Directed By: Vincente Minnelli
Starring: Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan
Tag line: "The First Lerner-Loewe Musical Since 'My Fair Lady'"
Trivia: While shooting, the cast had to mouth the songs because the production was moving so swiftly that the score hadn't yet been recorded
Director Vincente Minnelli worked in a number of different genres throughout his career, including comedy (Father of the Bride, Father's Little Dividend), drama (The Bad and the Beautiful, Some Came Running), and even the odd biopic (Lust for Life). Yet the one he made the biggest impact on was the musical, thanks to films like Meet Me In St. Louis, An American in Paris, The Band Wagon, and, of course, 1958’s Gigi, the movie that netted him his first (and only) Academy Award.
The setting is Paris at the turn of the 20th century. Gigi (Leslie Caron) is a pretty Parisian girl being raised by her grandmother, Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold) and great Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) to become a rich man’s courtesan. But all Gigi can think about is accompanying family friend Gaston (Louis Jourdan), himself a wealthy playboy, on his vacation to the seaside town of Trouville. After losing to her in a game of chance, Gaston agrees to take the precocious Gigi, as well as Madame Alvarez, along with him. Once there, Gaston spends quite a bit of time with Gigi, and upon their return to Paris, he realizes the young girl he’s always looked upon as a little sister is turning into a beautiful woman. In fact, he might even be falling in love with her!
Along with its colorful set pieces and excellent period costumes, Gigi boasts a handful of exquisite musical numbers. My favorite of the bunch is The Night They Invented Champagne, where Gigi, overjoyed that Gaston has agreed to take her to Trouville, jubilantly extolls the virtues of living the good life. Aside from this enchanting tune, the movie features two memorable songs performed by Maurice Chevalier, who plays Honoré Lachaille, Gaston’s uncle and a former lover of Madame Alvarez’s. The romantic I Remember It Well, during which Honoré and Madame Alvarez recall (with some confusion) the details of their past relationship, is wonderful, but it’s Chevalier’s rendition of Thank Heaven for Little Girls that truly stands out (it would become his trademark song).
By the mid to late ‘60s, musicals had run their course with American audiences, and big-budget productions like Hello, Dolly and Paint Your Wagon proved to be box-office disasters. Gigi is a reminder of a time when the Hollywood musical was king, directed by a man as familiar with the genre as anyone. Wildly entertaining, Gigi is an absolute delight.