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1896, Montmartre: the Can-Can, the dance in which the women lift their skirts, is forbidden. Nevertheless Simone has it performed every day in her night club. Her employees use their female charm to let the representatives of law enforcement look the other way - or even attend the shows. But then the young ambitious judge Philippe Forrestier decides to bring this to an end. Will Simone manage to twist him round her little finger, too? Her boyfriend Francois certainly doesn't like to watch her trying. Written by
Tom Zoerner <Tom.Zoerner@informatik.uni-erlangen.de>
During filming on 19th September 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited the set on Sound Stage 8 with his wife Nina. He reportedly was shocked by the open sexuality on display, condemning the film as pornographic and depraved: "The face of mankind is prettier than its backside... The thing is immoral. We do not want that sort of thing for the Russians." See more »
Despite having Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan in the movie, this is no "Gigi".
Reading through the reviews for "Can-Can" is a strange experience as they are all over the place. Some loved it and give it glowing reviews and just as many hated it. It's a bit unusual to see such divergent reviews and my assessment of the film is somewhere in the middle--it's not a good nor a bad film--just a second-rate musical that isn't bad as a time-passer.
When the film begins, most viewers will probably be surprised to see Shirley MacLaine and Frank Sinatra in the leads. This is because the film is set in Paris and they are about as French as gefilte fish! This inappropriate casting is made more obvious since Louis Jourdan and Maurice Chevalier are 3rd and 4th billed! So, automatically, the film loses a point for such poor casting. It's a shame, but Hollywood SHOULD have been more focused on appropriate casting than on getting big-name stars--problems that did NOT plague a much better musical from the same period, "Gigi" (which starred Jourdan and Chevalier among others).
MacLaine plays Simone--a woman who runs a night club in Montmartre (a district in Paris known for its adult entertainment). Her place has gotten in trouble for having Can-Can dancers*--and police have vowed to arrest her if they put on that wicked dance again. Well, eventually this does occur, although the charges are soon dropped by the prosecutor, Philipe (Jourdan). Why? Because Philipe has fallen in love with her and wants to marry her. This is a VERY weak aspect of the film, as the upper-class Philipe doesn't even know this lady--so why would he be willing to destroy his career for a dance hall girl?! Eventually, Simone agrees to marry Philipe. However, Philipe's friend (Chevalier) and Simone's ex-lover, François (Sinatra) don't want the marriage to occur and so they conspire to break up the couple. They invite the cream of society to an engagement party, get Simone drunk and get her to entertain her guests. Well, although Philipe STILL inexplicably wants to marry her, Simone is determined to end this relationship.
As for François, his character is...well...annoying. He wants Simone but is very honest in his wicked intentions. He has no desire to marry her but wants her, so he breaks up her marriage. This is pretty sleazy and the song he sings about this is pretty nasty as well. So, because of this, the film's ending REALLY made no sense at all...none.
In addition to a confusing and occasionally unbelievable plot, the film features a very mixed bag of music. Some is great--such as "It's All Right With Me" and "You Do Something to Me". However, much of the rest of the music is sub-par--particularly the lyrics. It's like they got Cole Porter's second-best not his best for this movie.
As for the dancing, this was VERY odd. Despite the title of the film, there is almost no Can-Can dancing in the film. However, and this just shows you how out of touch Hollywood could be, there is LOTS of modern dance--the sort of stuff you'd NEVER see in 1898. In particular, the violent dance number involving the knife is pure Hollywood and has no place in the film, though there are several other numbers that just don't belong in the movie.
Overall, the film is a seriously mixed bag. The plot isn't terrible but it often makes little sense, the songs range from awful to terrific and the dance numbers often aren't appropriate to the film. I think it's a tepid little film that SHOULD have been much better.
*According to IMDb trivia, the reason the Can-Can was so scandalous was because the dancing girls did NOT wear underwear. Although Wikipedia can occasionally be unreliable, it insists that this is an urban legend and the dancers certainly DID wear underwear.
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