After winning the Best Picture Oscar for ‘An American in Paris’ but failing to clinch the Best Director award, Minnelli returned with ‘Gigi’ and secured nine Academy Awards in the process. For such a successful musical it has always struck me as a slightly odd film, and this is mainly to do with the subject matter.
Gigi (Leslie Caron) is a young girl in 1900s Paris who is being trained to be a courtesan. Her grandmother used to be the mistress of Horore Lachaille (Maurice Chevalier) and his nephew Gaston (Louis Jourdan), a turn-of-the-Century playboy, spends more and more time with the young girl as he is bored of his hedonistic lifestyle. As can be expected, the two young people’s friendship gradually develops into something more.
The film has many wonderful musical numbers. The song ‘Gigi’ scooped the Best Song Oscar and a personal favourite is the delightfully witty ‘I Remember it Well’. One of the most famous songs is ‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’: it is an absolutely excellent song, sung perfectly by Chevalier.
Caron is delightful in the title role. Whereas I prefer ‘An American in Paris’ to ‘Gigi’ overall, I think that she is stronger in this and she plays the role with charm and ease. Jourdan is a perfect choice as the love interest: brooding, charming but a little insecure, and Chevalier was, again, an inspired choice.
The best thing about the film is how it is filmed. One of the earliest colour winners, ‘Gigi’ is delightfully shot. The colours used, the costumes, the make-up are all stunning, and from a visual perspective, the film is easily one of the greatest triumphs of cinema.
What stops this film, for me, being higher up the list is the aforementioned subject matter and story. This is a musical which is supposed to be a big romance, but is actually when it’s stripped down it’s about a young girl who is essentially being trained to be a high-class escort and a man about town several years older than her. This in itself is fine, ‘Moulin Rouge’ manages to do this but doesn’t try to hide it. ‘Gigi’ (maybe because of when it was made) almost seems to hide this and makes their relationship look wholesome, whereas in reality it’s all a little bit seedy.
This is a small criticism: It is a beautiful film, but this flaw always makes me a little uncertain when I watch it. I wish that the film had either been made to be more traditional and to cut out the courtesan aspect, or to actually address the issue at hand. As it stands it just seems a little odd at times, despite the fact it is one of the most beautifully shot musicals ever made.