Alan Jay Lerner’s libretto is tailor-made for an inspired casting job for all principals, and Fritz Loewe’s tune’s (to Lerner’s lyrics) already vie with and suggest their memorable “My Fair Lady” score.
“Gigi” is a French variation, by Colette, of the “Pygmalion” legend. The analogy of this tiptop Arthur Freed film production to Herman Levin’s legit production of the Shavian source becomes increasingly apparent as the film unfolds. And, of course, the LernerLoewe association heightens the comparison as their compelling melodies punch over with pyramiding effect in the expert hands (and voices) of the cast (or their skillful vocal doubles). Just to complete the package Cecil Beaton’s imagative costumes, scenery and production design, which figured so mportanlly in “Lady,” repeats in “Gigi.” It’s Beaton’s Hollywood debut and Lerner – Loewe’s post -“Fair Lady.”
“Gigi” is l00% escapist fare and is a cinch for worldwide impact, probably including those territories not overly partial to musicals because, in this instance, it’s fundamentally of a “foreign” pattern. The preoccupation of the French for the amour-amour department, both sexes, is an undeniable common denominator, and as Colette’s character unfolds it is apparent that the hoydenish “Gigi” has a greater preoccupation with a wedding ring than casual, albeit supercharged romance.
The sophistications of Maurice Chevalier (who well nigh steals he picture), Isabel Jeans, Hermione Gingold and Eva Gabor are in contrast to the wholesomeness of the Leslie Caron-Louis Jourdan romance. Despite his plaintive “I’m Bored,” one of the several tailormade lyrics that match the plot so well, his attachment for the blossoming “Gigi” is an intangible yet vibrant romance motivation.
Miss Caron is completely captivating and convincing in the title role. She is part of the illusion of the fin-de-siecle characters of the peruod whose volcanic pecadilloes highlighted the spice and gossip at Maxim’s. Skillful casting, performance and presentation have endowed realism to the sum total. Even Betty Wand’s vocal doubling for Miss Caron appears authentic, in fact a shade more than some of the synchronization by the others, Louis Jourdan for example.
The songs are already an LP delight and, with the film’s extended circulation, bound to enhance in value as the celluloid characterizations project into the popular consciousness. The Maxim’s waltz (“She is Not Thinking Of Me”) is Jourdan’s vocal solo; he does “Bored” as a double with Chevalier and “The Night They Invented Champagne” with Miss Caron and Miss Gingold. Latter scores in a telling double-lyric with Chevalier, a nostalgic item titled “I Remember It Well,” as she corrects the lothario’s faltering romantic reminiscence. Chevalier is a standout in this and two solo opportunities which he milks to the last lyrical line “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Any More” and “Thank Heaven For Little Girls,” latter a delightful opener which also serves as the fadeout finale. “Young Any More” an old roue of an uncle’s philosophic summation of life lived to the fullest. Miss Caron’s (Betty Wand’s) solo is a paean of love and impatience with “The Parisians” and their predilections for toujours amour, and she thrushes “Say A Prayer For Me Tonight” as she decides to accept Jourdan’s romantic if not altogether honorable proposal, preparatory to meeting him at Maxim’s.
Produced in France, “Gigi” is steeped in authentic backgrounds from Maxim’s to the Tuilleries, from the Bois de Boulogne to the Palais de Glace which sets the scene for Eva Gabor’s philandering with Jacques Bergerac, her skating instructor and establishes the pattern of playing musical boudoirs, which was par for the circa 1890s Paris course.
The performances are well nigh faultless. From Chevalier, as the sophisticatad uncle, to John Abbott, his equally suave valet; from Miss Gingold’s understanding role as Gigi’s grandma to Isabel Jeans, the worldly aunt who would tutor Gigi in the ways of demi-mondaine love; front Jourdan’s eligibility as the swain to Bergerac’s casual courting of light ladles’ loves; from Eva Gabor’s concept of said 1.1. to Miss Caron’s sincere performance –all are ideal choices for their roles.
Miss Caron’s London experience in the stage version of Colette’s cocotte (Audrey Hepburn did it in the U.S.) stands her in excellent stead in her cinema concept. This marlia her film return since “Lili.” Jourdan, of course, is capital as the unwilling philanderer opposite her.
Director Minnelli’s good taste in keeping it in bounds and the general sound judgment of all concerned–with full awareness that Lerner’s excellent basic libretto dictated no other choice–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.
1958: Art Direction (Art Direction: William A. Horning, Preston Ames; Set Decoration: Henry Grace, Keogh Gleason), Cinematography (Color) — Joseph Ruttenberg, Costime Design — Cecil Beaton, Directing — Vincente Minnelli, Film Editing — Adrienne Fazan, Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture) — Andre Previn, Music (Song) — “Gigi,” Music by Frederick Loewe; Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Best Motion Picture — Arthur Freed, Producer, Writing (Screenplay–based on material from another medium) — Alan Jay Lerner