Can-Can (film)

Can-Can is a 1960 American musical film made by Suffolk-Cummings productions and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It was directed by Walter Lang, produced by Jack Cummings and Saul Chaplin, from a screenplay by Dorothy Kingsley and Charles Lederer, loosely based on the musical play by Abe Burrows with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, with some songs replaced by songs from earlier Porter musicals. Art direction was by Jack Martin Smith and Lyle R. Wheeler, costume design by Irene Sharaff, and dance staging by Hermes Pan. The film was photographed in Todd-AO. Although performing well on initial release it failed to make back its production costs from its domestic results.

theatrical release poster
Directed byWalter Lang
Produced byJack Cummings
Saul Chaplin
Written byDorothy Kingsley
Charles Lederer
Based onAbe Burrows
(stage musical)
StarringFrank Sinatra
Shirley MacLaine
Maurice Chevalier
Louis Jourdan
Music byCole Porter
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Edited byRobert L. Simpson
Distributed byTwentieth Century-Fox
Release date
  • March 9, 1960 (1960-03-09) (US)
Running time
131 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4.2 million (US/ Canada rentals)[2]

The film stars Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan, and introduced Juliet Prowse in her first film role. Sinatra, who was paid $200,000 along with a percentage of the film's profits, acted in the film under a contractual obligation required by 20th Century Fox after he walked off the set of Carousel in 1955.


In the Montmartre district of Paris, a dance known as the can-can, considered lewd, is performed nightly at the Bal du Paradis, a cabaret where Simone Pistache is both a dancer and the proprietor. On a night when her lawyer and lover, François Durnais, brings his good friend, Chief Magistrate Paul Barrière, to the club, a raid is staged by police and the performers, including Simone, are placed under arrest.

Paul wishes the charges to be dismissed, but his younger colleague Philippe Forrestier believes the laws against public indecency should be enforced. Visiting the cabaret and pretending to be someone else, Philippe becomes better acquainted with Simone and develops a romantic interest in her, but she is warned by dancer Claudine that he is actually a judge.

Despite his attraction to her, Philippe arranges for Simone to be arrested once more. François attempts to blackmail Phillippe with a compromising photograph, in an effort to get him to drop the charges. However, Philippe had already decided to stop the case. He then shocks Simone by proposing marriage to her. She goes to François, warning him that she will accept the proposal if he does not marry her himself. Paul, meanwhile, tries to talk Philippe out of it, believing such an arrangement would end his career. François ignores his advice. Simone then embarrass herself, by getting drunk on a boat trip in front of the upper class of Paris. She then jumps off the boat and calls off the engagement.

Simone obtains a loan from François to stage a ball, insisting he accept a deed to the cabaret as collateral. The police come this time and take François away instead of her. Simone writes a letter to Philippe, saying she cannot in good conscience become his bride. A can-can is performed to the approval of all, agreeing that it is not in any way obscene. When the police nonetheless escort Simone to a wagon used for prisoners, she is startled to find François inside, and even more surprised when he finally proposes.

Musical score

The film contains what critics now consider some of Cole Porter's most enduring songs, including "I Love Paris", "It's All Right With Me", and "C'est Magnifique." At the time of the show's premiere in 1953 however, many critics complained that Porter was now turning out material far below his usual standard. Some of the songs from the original Broadway musical were replaced by other, more famous Porter songs, including "Let's Do It", "Just One of Those Things" and "You Do Something to Me." "I Love Paris" is sung by the chorus over the opening credits, instead of being sung in the actual story by MacLaine. A version by Sinatra and Chevalier, however, was featured on the movie soundtrack album.

Sinatra and Chevalier filmed the song "I Love Paris" but it was cut in previews when the studio realized it slowed the film down. A photo of the sequence can be found in a New York Times Magazine article from Feb 21, 1960. The song takes place shortly after Act Two opens in the scene where Chevalier visits Sinatra in a nightclub.

Plot alterations

The plot of the musical was also revised. In the stage version, the judge was the leading character. In the film, it is the lover (Sinatra) of the nightclub owner (Shirley MacLaine) who is the lead, and the judge (played by Louis Jourdan) forms the other half of a love triangle not found in the play. The character of Paul Barriere, a non-singing supporting part on stage, was plumped up and given two songs for Maurice Chevalier .

International controversy

During the filming, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev famously visited the 20th Century Fox studios[3] and was allegedly shocked by the goings-on. He took the opportunity to make propagandistic use of his visit and described the dance, and by extension American culture, as "depraved" and "pornographic."[4]



Although many critics enjoyed the film, critical opinion was not unanimous.[5]

The film was listed by Variety as the highest grossing film of 1960 (behind 1959's Ben-Hur) with estimated rentals of $10 million,[6] based on an estimated $3 million from 70mm showings to December 1960 and $7 million estimated from future 35mm showings.[5] The expected future rentals were not achieved and the rental was revised down to $4.2 million the following year.[2]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards, 1961:

Golden Globe Awards, 1961:'

  • Nominated – Best Motion Picture, Musical

Grammy Awards, 1961:

  • Winner – Best Motion Picture Soundtrack



  1. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p252
  2. "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  3. Time Staff (September 21 1959). "National Affairs: Can-Can Without Pants?" TIME Magazine
  4. "Linnell, Greg. "'Applauding the Good and Condemning the Bad': The Christian Herald and Varieties of Protestant Response to Hollywood in the 1950s" Journal of Religion and Popular Culture Vol. 12: Spring 2006". Archived from the original on 2012-10-18. Retrieved 2017-08-18.
  5. Arneel, Gene (January 11, 1961). "Boxoffice Performance Contrasts With Printed Critics' Opinion; Only Public Likes Jerry Lewis". Variety. p. 5. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  6. "Rental Potentials of 1960". Variety. January 4, 1961. p. 47. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
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