Rashomon Amour

Fiona was VERY taken with Kay Kendall’s drunk scene in LES GIRLS. I was too, but also taken aback. We’ve all learned, supposedly, to be more sensitive and thus to be a touch affronted at Hollywood’s flip treatment of alcoholism. But I find I’m rarely that bothered by Arthur Housman doing his detailed dipso routine in Laurel & Hardy films. Kendall playing a solitary drinker who gets riotously blotto a la Judith Hearne is a bit stronger. But she does play it magnificently.

Lots to enjoy in this one, even if George Cukor could never be bothered staging his own musical numbers: here he passes them to Jack Cole, so they’re in safe hands.

It’s all a meditation on the nature of truth and the elusiveness of reality, conducted by MGM. Like RASHOMON with better songs. Although not many of the numbers are that memorable — the set design makes the biggest splash when Gene Kelly pastiches Brando in THE WILD ONE.

 

It’s Kelly’s last real Hollywood musical leading man role, and already he’s somewhat sidelined: you might think making him the object of desire for three glamorous women (Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor and the more obscure Taina Elg, who is actually very good despite the Scrabble-score name — “She’s got a great LOOK!” diagnosed Fiona — some credit belongs to Orry Kelly here). The narrative emerges via three competing testimonies in a libel case, which ought by rights to be delivered by les girls, but Kelly still had enough clout to elbow Gaynor out the way and deliver the denouement himself.

A sexy masterstroke by the naughty Orry — backless dresses that manage to make perfectly decent leggings look as rude as bare bottoms ~

The story is by Vera Caspary of LAURA fame, who must deserve some of the credit for the waspish dialogue. Brandishing a placard at us declaring WHAT IS TRUTH?, the  movie can seem at times too impressed with its own cleverness — a religious sandwich-board would be unlikely to quote Pontius Pilate, methinks — but it’s tastefully lavish, oddball and hugely entertaining, which is what we wanted over the festive period.

Last Christmas Fiona had acute depression, anxiety, horrible medication side-effects, and we both had flu and chronic insomnia and the cat was dying. This year Fiona only broke her ankle slightly so it can be considered a great improvement.

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22 Responses to “Rashomon Amour”

  1. Glad to hear your holidays were less painful than last year. Here’s to an injury free 2018!

  2. Ken Abramson Says:

    Dear Team Shadowplay, Please remain healthy and happy and witty for the remaining year and any remaining years left to all of us.

  3. I’ve always had a great affection for LES GIRLS. Lots of great camera movements and the RASHOMON structure is well used. Talking of RASHOMON have you seen Asquith’s moody noir THE WOMAN IN QUESTION (1950) ? I caught it on Talking Pictures and it does owe something to Akira. But RASHOMON was 1951. So who is influencing who, here?

  4. bensondonald Says:

    I remember feeling a bit cheated by the ending. I was expecting the three ladies to have a moment together, bemoaning that they’d let a man come between them — and THEN to the taxi.

  5. Yes, there are more than a few things amiss at the end, but the overall punchline is decent and there’s lots of fun along the way. As Alan indicates, a visual feast.

    I don’t think I’ve seen the Asquith but I meant to… been hoping to find stuff of his with visual interest along the lines of his silent work…

  6. In Cukor’s file at the Academy Library (which you MUST take a look at one day) there ‘ s a correspondence with his pal Chuck Walters (who worked under Cukor on preproduction for GWTW) Mr. Cukor was a bit intimidated by the project as he’d never done a musical before and didn’t want to put a wrong foot with Gene Kelly. Chuck told him to simply let Kelly do what he wanted with the musical numbers and he’d be OK. And that was true. Mr. Cukor was crazy about Kay Kendall — as is obvious.

  7. Would love to read the Cukor file. Kay Kendall was certainly terrific. And Kelly responded to her well.

    THE WOMAN IN QUESTION and ORDERS TO KILL are very accomplished and visually interesting works. Though Asquith’s silent films are much better, often masterly.

  8. Tons of stuff in the Cukor file. I discovered a correspondence he had with Robert Bresson that began when he saw “Diary of a Country Priest.” Years later Bresson wrote to Cukor that he’d decided he wanted to make “Lancelot du Lac” with (wait for it) Burt Lancaster and Natalie Wood (!!!!) Alas it never happened as Lancaster was signed to do “The Leopard.” I wrote about the whole thing for “Positif.”

    Also in the file a great many letters involving Scotty Bowers and the “latest numbers” he’d round up fro Mr. Cukor’s pool parties. IOW everything in Scotty’s book “Full Service: is absolutely true.

  9. Fascinating. Any chance of sending me a link to your “Postif” piece?

  10. Not sure if it’s on line. It’s issue #430 December 1996

  11. La Faustin Says:

    My favorite Orry Kelly touch is the two versions of Taina’s purple suit with pink blouse — one sexy, the other staid — for Kay’s and Taina’s respective flashbacks.

  12. Oh yes, Rashomon in costumery!

    Wonder what was on Bresson’s mind with the movie-star approach? Did he think Hollywood stars would amount to the same thing as Bressonian models? (Some might, but not those two, surely?)

  13. Bresson always claimed to be indifferent to conventional cinema. But “Cahiers” once hired a detective to follow him around and discovered he not only went to see all the new movies, he even went to cheap kung-fu programmers.

    I think he thought of turning Lancaster and Wood into Bressonian “models.”

  14. I do recall a filmed piece where he expresses his admiration for Goldfinger.

  15. So long as Bresson never succumbed to the Cary
    On films!

  16. Oh, that might have been fun. Carry on Pickpocketing, anyone?

    “Ooh, someone’s pinched me purse!”
    “Pinched your what, madame?”
    “‘Ere, don’t you go slippin’ your fingers in there, young man!”
    “Unhand my wallet!”
    “I’ve never ‘eard it called that before!”

  17. chris schneider Says:

    Ben Bagley had a series of albums, “[Composer X] Revisited,” featuring dropped or ignored songs by famous songwriters, and one of the Cole Porter ones had a dropped song for the three LES GIRLS heroines. “I Could Kick Myself (For Falling In Love With You).” Minor-league Porter, but pretty and affecting. Typical, given the politics of the picture, that they weren’t so much rejecting the Kelly figure as moaning the extent of his power over them.

    You mention choreographer Jack Cole. The duet with Mitzi Gaynor, the “Gone About That Gal” one, always struck me as more Gene Kelly than Cole — specifically reminiscent of the SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN duet with Cyd-in-green. Perhaps, given the unhappiness Kelly expressed with Cole, this was Kelly the choreographer gaining the upper hand.

  18. Kelly always managed to get the upper hand on these things. But Mitzi is a Jack Cole girl as is obvious from this bit of cinematic transcendence.

  19. Back to Bresson and filmic absurdity. Imagine if he had liked The Confessions of a Window Cleaner films. We might have had Diary of a Country Window Cleaner staring Robin Askwith with Jean Gabin.

    Seriously it’s had to imagine big movie stars in a Bresson film!

  20. Well, he tried it at the outset of his career and didn’t like it. Maybe not big movie stars, but big actors.

    Just read Jack Cole’s tell-all interview in John Kobal’s People Will Talk. Spicy! I may quote a chunk later.

  21. Alex Romero, who was one of Jack Cole’s troupe in the Columbia days, was assistant choreographer on this film. According to him (at least in Mark Knowles’s biography) Cole’s method for dealing with Kelly was just not to deal with him at all. Instead he worked out the dance routines with Romero, who he then sent to teach first Kelly and then Gaynor. Only when Romero was satisfied that they both had it right were they allowed to dance together.

    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=GSiXAAAAQBAJ&lpg=PA150&ots=ie1uv5cGOg&dq=alex%20romero%20les%20girls&pg=PA94#v=onepage&q=les%20girls&f=false

  22. Excellent, thanks!

    Esther Williams dishes some good dirt on Kelly in her amazing autobiography.

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