Maurice Chevalier in the Bois de Bologne
By Carter B. Horsley
Gigi is the froth of wonderful Champagne.
Throw in the sublime charm of Maurice Chevalier, the stunning handsomeness of Louis Jourdan, the very correctness of Hermione Gingold, and the insouciance of Leslie Caron and you have the eternal giddiness ofGigi, the cinematic hymn to youthful enchantment.
In his September 12, 2018 review, James Bernardinelli at reelreviews.net observed that in 1959 "Gigi not only won the Best Picture citation, it went nine-for-nine, also taking home statuettes in the Director, Adapted Screenplay, Set Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Score, and Song categories.""Gigi, based on the novella by Colette," he continued, "was adapted for the screen by Alan Jay Lerner. This was the first musical that Lerner and his collaborator, Frederick Loewe, developed initially as a movie. Over the years, a number of their plays, including Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, and Camelot, would receive motion picture adaptations, but Gigi was their only project to go the other way around (the stage version arrived in 1973). In tone and style, the music is representative of Lerner & Loewe’s oeuvre, especially My Fair Lady. (The song, “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight,” which Gigi sings to her cat, was originally written for My Fair Lady.)"
"Gigi’s fairy-tale inspired storyline contains all the familiar tropes from a more innocent era’s romantic comedy genre. Certain racier elements of the storyline (for example, Gigi is courtesan-in-training) are tap-danced around to avoid running afoul of the still-potent Hays Code. The film is by no means puritanical – in fact, it openly deals with the French’s sometimes lazy attitudes toward male fidelity in marriage – but the breezy approach and use of music allows Gigi to seem more wholesome than it is.
"The movie focuses on the relationship between Gigi (Leslie
Caron), a young girl of no particular pedigree, and Gaston Lachaille (Louis
Jordan), one of Paris’
most notorious playboys. Gaston, who takes after his uncle, Honore Lachaille
(Maurice Chevalier), is known as a heartbreaker and his every affair is
followed meticulously by the gossip sheets of the day....The possibility of Gigi becoming Gaston’s mistress
delights her grandmother (Hermione Gingold) and her great-aunt (and teacher in
all matters of courtesan etiquette), Alicia (Isabel Jeans), but it doesn’t
excite Gigi....Although at first Gigi might seem to luxuriate in the lavish
lifestyles of Gaston and Honore, it takes great pains to show glimpses of the
emotional emptiness that accompanies such 'high' living. Gaston never ceases to
gripe about how 'bored' he is by everything – his day-to-day routine, his
mistresses, even the Eiffel
Tower! Gigi’s etiquette
lessons – and her bemused reactions to them – illustrate her awareness of the
pointless superficiality of living life by those rules....
In his April 1, 2009 review of the film at Blu-ray.com, Kenneth Brown observed that
"If you're old enough to remember the twenty-year reign of
soaring Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musicals or the exhilarating
dominance of lighthearted love stories in the '50s, the films of legendary
producer Arthur Freed and director Vincente Minnelli should be quite familiar
to you. Some six years after releasing Gene Kelly's An American in Paris to swooning
audiences across the country, Freed and Minnelli delivered Gigi, a film
considered by many to be the last 'classic' MGM musical of its time....
"Your enjoyment of Gigi will come down to your reaction to Caron's precocious portrayal of a girl lost in life and love. Her initial delivery is so whimsical and free-spirited that some will find it downright annoying while others will want to watch every minute of her maturation and emotional development. The entire film hedges on her ability to gain favor with viewers of every age and gender and, in that regard, Caron single-handedly reshapes Colette's rather contrived plot into something more than it would probably be without her infectious performance. Even those who would normally roll their eyes at the causality with which tongue-twisting songs are tossed into the fray will find something to be amused by...whether it be Caron's willful banter with Jordan, her at-times feisty interactions with Gingold and Jeans, or the simple innocence she brings to running up stairs or fiddling with a hat on a windy day. She infuses her character with everything from empowerment to self-discovery, rebellion to reluctance, and determination to independence, and it all works tremendously well."
Louis Jourdan comes to Ms. Gingold's
In a long essay on the films of Vincent Minnelli, Michael E. Grost at mikegrost.com/minn.htm notes Chevalier is clearly a male chauvinist, "adding that "Partly the film treats him
as an oo-la-la roué, but partly also as sinister: he is consistently prejudiced
against women throughout the film, and gives bad advice to the hero. His
opening comments on the married women are sexist and unfairly derogatory...."
In his May 18, 1958 review in The New York Times, Bosley Crother wrote that "It is not only a charming comprehension of the spicy confection of
Colette, but it is also a lovely and lyrical enlargement upon that story's
flavored mood and atmosphere. Mr. Beaton's designs are terrific—a splurge of
elegance and whim, offering fin-desiècle Paris
in an endless parade of plushy places and costumes. And within this fine frame
of swanky settings, Vincente Minnelli has marshaled a cast to give a set of
performances that, for quality and harmony, are superb".
Gigi and cat
"Leslie Caron, the little lady who helped to make 'Lili' a memorable film, gets something of the same sort of magic of youthful rapture as the heroine in this....
Isabel Jeans, Leslie Caron and Hermione Gingold
"As the grandmother and great-aunt, Hermione Gingold and Isabel Jeans give elaborately humorous exhibitions of the airs and attitudes of ancient dames; Eva Gabor is posh as a passing mistress and John Abbott is droll as a valet. Of Mr. Loewe's musical numbers, 'Gigi' is probably the best, though M. Chevalier makes something quite beguiling of 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls.' He also inbues with cheerful poignance "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore," and he and Miss Gingold sing a duet of wit and wisdom to 'I Remember It Well.'"
With a perfect cast, Gigi outshines "My Fair Lady," no easy accomplishment.
The songs in "My Fair Lady" are schmaltz but those in Gigi are more elegant and memorable and have the allure of love, not fashion. Both, of course, are marvelous.
This file ranks 84th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films.