Hi, Appellate Judge Tom Becker, Hi-lo!
You'll fall in love with Lili.
Naïve 16-year-old Lili (Leslie Caron, An American in Paris) is newly orphaned. She leaves her small town to find a man her father told her would take care of her; unfortunately, he's just passed away.
But Lili does meet a man: the handsome Marc (Jean-Pierre Aumont, Day for Night), a.k.a. Marcus the Magnificent, a magician with a traveling circus. Lili falls hard for Marc, who enjoys the attention and invites the waif back to the big top. Unfortunately for Lili, Marc has a sexy assistant, Rosalie (Zsa Zsa Gabor, Moulin Rouge (1952)).
Lili fails at being a waitress at the circus cantina; she realizes nothing will come of her and Marc. As she's contemplating suicide, someone calls her—a puppet, Carrot Top. Carrot Top consoles her and introduces her to the other puppets, and soon, Lili, in her innocence, is talking to them as though they were friends. People notice, and soon, Lili is part of the act—although she isn't really "acting" at all.
Of course, the puppets aren't really talking to her. The man behind them is Paul (Mel Ferrer, Blood and Roses), a bitter ex-dancer whose career was destroyed by a war injury. He has feelings for Lili, but thinks she'd reject him because of his deformity…and so, he treats her cruelly and lets the puppets say the things to her that he's aching to say but just cannot bring himself to.
A simple story beautifully told, Lili is one of the most charming films ever made. Imaginative and touching, Lili packs more feeling into its 80-minute runtime than many films double that length ever hope to.
Much of the magic of Lili comes from Caron, who is nothing less than beguiling as the sincere, unsophisticated young girl. Caron's Lili is a completely natural creation—there's no sense of manipulation about this performance. We believe her when she's talking to the puppets, the same way the audience at the circus believes her.
While I'm listing Lili as a musical, there's really only one song here, "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo," which Lili sings with the puppets. There are, however, two extensive dance numbers featuring Caron, who started out as a dancer. In one, she's imagining a sexy flirtation with Marc, and the other, which is moving and poignant. She imagines dancing with the puppets, only to have them turn into Paul. On its surface, Lili is a family film, but these dance numbers remind us that there's more to this than just a story of a girl who talks to puppets—Lili has a strong undercurrent of sexuality; it's a perfect, beautiful, but in many ways very adult coming of age story.
Caron is ably supported by Ferrer, Aumont, Gabor, and Kurt Kasznar as Jacquot, the puppeteer's partner. The puppets themselves are from famed puppeteers Walton and O'Rourke. The circus milieu is presented colorfully and a bit dreamlike, but it never descends to cartoon. This is an all-around top-flight film.
Whenever I review a disc from Warner Archive, I always have to add a coda along the lines of, while I'm glad to have this on DVD, I wish there were some supplements, but without Warner Archive, we probably wouldn't have it at all…and so on. But Lili isn't an obscure cult film like Confessions of an Opium Eater or The Sorcerers; it's a bona fide classic.
A critical and commercial success, Lili was nominated for six Oscars, including major categories like Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, and won an Academy Award for its music. It was popular enough to warrant rereleases, and it played well on television for many years. If it's not in the same leagues as, say, Singin' in the Rain, and doesn't warrant the kind of "special edition" releases afforded films in that league, it's at least worthy of a remastering and a "legitimate" DVD rather than the Archive's MOD.
The transfer is a pretty negligible affair. Lili is a very colorful film, but the colors here are not especially strong. In some sequences, they look pretty good, but in others, they're off. There's a fair amount of print damage; it's not terrible, but it can be a bit distracting. The audio is a simple mono track. The only supplement is a trailer.
Lili is a wonderful film, one that warrants a great DVD release. It doesn't get it here, but—again—I'm just glad to have the film on disc. Maybe down the road, Warner Bros. or some other company will give us a remastered Blu-ray, but 'til then…
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Studio: Warner Bros.
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