Monday, March 20, 2017

sinatra's big, beautiful mess

Why was "I Love Paris" deleted from Twentieth Century-Fox's 1960 embarrassment, namely its film version of Cole Porter's "Can-Can"?

"Why?!," I ask, with some annoyance.

It's a question of little importance, given the lousy movie involved, but it has bugged me nevertheless for far too long, actually for a few decades.

True, Hollywood has a history/reputation for deleting popular/familiar songs from its film versions of Broadway musicals. "Another Opening, Another Show" is missing from George Sidney's 1953 movie of "Kiss Me, Kate" (another Porter musical). "Together, Wherever We Go" was cut from Mervyn LeRoy's 1962 film version of "Gypsy." And Glenn Erickson has written astutely on his invaluable DVD Savant site about the witty "Coffee Break" number being deleted from David Swift's 1967 take on "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." All terrific musical moments.

But "I Love Paris" is really a different case. The song is a classic, the pick of Porter's score. In a way, it's sacred. Or should be.  Even in Hollywood.

Then there's the movie itself. No one would ever mistake Fox's loopy, misguided version of Porter's show for a good movie. It is not totally without its charms (most notably, Porter's score, or what's left with it) - or without a certain morbid curiosity. But how did it end up so glaringly bad?

That's the first of several questions which have made this film unintentionally fascinating for five decades now. Of course, I've already asked the most pressing questions connected with the film, namely (1) why was "I Love Paris" scuttled at seemingly the 11th hour, and (2) who exactly made this dubious decision? For years (no, make that decades), there was no response because, frankly, no one noticed or cared to ask.

And at a mere two hours and 11 minutes, did the film really require an intermission? But I digress. Back to "I Love Paris"...

It's a major Cole Porter song, the signature song from the show that contained it, and yet it never occurred to any entertainment journalist or critic to ask why it's missing from the film version of Porter's stage production, either at the time of the film's release or thereafter.  There have been innumerable books about its star Frank Sinatra but apparently, none of the authors thought to ask either. But the foolish excision of "I Love Paris" - and the apparent disappearance of the footage - pretty much underlines the sad, wavering road that "Can-Can" took to the screen.

The play opened in 1953 with Lilo in the lead as La Môme Pistache. Fox's Darryl Zanuck purchased the film rights in August of 1954, with the intention of making it with French star Jeanmarie and Gwen Verdon (who appeared as Claudine in the Broadway production). Zanuck hired Nunnally Johnson to adapt Abe Burrows' wonderful stage book and also to direct.

Johnson's script, dated August 27, 1955 and available from Script City, is highly faithful to the Broadway production, retaining all of Porter's score.

When Johnson dropped out, the film languished at Fox, with both Claude Binyon and Henry Ephron taking turns dickering with the script, and with Dick Powell and Vincente Minnelli, among others, as potential directors who came and went. Then on April 22, 1958, Fox issued a press release, announcing that "Can-Can" was being put into production as a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe (her first film for the studio since 1956's "Bus Stop"), with Maurice Chevalier as one of her co-stars. Cary Grant was also mentioned.

But this incarnation of "Can-Can" got only that far - as a press release sent to entertainment editors. That version, of course, was never filmed.

Enter Frank Sinatra, who would act in the film under a contractual obligation required by 20th Century Fox after he walked off the set of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel" in 1954.

Sinatra was initially hesitant about doing the film, not being exactly a good fit for the property, but Fox prevailed and lured him into the picture by having Charles Lederer (who nimbly adapted "The Front Page" into "His Girl Friday" for Howard Hawks) create a new character for Frank to play - a lawyer/scamp named François Durnais - and by paying him $200,000, along with a percentage of the film's profits and making him a partner on the production, a partnership that would have an impact on the film.

Sinatra's Suffolk Productions would oversee the film in tandem with Jack Cummings Productions. Sinatra took the hands-on approach, bringing in Dorothy Kingsley, who had tailored "Pal Joey" for him, to completely revamp the stage script. Kingsley not only cut most of Porter's songs but also altered who would sing them. Songs that were sung by females on stage, were given to male characters in the film, and vice versa.

I should stop here and confess that, for me, Sinatra always exhibited exquisite good taste, particularly musically. I'm a fan. But in the case of "Can-Can," both his decisions and motivation were fuzzy at best.

Among his dubious decision was to bring his house orchestrator Nelson Riddle on board to arrange the musical numbers; Somehow, Sinatra and Riddle managed to insert the anachronistic "ring-a-ding-ding" into the lyric of Porter's "C'est Magnifique." Then there's Shirley MacLaine, Frank's co-star in Minnelli's "Some Came Running," recruited as the female lead - renamed Simone Pistache for the film - and seriously miscast in the role.

So far, so ... bad.

Shirley is a trained dancer but is not exactly - how shall I put this? - light on her feet. Reviewing the film, New York Times movie critic Bosley Crowther, who genuinely disliked her in the film, diplomatically called her shrill performance "undignified" and remarked about her being "heavy-footed, groping and galluping" throughout the film's gaudy centerpiece - the "Garden of Eden" ballet, performed as part of something called the Four Arts Ball, staged in the film's notorious cabaret, the Bal De Paradis.

Anyway, MacLaine's addition to the production inspired the departure of the second female lead, Barrie Chase, who was hired to play Claudine.

Chase, who also had a bit in Sinatra's "Pal Joey" (she was one of two ballerinas who helped undress Kim Novak during her strip routine), was a protégé of Hermès Pan, the legendary choreographer enlisted to stage the dances for "Can-Can." She, of course, was also Fred Astaire's dancing partner on his wonderful '50s TV specials which Pan choreographed.

Barrie Chase untimately bolted the production when Sinatra handed most of her dance numbers over to MacLaine (La Môme/Simone was not a dancing role on stage), a detail confirmed both in the film's DVD liner notes and by Shirley MacLaine herself in a piece carrying her byline in Newsweek's special Sinatra Memorial tribute issue (28 May, 1998).

Speaking directly to Sinatra in the piece, she wrote: "You strong-armed Twentieth Century-Fox to make 'Can-Can' because you thought I should do a musical. And you had them combine the two female leads into a single character so people could see more of what I could do."

Me, me, me.

Most of this statement is untrue: Sinatra didn't strong-arm Fox; it was the other way around. Also, the character of Claudine was watered-down but not eliminated.  The role, still very much in the film, was recast. Juliet Prowse replaced Chase who, in retrospect, made a very wise decision.

Pan's dances are the film's most invaulable feature, hands-down. This was an especially productive time for Pan. In the space of about 15 years, in addition to the aforementioned "Pal Joey" and "Kiss Me, Kate," he also choreographed "Silk Stockings," "Porgy and Bess," "Flower Drum Song," "My Fair Lady," "Finian's Rainbow," "Lost Horizon," "Darling Lili" and, uncredited, the "Midas Touch" number from Minnelli's "Bells Are Ringing."

Now about "I Love Paris"...

Reviewed prior to its release by Variety on Friday, 1 January, 1960, "Can-Can" ran 134 minutes - a scant running time for a roadshow musical, not including either the film's Overture or its Entr'acte - but it did include the song, "I Love Paris," as a duet featuring the iconic pairing Sinatra and Chevalier (a holdover, remember, from an earlier concept of the film).

Alright, let me see if I get this... Frank Sinatra and Maurice Chevalier on screen together singing "I Love Paris" -  and someone at Fox makes the decision to delete it?  Who? And why? Am I repeating myself here?

By the time the film opened in New York on 9 March, 1960, its running time was reduced to 131 minutes, suddenly three minutes shorter.

Those missing three minutes were the "I Love Paris" number.

Greg M. Pasqua writes on Amazon.com: "It was sung in the club just before the engagement party scene on the boat in Act Two. It was sung as a performed song with Sinatra singing from the stage. Fox determined it slowed the film down, so they cut it before the film was released. You can spot the change in continuity where the song would have occurred."

In the release version of the film, the song is heard only fleetingly over the opening credits. So let's see: The sequence in which it was performed by Sinatra and Chevalier "slowed the film down"? And by eliminating three minutes, the film took on a quicker pace?  Three minutes. Really?

Prior to the film's New York opening that week, the magazine section of The New York Times published a photo spread on "Can-Can" in its Sunday, 21 February, 1960 edition, which included this still of Sinatra and Chevalier singing (excuse its fuzziness), the only shot of the number I've ever seen:
The duet, of course, can be heard on the Capitol soundtrack album - it's beautifully haunting - and there's a slightly longer track of it on the "Frank Sinatra in Hollywood" CD.  Ah, yes, that wacky soundtrack album...

For some bizarre reason, the songs are not listed in chronological order on the soundtrack but, for lack of a better expression, are scrambled, with the film's Entr'acte listed as the first track on side one.  Again, huh?

Back on Amazon.com, Mark Andrew Lawrence took the trouble to put the songs in their proper order so that, as Lawrence puts it, "the program flows beautifully from one track to the next." Below is his rearrangement to parallel the order in which each song is performed in the film. The parenthetical numbers indicate their actual order on the Capitol LP.

1. Main Title/"I Love Paris"/"Montmart" (#7 on the album)
2. "Maidens Typical of France" (#9)
3. "C'est Magnifique" (#8)
4. "Live and Let Live" (#4)
5. "You Do Something to Me" (#5)
6. "Let's Do It" (#6)
7. "It's All Right with Me" (#2)
8. Entr'acte (#1)
9. "I Love Paris" (#11)
10. "Come Along with Me" (#3)
11. "Just One of Those Things" (#10)
12. "Can-Can" (#12)

I took the liberty of adjusting Lawrence's listing of songs because it has Sinatra's "It's All Right with Me" coming after the Entr'acte, when in actuality, it leads directly into the intermission. The missing "I Love Paris" opened the second act. Incidentally, the film's Overture, the music for both an "Apache" dance and the "Garden of Eden" ballet, the fade-out "I Love Paris" choral and the exit music were never included on the soundtrack.

Speaking of Porter's songs, the makers of the movie version seriously tampered with his "Can-Can" score, adding "Let's Do It," "Just One of Those Things" and "You Do Something to Me," from other Cole Porter shows, while eliminating seven of the original songs from the stage show - "Never Give Anything Away," "I Am in Love," "If You Loved Me Truly," "Never, Never Be an Artist," the lyric to "Can-Can" and, most missed, "Allez-Vous-En," although its melody is used for the "Apache" dance.

Oh, yes, did I remember to mention that "I Love Paris" was deleted?

Given the importance of that song to the Porter show and the importance of Sinatra himself to the movie, is it unfair to conclude that Frank may have possibly had something to do with the song's deletion?

I mean, his initial reluctance to be in the film in the first place, coupled with the questionable decisions in terms of its script, scoring and casting, not to mention the screwy soundtrack album, makes one wonder if he could have been toying with Fox. We'll never know.  Frustrating.

And exacerbating matters is that the footage of "I Love Paris," missing since 1960, apparently no longer exists. Which is especially curious.

Why?  Because Sinatra was famous for saving everything.

Notes in Passing: First, at the outset here, I mentioned that the film is not without its charms, chief of which is the obvious fun that Sinatra and MacLaine are having. If only their fun was contagious. But more to the point, there's Tom Keogh's superb titles design - one of the movie's most laudable features. Done in dazzling primary colors and with a deep bow to Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lutrec, Keogh's titles promise a great film that never really follows.

Which only makes one wish that "Can-Can" was a better movie, one actually worthy of the attention Fox lavished on it.

Secondly, Twentieth Century-Fox was so high on the film that it made a deal with a Westwood (CA) theater to play it exclusively for two years. But that was before the reviews came in. It played only a few months.

Still, "Can-Can" was a big moneymaker in its day. Huge. No surprise.

And finally, Howard Thompson, noted for his memorable (and witty) New York Times capsules of movies for their TV airing, aptly commented that "Can-Can" seems "more like Hoboken than Paris." Say no more.

~images~
~top: Frank Sinatra between scenes on the "Can-Can" soundstage, reading the script
~photography: Bob Willoughby / Twentieth Century-Fox 1959 ©
* * * * *
~middle: still shot of  Sinatra and Maurice Chevalier performing "I Love Paris" / Twentieth Century-Fox 1959 ©
* * * * *
~bottom: an example of Tom Keogh's artwork for the film

19 comments:

Millie said...

FASCINATING! I never knew most of this about "Can-Can".

I saw the film for the first time last year and really was excited for it! The cast was so talented, and there was Cole Porter (my most favorite composer)!

But, sadly, besides a few good parts, it was quite underwhelming (to say the least)!

It actually took me three nights to get through because I kept falling asleep watching it!

It really was just disappointing. I adore Frank and Cole Porter! It's just a pity the film turned out like it did!

Anyway, really interesting post!

Gerri said...

Your comments are better than the movie! I always thought it sucked.

Joel M. said...

Bad film, yes. But I still love it. I guess that indeed makes it a guilty pleasure.

Sheila said...

I like Sinatra but he was known to hold a grudge. Maybe he resented being finessed into doing the film. Or it all could be hooey - the problem being that the film wasn't meant to be.

Claire said...

You mention that "Can-Can" runs 130 intermission, without its overture or exit music. What's its running time with those two additions?

joe baltake said...

The added musical elements brings its running time to 142 minutes.

Chip said...

I can't imagine the studio cutting a song of the stature of "I Love Paris" without running it by Sinatra first.

Tim K. said...

I can't believe that the makers of this awful film thought that "I Love Paris" was ruining it! By the way, no one interviewed on the DVD bonus disc bothers to mention the name of the film's director - no one.

Andrew said...

I've just finished watching the DVD release of "Can-Can" and was so disappointed that I got onto Google to see if anyone else felt the same way. Your comments touched on every one of my issues - especially the missing "I Love Paris". I'd also like to know whether or not the unedited version of "Just One of Those Things" is in a warehouse somewhere. In addition, it has always seemed a shame to me that, at the end, the Can-Can dance does not start from the beginning. It seems we've been waiting for two hours for this moment to arrive and when it does we join it "in progress". This has always looked like a cut to me. The print is gorgeous, the orchestrations are magnificent, the sound is beautiful, the color (especially in the credits) is stunning - it's a movie you just really want to love but can't. And does anyone know if Fox is going to fix the problem of the last 10 seconds missing from the Entr'acte? Also - regarding a 131 minute movie needing an intermission - I'll bet the running time was more like 150 minutes before the cuts ("I Love Paris", "Just One of Those Things", etc.) were made.

Andrew said...

Another interesting note: at 149:35 on the isolated score track there is a section of music lasting about two minutes prior to beginning of the "Bal des Quat'z' Arts" sequence of the film. It's almost as though this music accompanied scenes (perhaps at the ball) that occurred prior to the start of the ball scenes in the edited film.

joe baltake said...

Thanks for the terrific comments. I'll have to check out that isolated score. I'd love to know who made the decision to keep the film short - especially the decision to cut the show's most-well-known song, "I Love Paris." Makes no sense. On the one hand, I can't imagine Sinatra putting up with that, but then he had the power to approve it.

As for the film being longer, perhaps it was. Perhaps it was truly awful in longer form. I mean, this is a film that I've always wanted to like. But I have to admit, aside from the songs, it's pretty bad. The unfortunate thing is that, if it was longer, that footage is probably long gone. Unlike Disney and MGM, Fox saved nothing in those days

Andrew said...

You never know - some pretty amazing out-takes surface from time to time. Have you ever seen the "Hidden Hollywood 1" and "Hidden Hollywood 2" dvds? Fox didn't throw everything away. As far as Sinatra approving the cuts - nobody can argue about Sinatra in the recording studio. He was the king - and he had an unmatched ability to assemble the best talent for the purpose of producing unforgettable material. As the leader of a film project, however, he was really not as good. His best film work was done when he was under the control of someone else. When he was in charge, it was just for fun - or to do favors for friends. I think "Can-Can" was the start of this - and it's a pity because with all of the talent assembled for this film, they completely failed to preserve the Broadway show or produce a classic. Sure, they could attempt to do it today - but the talent (Riddle, Lang, Chaplin, Cummings, Kingsley, Lederer, Tucker, Pan, Sharaff, Daniels, Wheeler) and the technology (Todd-AO 70mm, true stereo recording, true color photography) - not to mention the idea of showmanship and the reserved seat engagement are history now. I was really looking forward to the isolated score track on this release because I thought that I would finally be able to create a decent "Can-Can" soundtrack album. The Capitol release HORRIBLY sequenced and doesn't include a lot of the score. I was disappointed to find that the music tracks don't include the chorus. I was really hoping to be able to get the finale - which is a gorgeous arrangement - from this track. Oh well - maybe another day.

joe baltake said...

Andrew. You are so right about the soundtrack album. For a major film - one starring the singer of the generation - the soundtrack for "Can-Can" seems to have been put together in a really slipshod fashion, as if no one cared. Perhaps they knew they had a major turkey on their hands. That would explain the truncated running time and the sloppy soundtrack album.

BTW, the interviews on the 2007 DVD are mostly with historians and a few specialty dancers in the film. Shirley MacLaine is conspicuously by her absence. As Tim K. points out here, no one bothers to even mention the name of the film's director - Walter Lang (who also directed the film version of "The King and I") - and one of the historians here even goes so far to say that "Can-Can" was well-received by the press. Not so. It certainly wasn't well-reviewed by the major press.

It was D.O.A. Too bad. A missed opportunity, plus a waste of great material and, as you say, talent.

van said...

I agree with Chip. I'm sure the powers who cut "I Love Paris" ran it by Sinatra first. Or could be, he authorized the cut, as a way to mess with a movie which he was forced into. Otherwise, it just doesn't make sense.

Charlotte said...

If "I Love Paris" can't be seamlessly reinstated into the film, why not at least include the number on a disc as an extra or a chapter stop

joe baltake said...

Charlotte- Why? Because either someone is suppressing the footage or it simply no longer exits. Unlike MGM and Disney, Fox was never known for saving and storing elements from its films.

Joe Amodei said...

The sad fact in all of this is that if the footage actually exits, and it might, no one cares enough to go through the trouble of finding it and doing anything with it. There isn't any monetary worth to it so they don't care. Its a shame as I would love to see that footage.

Kiki said...

this is such an interesting column because well, I Love Paris. I saw the movie when I was 12? 13? No, it must have been later because I remember Nikita Kruschev thought it was disgusting. And, as I recall, I didn't much like it either and always confuse it with Gigi. But I already KNEW the song I Love Paris. . . . but didn't even realize it wasn't in the movie. I thought Shirley MacLaine was so "cheap" in it (I agreed with Kruschev - or maybe I've confused it with Irma La Douche -- same thing) but thought Juliet Prowse was lovely. Yet if you asked me which movie Thank Heaven for Little Girls was from, I couldn't say which. All I recall were Chevalier and Louis Jourdan. Frankly, I don't even recall Sinatra being in it at all. And I've never seen it shown on TV -- or maybe I've confused that with ME ME ME Shirley MacLaine in the musical they made of Nights of Cabiria. God, that was awful.

joe baltake said...

Kiki- That "god-awful" film was "Sweet Charity." -J