MGM’s 1952 musical Singin’ In The Rain is practically an outlier in the world of classic MGM musicals for being a non-stop exuberant and ebullient crowd-pleaser of a comedy that manages to have a sly tongue-in-cheek commentary about the studio system. I mean, it’s a musical about the transition from silent film to the studio system; that is, a movie about the silent film era uses a genre that only existed with the advent of syncronized sound. But, more than that, it’s filled with wall-to-wall showstoppers. It was a jukebox musical developed by Albert Freed to capitalize on his catalog of musicals from 1929-1939. Even Singin’ In The Rain came from The Hollywood Revue of 1929. (The one completely original song was Moses Supposes, almost a showstopper in its own right). Singin’ In The Rain had one goal, and that was to make audiences smile from the first frame to the last.
Jacques Demy’s 1967 film The Young Girls of Rochefort has similar goals to pleasure the audience by any means necessary. The final film of Demy’s love trilogy, Rochefort is the one to truly commit to the American-style musical. Demy mixes in American actors/dancers with French actor/dancers as if to say that he’s just going to be putting a bit of a French spin on a very American genre. Catherine Deneuve and her older sister star as a pair of twins about ready to try to make it in Paris. Gene Kelly, from Singin’, stops by as an American star on tour who also happens to be old friends with the twins’ mother’s ex who just opened up a piano shop near the coffee shop. George Chakiris, Academy Award winner for the leader of the Sharks in West Side Story, is a carny with a traveling fair who, with his friend, tries to woo the girls into performing the show. There’s also an ax murderer on the loose, just for shits and giggles.
Practically every 10 minutes or so, Rochefort drops into song. About half the time, these are accompanied by a dance number, and 1/2 of those are show stoppers. And, why wouldn’t Demy constantly stop the movie for dancing? He has two Academy Award winning dancers, including Gene F’ing Kelly. The numbers, like any good musical, also push the plot forward, allowing the complicated screwball plot threads to keep ducking and weaving around each other without having to slow down for unrelated music.
To add to the fun, this movie is gorgeous. I cannot cut a frame apart without ruining the magical balances held within each frame. At one point, a bunch of mothers stand in line in front of the school waiting to pick up their kids, and their costumes create their own joyful rainbow. When Gene Kelly is dancing down an alley, accent colors mirror and reflect each other without being flashy about it. Even basic two-person set-ups become ballets of balance.
This. This is how you make a musical. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s humane, it’s showy but not over the top. It doesn’t take 15 minutes for the damn waiters to seat you at your table just because you’ve not been to the restaurant for a couple months *ahem*Hello, Dolly*ahem*. This is a complete delight from start to finish, with talent and skill bursting off the screen.
The Young Girls of Rochefort streams on FilmStruck as part of the Criterion collection