Gigi is a movie musical from the nineteen fifties, and that alone is enough to get me interested. Many will need more convincing, and the other big selling points include elaborate production design, some shots on location, French people (along with their singing), interesting questions about feminism, and the ever fascinating push against the boundaries of censorship. If all that doesn’t have you excited, you should probably look somewhere else for you entertainment.
Gigi (Leslie Caron) is a young girl training to be a courtesan. She’s exuberant, vivacious, and very independent. She sits through the lessons given by her Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) but doesn’t seem to absorb much. She learns how to eat food properly, inspect jewels, dance, and all sorts of things that will help her seem high class. When she’s not having her lessons, she goes to school and hangs out with her playboy friend, Gaston (Louis Jourdan). One day, Gaston realizes that Gigi is no longer a little girl and decides he wants to keep her. Tears are shed and misunderstandings ensue.
It’s amazing to me that back in 1958 they were able to make a musical about such scandalous topics. While nothing is really that shocking by today’s standards, given that this is a musical and they generally tend to be safer (until you get to the seventies anyway), it really surprised me. They talk around the sex a lot, so at some parts it’s confusing as to whether they are actually talking about it or not. But if you follow the usual rule of thumb (if it seems like they’re talking about sex, they are) it’ll be fine. The thing is, until the very end, there’s pretty much no question of marriage, so pretty racy when you take the production code into account. There’s no actual sex or even much kissing, so that probably helped out. This is the late fifties as well, so the production code is starting to fall by the wayside.
The feminism issues that the film brings up were of most interest to me. This film gets some flack because this independent girl is being taught to be a kept woman, which is by all accounts frowned upon. Though I do agree with that, I was reasonably happy with the way the film turns out. The problem originally was that Gaston and Gigi were in love, but didn’t think they could be in love with the arrangement that they had worked out, which is probably true. They were both acting a part they had been taught, Gaston as well as Gigi. Eventually it works all right, even if the characters motivations become a bit muddled as the film is trying to wrap itself up a little too quickly.
The supporting characters, while not so much important to the plot, have a lot of musical numbers. Chief among them is Maurice Chevalier as Gaston’s uncle, who gets to sing the film’s most famous song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” which is just as creepy as the title suggests. He doesn’t do much in terms of plot besides telling Gaston what to do, which he doesn’t even realize he resents. Gigi’s grandmother Mamita (Hermione Gingold) also doesn’t have much to do besides looking after Gigi, but it’s still pretty great to see Gingold in the part. Eva Gabor also makes an appearance as Gaston’s jilted lover towards the beginning, giving a look at what Gigi could grow up to be. As far as the more central roles go, Jourdan is fine as Gaston, and Caron does her best to imitate Audrey Hepburn.
Most of the musical numbers don’t really stand out too much, with the exception of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” because it’s so creepy. Chevalier is this old guy hanging around a park where a bunch of girls are playing, and it’s just creepy. There’s also a funny duet that Gaston and his uncle have about how bored Gaston is with everything, as indicted by his repetition of the title: “It’s a Bore.” Another fun number is with Gaston, Gigi, and Mamita just goofing off and dancing around to “The Night They Invented Champagne.” Gigi keeps trying to drink champagne without her grandmother noticing, and they are just having a grand old time. I really have to wonder why they didn’t have more dancing in the film (basically just the goofy dancing that number and when they go to a nightclub) because they have Leslie Caron in their movie and that’s what she’s primarily known for.
Gigi won nine Oscars, which incidentally was the exact number that it was nominated for. It won picture, director for Minnelli, adapted screenplay, color cinematography, art direction, costume design, editing, original song for “Gigi,” and score for a musical. This was a record at the time, though Ben-Hur would come along a year later and beat it. Though the Academy seems to have loved this movie, I really can’t agree with the pile of awards it gave out. The only ones it really deserves are probably art direction and costume design. 1958 was the year one of my absolute favorite films of all time came out: Vertigo. I realize no one liked that film at the time, but it’s very well respected now, and not just by me. I have no problem saying the Academy was downright wrong in ’58, but Gigi is still a pretty enjoyable film if you like the genre.
“Love, my dear Gigi, is a thing of beauty like a work of art, and like a work of art it is created by artists. The greater the artist the greater the art. And what makes an artist?”
Long story short: 3/4