Louis Jourdan and Shirley MacLaine in Can-Can (1960)

Can't Can

As a movie musical "Can-Can" doesn't work, okay bit harsh it does work but it's not up there with the great musicals which have the complete package. Instead "Can-Can" is a movie which has moments of pure bliss but then fills in-between with a lot of mundane moments which heavily outweigh those good bits. Basically there is a really nice song from Frank Sinatra, there is a humorous dance from Shirley MacLaine and when Louis Jourdan turns on the charm well it's charming but everything else ends up mundane almost to the point that it veers towards boring.

The year is 1896 and dancing the Can-Can is outlawed across Montmartre. That doesn't stop club owner Simone Pistache (Shirley MacLaine - The Sheepman) from having her showgirls perform it because thanks to her boyfriend and lawyer François Durnais (Frank Sinatra - Never So Few) they have the judges and police paid off so they won't get raided. That is until a new judge Philipe Forrestier (Louis Jourdan - Three Coins in the Fountain) arrives and is determined to stop Simone from having her girls dance the Can-Can. The trouble is that when he meets Simone he falls in love with her and she kind of grows fond of him much to the annoyance of François.

Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Maurice Chevalier in Can-Can (1960)

One of the positives that "Can-Can" has is that the story drives the majority of the musical numbers rather than just filling in-between. It may not be the most complex of storylines as it basically boils down to club owner Simone Pistache torn between two men, the one she loves who won't commit and the one she may love who will commit, but it does keep things moving. Plus of course this storyline starts with the fact that Simone's club performs the illegal Can-Can with lawyer François Durnais fixing it so no one gets in trouble whilst young enthusiastic judge Philipe Forrestier wants initially to shut the club down.

But the trouble is that whilst the majority of the musical numbers are built around the story so many of them are forgettable. Don't get me wrong as all the musical numbers are pleasant and for the most fit the story, with the exception of the strange and annoying "Garden of Eden" musical number, but for the most you don't remember them. The exception is an expressionist dance with Shirley MacLaine doing a wonderful job of playing it for laughs, and a quiet beautiful number as Frank Sinatra sings to showgirl Claudine played by Juliet Prowse. You expect more especially from a musical built around a night club where the Can-Can is danced but even that musical number ends up strangely dull with the exception of Shirley MacLaine showing what a good dancer she was.

It's not just the musical numbers which are sporadically entertaining because so are the performances. Frank Sinatra who was contractually obliged to appear seems like that is the only reason he is there and other than that one moment where he sings to Juliet Prowse barely makes an impact. Louis Jourdan as young judge Philipe Forrestier does a little better whilst delivering his French charm and his imitation of Sinatra towards the end of the movie is wonderful. And like with Jourdan Maurice Chevalier also delivers that effortless French charm as Paul Barriere but in all honesty does not have a lot to do. But thankfully there is Shirley MacLaine as Simone and she does seem to be giving it her all trying to make her part work, be it the humour or the romance parts and it is MacLaine who makes watching "Can-Can" worthwhile.

What this all boils down to is that "Can-Can" not so much left me disappointed but more under whelmed. It is entertaining enough but only really works here and there with a lot of it be it the humour or musical numbers being quite forgettable. In reality it is worthwhile watching but only for the performance of Shirley MacLaine as she delivers the most consistently entertaining performance.