I So Gone (About That Gal)?». ED: Ferris Webster. C: Gene Kelly (Barry Nichols), Mitzi Gaynor (Joy Henderson), Kay Kendall (Lady Wren), Taina Elg (Angele Ducros), Jacques Bergerac (Pierre Ducros). [On the Warner Home Video (2003) dvd Taina Elg hosts the bonus track "Cole Porter in Hollywood: Ça c'est l'amour".] 114 min. A 35 mm Svenska Filminstitutet / Filmarkivet print with Swedish subtitles by Wilhelm Sörensen. In the presence of Taina Elg interviewed by Foster Hirsch. Viewed at the tent, Sodankylä (Midnight Sun Film Festival), 13 June 2012.

Synopsis: Lady Wren publishes her tell-all memoirs about what happened behind the scenes of the Barry Nichols and Les Girls show. When the case is dealt with in court the movie turns into a musical version of Rashomon. Nobody is lying, yet everybody tells a completely different version of the events. MGM still produced this musical with total commitment and full resources, although the age of the classical Hollywood musical was over. This was George Cukor's first musical, a combination of verbal fireworks and visual splendour, as Jean-Pierre Coursodon has pointed out.

The screening started with a Finnish newsreel compilation on Taina Elg, including her visit to Finland for the Finnish premiere of Les Girls. Taina Elg: I'm very moved since in these newsreels I saw my father, my mother, many friends, and my son Raoul [Björkenheim] who was then 2 years old.

Foster Hirsch: Les Girls is a very important movie, one of the last original MGM musicals, not an adaptation. It was the last MGM movie for Gene Kelly and the last Cole Porter score, an important CinemaScope creation featuring 3 girls, 3 different versions, 3 panels, 3 windows. George Cukor was not known for musicals, but of this story he created a comedy with music, with 5 outstanding musical numbers, such as "Ça c’est l’amour". Taina Elg is a beloved figure in American musical theatre, its best possible ambassador.

Taina Elg: Behind the camera were great experts such as the cinematographer Robert Surtees. Leslie Caron was supposed to appear in Les Girls, but she had different ideas. I tested for the English part because Kay Kendall was married to Rex Harrison and didn't want to be away from him, but when she decided to come after all, suddenly I was the French girl. Cukor explained during the rehearsals that the material is very complicated. Do not trust anything you see.

FH: No, in this effervescent musical, don't trust anything, it's like Rashomon: "what is the truth?". Your body language in the role is French, you are very convincing as a French girl.

TE: It was always "Mr. Cukor", we never could call him George. "Ça c’est l’amour" we did in one take. We had to be careful not to fall into water. "Don't touch my toupé" was a warning from Gene Kelly.

FH: Taina Elg is a legend of U.S. musical theater, having appeared in Irma la Douce and The Sound of Music. She is singing in her own voice, and the choreography... TE: ... Jack Cole was the epitome of jazz dancing. The best. FH: It must have been difficult to dance jazz from a ballet background... TE: Not with Jack Cole.

AA: Revisited Les Girls, still one of the great MGM musicals. "Love is a soufflé, not a pudding". "Strictly business. No complications". A fine vintage Metrocolor print slightly turning red.

Q and A after the screening. TE: The production took four months. Cole was wonderful. It was the last MGM musical Gene did. Jack did most of the choreography. My language skills? I speak Finnish, Swedish, Italian, French, and English.

Q: GENE KELLY. TE: He was very dear. He dediced not to dance after that. This was his last performance. Cole brought the real jazz. I have not seen this movie before with a Finnish audience. We the performers were good friends. Mitzi Gaynor ate vegetables, she still looks great. We others ate cheese and drank wine.

FH: Mitzi Gaynor next made her most famous movie, South Pacific. TE: She is very much like that. She was early on one who eats vegetables, she was the one who got that started. She got the role in South Pacific while making Les Girls.

Kay Kendall died early, and we were terribly shocked. She married the man she loved the most, but she was already ill. Cole Porter also died not long afterwards.     

FH: I have to compliment your performance, Miss Elg, how different you are in the three acts.

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