Can Can, released in 1960, stars Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, and Louis Jourdan, also prominently features supporting actor Maurice Chevalier and actress and dancer Juliet Prowse.
In 1896 Montmarte, Paris, the Can Can (a dance where women lift their skirts) is banned by law as lewd and lascivious. However, the female proprietor Simone (MacLaine) of the cabaret Bal du Paradis, has it performed every day. Law enforcement personnel look the other way (even attending performances) due to the persuasive charms of the club’s female employees. An uptight, ambitious judge (Jourdan) decides to bring the performances to an end. Despite multiple efforts to arrest and keep her in jail, Simone uses her charms and wiles to shift the focus and blame, until the presiding judge and her womanizing boyfriend attorney (Sinatra) end up vying for her affections with competing marriage proposals. Upon the advice of the Chief Judge (Chevalier) the presiding judge convenes a courtroom performance, agreeing to accept the jury/audience’s determination of whether the dance is in fact, lewd and lascivious.
Adapted from a 1953 Broadway musical comedy (which ran for 2 years) with words and music by Cole Porter, the screenplay was written by Dorothy Kingsley and Charles Lederer, directed by Walter Lang, and dances staged by Hermes Pan. MacLaine actually performed in the can can chorus line in the Broadway production. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Music Scoring.
Although set in Paris, all of the filming was on a 20th Century back lot. As a demonstration of American ingenuity and talent, Nikita Kruschev and his wife were invited to observe the filming during a U.S. visit. However, instead of admiration, Kruschev pronounced it an example of “western immorality and decadence,” and during a meeting with U.S. labor leaders he further proclaimed in reference to the filming that “the face of mankind is prettier than its backside.” The uproar created a press maelstrom and a publicity reach which could not have been purchased for any amount of money.