Combustible Celluloid
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With: Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Hermione Gingold, Eva Gabor, Jacques Bergerac, Isabel Jeans, John Abbott
Written by: Alan Jay Lerner, based on a novel by Colette
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 115
Date: 05/15/1958

Gigi (1958)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Thank Heaven for Leslie Caron

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I've always argued that musicals based on successful Broadway shows are never as good as musicals filmed especially for the screen. Filmmakers inevitably shoot the stage shows as giant spectacles in order to compete with the Broadway experience, and they come across bloated and lifeless. (Even so, their sheer size impresses many.) Vincente Minnelli's Gigi is one of them. Originally based on a novel by "Colette," Gigi takes place in Paris of 1900. Gigi is a courtesan in training, and Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan) is a bored playboy. And, yes, they eventually fall in love. The great Minnelli was surely one of the masters of the American musical, but Gigi was one of his misfires. It's a series of static, dull widescreen shots, probably meant to replicate the stage, with little thought for cinematic translation. What's more, Minnelli undercuts the delightful Leslie Caron by avoiding close-ups; her dazzling, joyous face remains a tiny spot in the midst of the vast frame. It's a shame, given that she seems far more comfortable here than in her earlier film with Minnelli, the immeasurably better An American in Paris (1951). What's more, the songs are awfully lackluster, and co-stars Jourdan and Maurice Chevalier -- let's face it -- are no Astaire or Kelly. Despite all this, the film won 9 Oscars, leaving other potential 1958 candidates, like Touch of Evil and Vertigo, in the dust.

DVD Details: Warner Home Video re-released the movie on a new two-disc set for its 50th anniversary, and they included the 1949 French version of the same novel. There's also a new, making-of featurette and a commentary track with Caron. It was released in conjunction with a newly restored An American in Paris disc.

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