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This 1954 musical tells the story of the Donahues – a family who perform in vaudeville shows.  There’s the mother Molly (Ethel Merman), the father Terence (Dan Dailey) and their three children Steven (Johnnie Ray), Katy (Mitzi Gaynor) and Tim (Donald O’Connor).  Problems arise when Steven reveals his plans for a surprising career change, and Tim falls for aspiring singer Vicky (Marilyn Monroe).

The storyline is entertaining enough, but it’s really just a vehicle to showcase some fantastic songs (Irving Berlin wrote the songs) and some terrific and humorous dancing.  However, the film is no less enjoyable for all that.  Ethel Merman very nearly steals the show as Molly.  Marilyn looks stunning and totally sizzles when she’s singing, particularly in the ‘Heatwave’ number (goodness knows how that got past the censors in the 1950s).  Equally gorgeous is Mitzi Gaynor, who does some brilliant dancing.  Donald O’Connor is funny and sweet, and his dancing, as seen two years earlier in Singin’ In The Rain, is great.  He has a very enjoyable solo number A Man Chases A Girl (Until She Catches Him).  I also particularly liked the aforementioned Heatwave, and the whole Alexander’s Ragtime Band Sequence, which involved numerous dancers, several outfit changes, and the chance for each family member to shine.

The only weak spot in the film was Johnnie Ray, who quite frankly could not act his way out of a paper bag.  I can only assume that he was picked for the role for his singing ability (he was after all a singer, not an actor), but he was badly miscast, to the point where it almost felt embarrassing watching him on screen.  It’s fortunate that he had only a relatively small part, so it didn’t take anything away from the enjoyment of the film as a whole.

The film was not without it’s off-screen problems.  Donald O’Connor had recently separated from his wife of 10 years when he filmed this – and his estranged wife was dating Dan Dailey, who played the father of the Donahue family (Dailey subsequently married her).  Marilyn did not actually want to do the film, and was only persuaded to do so when she was told that she could have the lead in The Seven Year Itch, if she did this film.

For all it’s off-screen problems though, it’s a very entertaining and colourful film (much of it is performed on a stage setting with eye catching costumes); some might even say gaudy.  It’s over the top in places, and the storyline is fairly thin.  But – none of that matters, because it’s also a feel-good movie, with plenty of laughs, and  some hugely enjoyable songs and dances.  Definitely worth catching if you’re a fan of musicals, or of any of the actors.

Year of release: 1954

Director: Walter Lang

Writers: Phoebe Ephron, Henry Ephron, Lamar Trotti

Main cast: Ethel Merman, Marilyn Monroe, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Dan Dailey

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Les Girls is a 1957 musical starring Gene Kelly, Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor and Taina Elg.  Sybil Wren (Kendall) has written a tell-all book about her time spent in the touring dance troupe Les Girls, which is run by Barry Nicholls (Kelly).  In the book, Sybil says that one of the other dancers, Angele (Elg) tried to commit suicide after an affair with Barry ended.  However, Angele says that this is incorrect and that it was actually Sybil herself who had the affair with Barry and who subsequently tried to kill herself.  The case has come to court and both ladies in turn present their side of the story which is told in flashback from their respective points of view.  Finally, Barry himself takes the stand and tells of events through his eyes…

This was Gene Kelly’s last film under his contract with MGM, and it was a great ending to a truly incredible partnership.  It’s true that there are probably fewer song/dance numbers in this one than in some of the other Kelly/MGM movies.  But the songs, courtesy of Cole Porter, are great (perhaps not Porter’s best, but still hugely enjoyable), and the dancing as ever is simply a joy to watch.  My favourite dance was the Kelly/Gaynor number ‘Why Am I So Gone About That Gal?’  I also really liked the Kelly/Kendall dance to ‘You’re Just Too Too’.

I am aware that the plot device of telling the same story from three very different points of view did not work for some viewers, but I really liked it – people do have different perceptions of the same events, and that point is illustrated beautifully here.  There is plenty of scope for humour (Kay Kendall is simply hilarious in the second ‘segment’), and Kelly as ever is graceful, manly and oh-so-charismatic.  Mitzi Gaynor looks stunning in what is for most of the film, a supporting role, but she comes into her own towards the end.

Overall, it may not be my favourite Gene Kelly film (they can’t all be my favourite after all!), but it was a very enjoyable couple of hours, and I would certainly recommend it to fans of any of the stars, or musicals and/or comedy.

(Sadly Kay Kendall died just two years after making this film; her performance here serves as a reminder of the talent that was lost tragically early.)

Year of release: 1957

Director: George Cukor

Writers: John Patrick, Vera Caspary

Main cast: Gene Kelly, Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor

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