Release Date: May 15th, 1958 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Vincente Minnelli Actors: Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Hermione Gingold, Eva Gabor, Jacques Bergerac
igi wishes for something more than just riches as she’s transformed into a proper lady to appeal to extremely wealthy sugar king Gaston. And although this lush musical boasts about love, it defines marriage itself to be far superior to undying romance – a concept that grows increasingly more antiquated as romantic dramas evolve. Aside from Maurice Chevalier’s enchanting song “I Remember It Well,” “Gigi” is only delightful most of the time, occasionally losing steam during musical sequences that fail to spark prominent emotions. The story is estimable but not unparalleled, and with a bevy of chiefly forgettable tunes, “Gigi” is oftentimes dismissed amid superior musicals like “An American In Paris” (the other Best Picture-winning MGM musical set in Paris and starring Leslie Caron, premiering seven years earlier) or “My Fair Lady” (which has a similar ordinary-girl-to-glamorous-woman plot), despite plenty of critical and commercial success during its 1958 debut.
Based on the novel by Colette, “Gigi” tells the story of a young girl (Leslie Caron) who has grown up to be a desirable woman (her sparkle turned to fire) right before the unseeing eyes of rich playboy Gaston (Louis Jourdan). When Gigi’s grandmother Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold) and her Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) recognize the adolescent’s potential as a mistress for Gaston, they attempt to teach her to be mature and ladylike (or better than everyone else) with lessons in table manners, education in jewelry, and schooling on the selecting of the perfect cigar. As they train her to be high society gossip fare (or a “Fair Lady”), her wonderfully backward individuality is suppressed. But it doesn’t stop her from acknowledging the embarrassing publicity that surrounds Gaston and his every romantic escapade, leading her to dream instead of true love over a profitable affair.
When Honore (Maurice Chevalier) opens the film with narration and the song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” it might be too much for newer generations to stifle chuckles at the monstrously pedophiliac undertones that plague the lyrics of this once innocent song. The premise and the relationships are unquestionably dated. But the rest of the film does a masterful job of disguising Gigi’s potential role as a prostitute (or the more acceptable term of a courtesan), lessening the notions of Honore’s seemingly inappropriate chasing after the much younger crowd and his regular infidelities, and keeping the tone lighthearted and charming.
Gaston is too good for Gigi, or at least he should be, what with his vast wealth and plentiful possessions; swaggeringly exhibiting status and recognizing elitism are prevalent and customary. But the belle’s simple longing for amorous affection and real love wins over his formerly unshakeable belief in superiority. She’s not the one with an ice-covered soul (as he sings to Honore), but rather it’s her surroundings, family influences, and the constant nosiness of the rich and famous that provokes her to reject sensibleness for her future. Sweeping romance, as usual, although characterized here by the act of marriage, is a winner in the eyes of the Academy, which favored “Gigi” with nine Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for musical maestro Vincente Minnelli.
– Mike Massie