Judge Brendan Babish likes little girls as much as anybody, but doesn't go to the park and sing about it.
Our reviews of Gigi: Two-Disc Special Edition (published September 16th, 2008) and TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Best Picture Winners (published February 19th, 2009) are also available.
Thank heaven for Gigi.
Director Vincente Minnelli's Gigi won the 1958 Oscar for Best Picture, and is widely considered the last great MGM musical (sorry, fans of Bells Are Ringing). Now, in the midst of a flurry of classic musicals getting re-released on Blu-ray, Gigi gets its due with a newly restored print and remastered soundtrack.
Facts of the Case
Gigi is the story of love and ennui among the obscenely rich in turn-of-the-century Paris. Gaston (Louis Jourdan, Octopussy) is so rich he has grown tired of all early pursuits; his flings with busty, yet shallow, socialites have dulled him to the pleasure of female company as well.
However, he does have some family friends, Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold, Around the World in Eighty Days) and her niece Gigi (Leslie Caron, Fanny), whom he likes spending time with. Gaston especially enjoys the company of the sprightly Gigi, who is curious and uncultured in an endearing fashion. In fact, Gaston soon finds himself attracted to the girl and struggles to decide whether and how to turn their relationship into a romantic one.
Gigi's script and music were written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, the same duo behind My Fair Lady. Though Gigi is certainly an accomplished film in its own right, it's hard to watch without thinking of it as a French retread of My Fair Lady. Both films involve a worldly man who falls in love with an energetic, naïve youth who he was ostensibly mentoring. The films are also so damn jaunty it's hard to resist their charms, and easy to overlook the casual misogyny that might rankle upon reflection.
Obviously, Gigi does a lot of things right. The film opens with a shot of a beautiful French park, and an introduction by the avuncular Honoré Lachaille (Maurice Chevalier), who's kind of a cad, but good-natured about it, so you don't really judge him. In his introduction, Lachaille sings "Thank Heaven For Little Girls," a well-known show tune that's both sweet and subtly disturbing—kind of like the movie itself.
Still, the joie de vive that Paris—or the romanticized version of Paris—commonly inspires is on full display here. In addition to Lachaille's charm, Gaston displays an exquisite boredom with being super rich, an attitude that would be insufferable in America, but somehow seems endearing in Europeans—and then there's Gigi. Leslie Caron may not be well-known among young filmgoers, but she was a beautiful, graceful actress (originally trained as a ballerina), with acting chops to boot. The film Gigi wouldn't work without a highly appealing lead, and Caron mostly delivers. However, I have to point out that, though she was in her late twenties at the time of filming, Caron looks like she's fourteen. Furthermore, Gigi acts like a fourteen-year-old and hangs out with other fourteen-year-olds, all of which makes the character's shift into an object of romantic interest somewhat disconcerting.
I won't pretend to be an expert on the sexual politics of the 1950s, but as one raised on the realist cinema of the 1970s, I couldn't help but evaluate Gaston's and Gigi's relationship at face value: Gaston is her elder, with an almost familial relationship to her. Additionally, Gaston seems to be sexually attracted by Gigi's most "girlish" attributes: an unsophisticated but earnest curiosity (about the taste of champagne, for instance); an interest in fun, ruffled skirts instead of evening gowns; a poutiness that is endearing in cute young girls, but a troubling sign of entitlement in adults. Gigi's age is never specified, but she is introduced in the film playing with other schoolgirls. I'm not saying she's underage, but if she walks like a duck, and talks like a duck…
Look, Gigi is a charming girl, and Gigi a charming movie. The movie transports you to a simpler, more elegant time and place, populated by beautiful people and lots of whimsy. Like most everyone, I enjoyed the trip. However, the airy story can't help but be undermined by an odd courtship and even odder pairing.
Of course, Gigi is a beloved classic to many film lovers and, with a few reservations, this remastering for Blu-ray should please most of them. The 1080p picture quality is initially very impressive, with strong contrast and vibrant red, greens, and blues that make Paris and its upper-class environs pop off the screen. At its best, this is as good as any fifty-year-old film can look. However, there is some scratching in the print, and a particular problem with transitions between scenes. Minnelli chose to use a lot of fade-outs and fade-ins, and these effects seem to have eroded the print to the point that the colors often turn sepia and grainy during transitions. It's a relatively small problem, but certainly a liability.
Gigi is not full of any bombastic musical numbers, and doesn't employ choruses, but does feature a more-than-adequate Dolby TrueHD 5.1 remix. While the singing and orchestration are both subdued, the soundtrack accentuates both with a resulting strong and steady output. The use of the surround speakers is not extensive, but they are used well in some key places, such as the dining scenes in the restaurant Maxim.
The bonus features are plentiful, though they are identical to what was included on the two-disc special edition that was released on DVD in 2008. The two best features are the commentary track, which features film historian Jeanine Basinger and interview excerpts from Leslie Caron to discuss the making of the film in intricate detail; and the 1949 French adaptation of Gigi. This non-musical, more sensual adaptation is a great supplement to fans of the musical Gigi (or fans of Colette's novel on which they're both based), but shouldn't provide much interest to casual viewers. In addition, there is the high-definition 36-minute documentary "Thank Heaven! The Making of Gigi," which features interviews from film historians, critics, and Caron again, on the making of the film. Lastly, there are a series of shorts, including: "The Million Dollar Nickel," a PSA asking people to send letters to other countries, and "The Vanishing Duck," a Tom & Jerry cartoon.
With a complete redundancy of extras, and very good—but not great—picture and sound, there's no need for anyone but diehards to double dip if you already have the two-disc set.
It's not hard to understand how Gigi has become such a beloved film. It oozes charm and whimsy for nearly two hours, and features equally charming and whimsical performances, especially by Caron in the lead role. However, the romantic relationship at the center of the movie is not one that I can fully endorse—and one best not ruminated on too deeply.
Let's give Gaston, and the film itself, a hung jury.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• 1949 Version
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