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1958 : Gigi
de Vincente Minnelli
Avec Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier & Eva Gabor
Gigi is a 1958 musical film directed by Vincente Minnelli. The screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner is based on the 1944 novella of the same name by Colette. The film features songs with lyrics by Lerner; music by Frederick Loewe, arranged and conducted by André Previn.
In 1991, Gigi was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The American Film Institute ranked it #35 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions. The film is considered the last great MGM musical and the final great achievement of the Freed Unit, headed by producer Arthur Freed, although he would go on to produce several more films, including the musical Bells Are Ringing in 1960. The film was the basis for an unsuccessful stage musical produced on Broadway in 1973.
Plot: Set in turn-of-the-20th century Paris, the film opens with Honoré Lachaille (Maurice Chevalier) among high society in the Bois de Boulogne. A charming old roué, he cynically remarks that "Like everywhere else, most people in Paris get married, but not all. There are some who will not marry, and some who do not marry. But in Paris, those who will not marry are usually men, and those who do not marry are usually women." So marriage is not the only option for wealthy young bon vivants like his nephew Gaston, who is bored with life. The one thing Gaston truly enjoys is spending time with Madame Alvarez, whom he calls Mamita, and especially her granddaughter, the precocious, carefree Gilberte, aka Gigi. Following the family tradition, Madame Alvarez sends Gigi to her sister, Great Aunt Alicia to be groomed as a courtesan and learn etiquette and charm. To Alicia, love is an art, and a necessary accomplishment for Gigi's social and economic future. The young girl initially is a very poor student who fails to understand the reasons behind her education. She enjoys spending time with Gaston, whom she regards as an elder brother
After Gaston publicly embarrasses his cheating mistress and tries to rebuild his reputation with endless parties, he decides to take a vacation by the sea. Gigi proposes if she beats him at a game of cards he must take her and Mamita along. He accepts, and she happily wins. During their holiday, Gigi and Gaston spend many hours together, and the two learn Honoré and Mamita once were romantically involved before becoming comfortable friends. Alicia insists Gigi's education must increase dramatically if she is to catch a prize such as Gaston. Gigi is miserable with her lessons, but endures them as a necessary evil, though she still seems awkward and bumbling to her perfectionist grand-aunt. When Gaston sees Gigi in an alluring white gown, he tells her she looks ridiculous and storms out, but later returns and apologizes, offering to take her to tea to make amends. Mamita refuses, telling him a young girl seen in his company might be labeled in such a way as could damage her future. Enraged yet again, Gaston storms out and wanders the streets of Paris in a fury
Leslie Caron & Louis Jourdan
Realizing he has fallen in love with Gigi, who no longer is the child he thought her to be, Gaston returns to Mamita and proposes he take Gigi as his mistress, promising to provide the girl with luxury and kindness. The young girl declines the offer, telling him she wants more for herself than to be passed between men, desired only until they tire of her and she moves on to another. Gaston is horrified at this portrayal of the life he wishes to give her, and leaves stunned. Gigi later decides she would rather be miserable with him than without him. Prepared to accept her fate as Gaston's mistress, Gigi emerges from her room looking like a woman. Gaston is enchanted and takes her to dinner at Maxim's, where she seems perfectly at ease. The stares of other patrons make Gaston extremely uncomfortable as he realizes Gigi's interpretation of things may have been accurate after all, and discovers his love for her makes the idea of her as his mistress an unbearable one. He leaves the party with Gigi in tow and takes her home without explanation. After wandering the streets throughout the night, he returns to Mamita's home and humbly asks for Gigi's hand in marriage.
The final sequence reverts to Honoré Lachaille, proudly pointing out Gaston and Gigi riding in their carriage in the Bois de Boulogne, which is filled with high society. The couple are elegant, beautiful, and happily married. Honoré has been a framing device for the film, which can be seen as a romantic victory of love over cynicism
* Leslie Caron as Gigi
* Louis Jourdan as Gaston Lachaille
* Maurice Chevalier as Honoré Lachaille
* Hermione Gingold as Madame Alvarez
* Eva Gabor as Liane d'Exelmans
* Jacques Bergerac as Sandomir
* Isabel Jeans as Aunt Alicia
Hollywood producer Arthur Freed first proposed a musicalization of the Colette novella to Alan Jay Lerner during the Philadelphia tryout of My Fair Lady in 1954. When Lerner arrived in Hollywood two years later, Freed was battling the Hays Code in order to bring his tale of a courtesan-in-training to the screen. Another roadblock to the project was the fact Colette's widower had sold the rights to her novella to Gilbert Miller, who planned to produce a film version of the 1954 stage adaptation by Anita Loos. It cost Freed more than $87,000 to purchase the rights from Gilbert and Loos.
Lerner's songwriting partner Frederick Loewe had expressed no interest in working in Hollywood, so Lerner agreed to write the screenplay only. He and Freed discussed casting; Lerner favored Audrey Hepburn, who had starred in the Broadway production written by Loos, but Freed preferred Leslie Caron, who had co-starred in An American in Paris for him. Both agreed Maurice Chevalier would be ideal for aging boulevardier Honoré Lachaille, and Lerner proposed Dirk Bogarde for Gaston. Lerner agreed to write the lyrics if Freed could convince Bogarde and designer Cecil Beaton to join the project. He decided to approach Loewe once again, and when he suggested they compose the score in Paris, Loewe agreed.
In March 1957, the duo began working in Paris. When Chevalier, who already had agreed to appear in the film, first heard "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," he was delighted. When he discussed his waning interest in wine and women in favor of performing for an audience in cabarets, Chevalier inadvertently inspired the creation of another tune for his character, "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore." The lyrics for another of his songs, the duet "I Remember It Well" performed with Hermione Gingold as his former love Madame Alvarez, were adapted from words Lerner had written for Love Life, a 1948 collaboration with Kurt Weill. "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight," a solo performed by Gigi, had been written for Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady but was removed during the pre-Broadway run. Lerner disliked the melody, but Loewe, Freed, and Minnelli voted to include it in the film.
Having second thoughts about Audrey Hepburn, Freed asked Lerner to meet with her in Paris, but she declined the role. The producer then asked him to fly to London to speak to Leslie Caron, who was living there with her husband Peter Hall. Lerner was surprised to discover the star had become Anglicized to the point of losing her French accent. She had recently starred in an unsuccessful stage production of Gigi, but when she heard Lerner's interpretation of the story greatly differed from that of the play, she accepted his offer. (Her singing voice was dubbed by Betty Wand.) Dirk Bogarde expressed interest as well, but ultimately was unable to free himself from his contract with J. Arthur Rank. Recalling Louis Jourdan from his performance in Three Coins in the Fountain, Freed offered him the role of Gaston.
Gigi Polish Poster
In late April, Freed and Minnelli and their respective entourages arrived in Paris. The weather had become unseasonably hot, and working in non-airconditioned hotel rooms was uncomfortable. Minnelli began scouting locations while Freed and Lerner discussed the still incomplete script. Lerner had taken liberties with Colette's novella; the character of Honoré, nonexistent in the original book and very minor in the Loos play, was now a major figure. Gigi's mother, originally a significant character, was reduced to a few lines of dialogue delivered off-screen. Lerner also expanded the focus on Gigi's relationship with her grandmother.
By mid-July, the composers had completed most of the score but still were missing the title tune. Loewe was at the piano while Lerner was indisposed in the bathroom, and when the former began playing a melody the latter liked, he later recalled he jumped up, "[his] trousers still clinging to [his] ankles, and made his way to the living room. 'Play that again,' he said. And that melody ended up being the title song for Gigi."
In September the cast and crew flew to California, where several interior scenes were filmed, among them the entire scene in Maxim's, which included a musical number by Jourdan. Lerner was unhappy with the look of the scene as it had been shot by Minnelli, and at considerable expense the restaurant was recreated on a soundstage and the scene was refilmed by director Charles Walters, since Minnelli was overseas working on a new project.
Following completion of the film, it was previewed in Santa Barbara in January 1958. Audience reaction was overwhelmingly favorable (88% rated it either "outstanding" or "good"), but Lerner and Loewe were dissatisfied with the end result. Lerner felt it was twenty minutes too long and most of the action too slow. The changes he proposed would cost an additional $300,000, money Freed was loath to spend. The songwriting team offered to buy 10% of the film for $300,000, then offered $3 million for the print. Impressed with their belief in the film, MGM executives agreed to the changes, which included eleven days of considerable reshooting, putting the project at $400,000 over budget. At a preview in Encino, audience reaction changed from "appreciation to affection," and Lerner felt the film finally was ready for release. It premiered at the Royale Theatre, a legitimate theatrical venue in New York City, on May 15, 1958.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times called it "a musical film that bears such a basic resemblance to My Fair Lady that the authors may want to sue themselves." He added, "But don't think this point of resemblance is made in criticism of the film, for Gigi is a charming entertainment that can stand on its own two legs. 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 . . . Vincente Minnelli has marshaled a cast to give a set of performances that, for quality and harmony, are superb."
Abel Green of Variety called the film "100% escapist fare" and predicted it "is destined for a global boxoffice mopup." He added, "Alan Jay Lerner's libretto is tailor-made for an inspired casting job for all principals, and Fritz Loewe's tunes (to Lerner's lyrics) already vie with and suggest their memorable My Fair Lady score . . . Miss Caron is completely captivating and convincing in the title role . . . Skillful casting, performance and presentation have endowed realism to the sum total . . . Director Minnelli's good taste in keeping it in bounds and the general sound judgment of all concerned . . . distinguishes this Arthur Freed independent production. The Metrocolor rates recognition for its soft pastels under Joseph Ruttenberg's lensing; the Beaton costumes, sets and general production design are vivid physical assets at first sight. The skillful integration of words-and-music with the plot motivation makes this Gigi a very fair lady indeed as a boxoffice entry."
Time Out New York said, "The dominating creative contribution comes from Minnelli and Cecil Beaton . . . The combination of these two visual elitists is really too much - it's like a meal consisting of cheesecake, and one quickly longs for something solid and vulgar to weigh things down. No doubt inspired by the finicky, claustrophobic sets and bric-à-brac, the cast tries (with unfortunate success) to be more French than the French, especially Chevalier. The exception is Gingold, who inhabits, as always, a world of her own."
TV Guide rated the film 3½ out of five stars, calling it "Overbaked but enjoyable, and a banquet for the eyes, thanks to the visual wonder of the Minnelli-Beaton teaming . . . Caron . . . leads the cast in a contest to see who can be the most French. The winner is Chevalier, in a performance that makes one feel as if you're gagging on pastry . . . Perhaps if the sweetness of Gigi was contrasted with elements of honest vulgarity, the picture could balance itself out . . . Ten minutes into the movie, you've resolved the plot and are left to wallow in lovely frou-frou. [The film] makes wonderful use of the usual Parisian landmarks, and benefits from extraordinary period costumes and sets."
• Awards and nominations.
Gigi won a record-breaking 9 Academy Awards (at the 1959 Awards ceremony); however, this record only lasted for one year, as Ben-Hur broke this record the following year when it won 11 Oscars, a tally which remains unbeaten to this day - although Titanic equalled 11 Oscar awards in 1998 as did The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2004 with 11 wins from 11 nominations.
* Best Picture (winner)
* Best Director (Vincente Minnelli, winner)
* Best Adapted Screenplay (Alan Jay Lerner, winner)
* Best Art Direction (E. Preston Ames, F. Keogh Gleason, Henry Grace, and William A. Horning, winners)
* Best Cinematography (Joseph Ruttenberg, winner)
* Academy Award for Best Costume Design|Best Costume Design (Cecil Beaton, winner)
* Academy Award for Best Film Editing|Best Film Editing (Adrienne Fazan, winner)
* Best Original Score (André Previn, winner)
* Best Original Song ("Gigi" by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, winners)
* Academy Honorary Award (Maurice Chevalier, winner)
Golden Globe Awards
* Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy (winner)
* Best Director - Motion Picture (Vincente Minnelli, winner)
* Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (Hermione Gingold, winner)
* Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Leslie Caron, nominee)
* Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Maurice Chevalier, nominee)
* Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Louis Jourdan, nominee)
* Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical (Alan Jay Lerner, winner)
* Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing - Feature Film (Vincente Minnelli and assistant director George Vieira, winners)
* Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media (André Previn, winner)
Maurice Chevalier & Louis Jourdan
Gigi Magazine Covers
Hollywood Album Nr. 13
Picture Show Nr. 1875
Illustrierte Film Bühne
In addition to the film musical, Louis Jourdan also appeared in a stage version of the show, touring America for nearly a year in 1984 and 1985.
Playbill from the production