Cinema Classics: “Gigi” (1958)

From the advent of talking pictures, MGM Studios became known for producing lavish musicals. Their credits include such landmark films as “The Wizard of Oz”, “Singin’ in the Rain”, and “Gigi”, the latter being the one that many consider the last great MGM musical.

“Gigi” is so French it almost parodies the lavish culture and people it portrays, but it’s a delightful film nonetheless, directed by Vincente Minnelli with music and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (“Gigi” is actually quite similar in plot to another well-known Lerner and Loewe musical, “My Fair Lady”). Leslie Caron plays the title character, a carefree young French girl whose grandmother, Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold) tries teaching her etiquette so she can become a successful courtesan. Gigi is friends with Gaston (Louis Jordan), a high society man who could give her everything. Gaston eventually falls in love with Gigi and asks her to be his mistress, but Gigi decides she wants something more than that. The fantastically entertaining Maurice Chevalier costars as Gaston’s uncle Honore Lachaille, who opens and closes the film with his philosophizing about marriage.

Leslie Caron in the titular role in “Gigi”

“Gigi” is a gorgeous movie to look at, with its elaborate costumes and backdrops—in fact, most of the film was shot on location in Paris, and many Parisian landmarks play an important role in the movie. “Gigi” also features several now-classic songs, including the title song, “I Remember It Well” (which is a fun duet between Chevalier and Gingold), and “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”. Caron, who was cast when Audrey Hepburn, who had played role on stage, was unavailable, had been living among the English so long she reportedly had all but lost her native French accent, and had her singing dubbed by Betty Wand. But she is perfectly wonderful as the precocious Gigi, who transforms from a silly young girl to a sophisticated young woman over the course of the film.

Many reshoots took place during production, as Lerner and Loewe in particular wanted the film to be as perfect as possible. “Gigi” went way over budget, but it was worth it. It still turned a profit, proving to be a massive financial and critical success. At the 1959 Academy Awards, “Gigi” set two records: it was nominated for more Oscars than any other previous movie (that record was broken just one year later by “Ben-Hur”), and it won each of the nine Oscars it was nominated for, placing the film in very rare company indeed.

“Gigi” is currently available to rent on all digital platforms, and is streaming on Watch TCM. Runtime: 115 minutes. Rated G.

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