Gigi (1958)


In 1900, Paris, France, a wealthy playboy, Gaston (Louis Jourdan, There Coins in the Fountain), is friends with a spirited young lady, Gigi (Leslie Caron, An American in Paris), who is being trained to be a courtesan. When Gaston breaks up with his mistress, he sets his eyes on Gigi as a possible replacement.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Love, my dear Gigi, is a thing of beauty like a work of art.”

A shamelessly romanticized look at the world of courtesans and their clients in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris. Sumptuously shot on location in Paris by Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis), it features a star-studded cast and a lovely soundtrack by lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe.

Gigi is one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s weirdest musicals. Based upon Collette’s novella, Gigi is about women being groomed to be wealthy men’s sex toys. It’s hard to believe that the old Production Code allowed this movie to be made. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the film is actually condemning the idea of sex as currency, which is why I think the Production Code finally approved it.

Leslie Caron’s Gigi and Louis Jourdan’s Gaston are accidental heroes. They fall in love and as a result of this they inadvertently challenge the status quo — it’s revolution by osmosis. The ending celebrates true love and the institution of marriage. This is perhaps not good enough for Gloria Steinem, but it was good enough for the Code, and me.

It’s an odd movie in other areas too. Gigi is one of the few big musicals that’s not based on a Broadway show. The movie does  share some similarities with My Fair Lady (Lerner and Loewe were responsible for both soundtracks). At least one of the songs, “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight,” was originally written for My Fair Lady. 

Gigi is also one of the few musicals that doesn’t have any dance numbers. It’s something that has always disappointed me about the movie. I tend to like musicals that combine music, songs and dance. Not surprisingly, My Fair Lady has exactly the same problem. That is why I don’t think Gigi peaks until the halfway mark.

Jourdan suddenly sings the title song and the movie instantly goes from good to great — it’s the best moment in the movie. Jourdan isn’t really a singer, but what he does with the song is truly remarkable — he single-handedly injects a heavy dose of passion and romanticism into the movie. Director Minnelli stages this musical number beautifully, using multiple eye-popping Parisian locations.

Maurice Chevalier (The Smiling Lieutenant) and Hermione Gingold (The Music Man) provide some good moments as Jourdan’s uncle and Caron’s grandmother respectively. Their duet, “I Remember It Well,” is my second favorite song. Isabel Jeans (Alfred Hitchcock’s Downhill) plays aunt Alicia and Eva Gabor (or is it Zsa Zsa Gabor? I can’t tell them apart!) plays Jourdan’s mistress.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Although Gigi was a huge box office hit and swept the Academy Awards, today the film is mostly seen as a bookend to Hollywood’s golden age of musicals. It’s neither MGM’s best musical nor 1958’s best film. Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Mon Oncle, The Hidden FortressThe Defiant Ones and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof enjoy better reputations among cinephiles. But Gigi is hard to resist — it’s an elegant, extravagant and highly entertaining musical. Color, 115 minutes, Not Rated.

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