MGM’s “Gigi,” the biggest commercial success of the studio’s storied Arthur Freed unit and the last of the great screen musicals not adapted from the stage, returns to DVD in an eye-popping new transfer, part of a two-disc set marking the golden anniversary of this 1958 CinemaScope favorite. Appealing extras round out the exemplary package.
From the start, “Gigi” was special for many reasons — Leslie Caron’s insouciant lead performance, the reappearance of Maurice Chevalier in an American musical after 24 years, the classic Lerner and Loewe songs and so much else. So thank heaven for Warner’s first-rate transfer, in which Cecil Beaton’s lavish, brightly colored costumes and sumptuous belle-epoque interiors bedazzle.
The pic, based on a short novel of the same name by Colette, netted an astonishing nine Oscars from nine noms, including picture and director, and to look at it now, it deserved them all. Warners only increases our admiration with bountiful supplements, including full commentary from film scholar Jeanine Basinger, whose homespun approach, despite occasional repetition, makes one want to curl up at her feet and learn more.
Her comments are “enhanced” by occasional interpolations from Caron. But it’s on the second disc that the actress’ recollections are best appreciated, integral to “Thank Heaven! The Making of ‘Gigi,'” an enchanting 35-minute docu with Caron and a bevy of scholars lending varying degrees of insight into the film’s creation — a far more troubled shoot than viewers may realize after watching the perfect final cut. Here, Caron insists — quelle horreur! — that the ebullient Chevalier was actually morose and the worldly Jourdan an exacting grump.
Further enhancing this docu’s authority are archival film and audio comments from helmer Vincente Minnelli. And the short segment contrasting Caron’s actual singing voice (a squawk replaced in the pic) with that of Betty Wand’s (whose charming girlishness we’ve come to identify with Caron) will come as a rude awakening to some.
If that weren’t enough, Warners fattens disc two with the 1949 French film “Gigi,” a nonmusical version of Collette’s tale, which inspired Freed and Minnelli’s effort. A postcard warns of the film’s decay, and unfortunately it’s an awful print, both visually and sonically. Although only diehards may watch it in its entirety, it provokes fascinating comparisons.
That Warners would include it here is a testament to how much the studio values MGM’s “Gigi,” which was and remains an especially cherishable example of Hollywood at its best.