Language: English, French
Genre: Comedy, Musical, Romance
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenwriter: Alan Jay Lerner
based on the novella by Colette
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
One of the most vilified Oscar BEST PICTURE winner, GIGI (a record-breaking win of all its 9 nominations), based on the novella from Colette, it is Vincente Minnelli’s pièce-de-résistance. For all the ritziness of his resplendent mise en scène, exquisite costumes and its paraphernalia, in spectacular Metrocolour, CinemaScope glory; for a panoply of vintage chansons to entertain viewers for sheer escapism, sometimes sung in a carefree singsong style, GIGI is a delightful if not equally patronising anachronism, formulaically pontificates with outdated chivalry and self-praised upper-class etiquette with a way too serious face, it might encapsulate the zeitgeist, but for modern viewers, to quote Gaston Lachaille’s own words: it’s a bore!
Gigi (Caron), a young and vivacious girl living with her grandmother Mamita (Gingold) and mother (a coloratura completely off-screen) in an ordinary apartment in Paris, the place is painted in shocking scarlet, a gaudy manifest to what the family represents, under the restrict of Hollywood’s production code, the movie never dares to mention it explicitly, but soon we will realise, Gigi is trained to be a courtesan, chiefly by her grandaunt Alicia (Jeans), once a courtesan herself, living in her lavish residence with all the trophies she has garnered through her extraordinary career.
Who is the Prince Charming for Gigi? It’s Gaston (Jourdan), a toff who befriends her family, and forges a platonic rapport with Gigi, because she is entirely different from all the other lady friends in his hedonistic life, but, soon, he will realise his amorous cravings for her, his courtship stimulates both Mamita and Alicia, but not Gigi, who prefers the status quo rather than being romantically attached, as one of his conquests, they never linger long enough. After the consequent balking and changing-of-mind between the conceited prince and the glamourised ugly duckling, the finale has only one way out.
Caron, in retrospect, is a shade older for the role of a schoolgirl also, her singing voice is dubbed, and her dancing talent is barely given a stage to showcase due to the fact that GIGI is not a conventional Hollywood musical bombarding with impressively choreographed dancing sequences, all its eloquently lilting music numbers are integrated with the narrative; whilst Jourdan is polished in an elegant leading role which falls flat in its properly vainglorious characterisation.
So, it leaves the limelight on some theatrical doyens, a breaking-the-fourth-wall Maurice Chevalier (a gambit dated back from his Lubitsch days, for example ONE HOUR WITH YOU 1932), furnishes the highlights of its Lerner-Loewe soundtrack, THANK HEAVEN FOR LITTLE GIRLS and I’M GLAD I’M NOT YOUNG ANYMORE. And an imposingly self-assured Isabel Jeans is an enthralling humdinger ingrained in her own (rather objectionable) philosophy of what makes a perfect woman. Hermione Gingold is the odd one out, winning a BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS trophy in the Golden Globes, but was snubbed by the Academy, actually, the film failed to secure any nominations for its actors. It seems, her eccentricity doesn’t go long with the tenor of Gallo pablum.
Having said that, GIGI’s allure hasn’t been completely worn away by the ruthless time, only it is rather embarrassing to call it “the best of the year”, when you have VERTIGO, TOUCH OF EVIL, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and THE DEFIANT ONES all came out in the same year, a typical victim of the “too high to live up with the bar” curse of Oscar’s boomerang.