Gigi: Two-Disc Special Edition
Directed By: Vincente Minnelli
Starring: Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jordan, Hermione Gingold, Eva Gabor, Jacques Bergerac, Isabel Jeans
|Studio: Warner Brothers|
Film Length: 115 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Japanese
Release Date: September 16, 2008
Leslie Caron plays the title role in the MGM musical Gigi. Gigi is a young girl on the verge of womanhood in turn of the century Paris who is being raised and trained by her grandmother, Madame Alvarez (Gingold), and Aunt Alicia (Jeans) to be a professional escort for rich sophisticated men. Gaston Lachaille (Jordan) is a wealthy heir to a sugar empire who is casually successful in business as well as on the society pages for his romantic liasons. Gaston is becoming bored with his playboy lifestyle despite the encouragement of his uncle, Honoré (Chevalier), who has happily maintained such a lifestyle well into old age. Gaston finds refuge from his idle pursuits in his visits to the home of Madame Alvarez, a former flame of Honoré's, and Gigi. When Gaston, recovering from a well-publicized split with Lian d'Exelmas (Gabor), invites Madame Alvarez and Gigi to a weekend seaside getaway, they have a wonderful time. Shortly after they return, though, Madame Alvarez realizes that Gigi is developing strong feelings for Gaston and confronts him with this fact. Gaston realizes that Gigi has grown into a young woman and encounters complications both practical and personal when he tries to deal with these developments in his traditional ways.
Considered by many to be the swansong for the MGM musical, Gigi is a film that producer Arthur Freed had been considering adapting for most of the 1950s. Under the aegis of the Production Code, however, it presented a number of problems, the most significant being that its main character is a young girl who is being raised to be a high class call girl. The Production Code folks were eventually placated in the grand Ernst Lubitsch tradition. Not only were the more tawdry elements of the story handled delicately with wit and good taste in the script, but just as importantly, Freed was able to comfort the censors by assuring them that the main chracaters would ultimately make moral decisions and that the enterprise would be in the hands of a group of collaborators with an established pedigree of restraint and taste: Director Vincente Minnelli in collaboration with Writer Alan Jay Lerner and Composer Frederick Loewe.
Lerner and Loewe were a very hot property at the time thanks to the Broadway success of My Fair Lady, as was designer Cecil Beaton who was retained as the production designer for Gigi. This Broadway pedigree was exploited successfully in the promotion of Gigi, making frequent mentions of the My Fair Lady connection in advertisements and even opening the film in an exclusive reserved seat engagement at a New York theater. Thematically,Gigi is even a variation on the same Pygmalion story that inspired My Fair Lady mixed with elements of Cinderella. There was plenty of steak to go with the sizzle, though, as Lerner and Loewe came up with a batch of songs of comparable quality to their recent stage success including such enduring standards as "Thank Heaven for Little Girls", "I Remember it Well", "The Night they Invented Champagne", "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore", and the recycled My Fair Lady outtake "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight". Beaton's costumes and sets are impeccably detailed, mouth wateringly lavish, exquisitely tasteful, and effectively lighted by veteran MGM cameraman Joseph Ruttenberg.
Minnelli, who had arguably not had a completely successful musical film credit under his name since 1953's The Band Wagon (author's bias: I have always been somewhat cool on 1954's Brigadoon), reversed that trend fabulously with Gigi. From an artistic standpoint, Minnelli and Beaton were a match made in heaven and the use of actual Paris locations adds even further to the film's high production value. While I have gone on record as saying that I thought that Vincente Minnelli should not have won the 1959 Oscar for Best Director for Gigi, that was only because I thought that Vincente Minnelli should have won the 1959 Oscar for Best Director for Some Came Running.
An additional strength of Gigiis its near perfect cast. Alan Lerner had apparently wanted Audrey Hepburn for the role, which she had played in a successful non-musical theatrical adaptation of the story a few years earlier, but Leslie Caron proved to be a piece of casting that was both obvious and inspired. Despite being in her late 20s, Caron does a wonderful job of physical acting in the role of a teenage ingénue. Louis Jordan is also perfectly cast as Gaston, in what I believe is his best film role. He would frequently be cast in roles of gigolos and bored playboys, but rarely would he be allowed to embody a character as fully realized as Gaston, whose journey of self-awareness drives the film. The most perfect of the perfect casting coups, though, is Maurice Chevalier as Honoré, the film's narrator. The part was written by Lerner with Chevalier in mind, and it resulted in a late career resurgence (including a special Oscar) after a period of being ostracized from films due to bad feelings stemming from his performing for the Vichy government during World War II. Supporting roles, both large and small are equally well-filled, with special mention deserved for the work of Hermione Gingold and Isabel Jeans as Gigi's grandmother and great aunt, which skillfully balance comedy and drama.
While the transfer is an improvement in many ways over previous video releases of Gigi, it still has problematic areas that may have as much or more to do with its late 50s "Metrocolor" origins than with anything that was done in the telecine bay. Contrast is on the high side, with whites on the verge of being blown out during certain scenes. Perhaps the most problematic shots in the film are the ones that occur in the home of Gigi and Madame Alvarez. While the deep crimson wall coverings are rendered without a hint of chroma noise, other colors seem "off" and surface textures lack detail and depth. On the positive side, compression artifacts and ringing along high contrast edges are minimal to nonexistent.
The film's audio is presented via a Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at a 384 kbps bitrate. Overall, this was a very satisfying mix/track. The orchestral score is presented in wide stereo. There is directional dialog, but it is "pulled in" somewhat, not using the full width of the front channels. The surrounds are used primarily for support of the music track. In terms of fidelity, the dialog and vocals are not recorded quite as well as the orchestra. Louis Jordan's vocals during numbers such as the film's title song stick out particularly strongly in this regard. A dubbed French Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is also available.
The two-disc special edition of Gigi comes with a nice array of extras. All are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound unless indicated otherwise below.
Starting on disc one, we have an Audio Commentary from Jeanine Basinger with Leslie Caron. Basinger handles the lion's share of the commentary and introduces recently recorded interview snippets from Caron at a half dozen or so points throughout the film's running time. Basinger offers a thorough and well-researched commentary on a broad range of topics including the film's genesis, production, and key contributors with surprisingly few gaps and only a few instances where she lapses into narration of what the viewer can obviously see. She actually echoed one of my own thoughts from watching the film when she pointed to a dialog exchange about a suicide attempt as one of the film's most "Lubitschian" moments. Caron's comments, while infrequent, are informative and refreshingly frank.
Continuing on, we have Million Dollar Nickle, a 1958 single reel propaganda piece from the Common Council on American Unity encouraging Americans to spend a nickel to buy a stamp to send a letter abroad letting people know the truth about their country. Celebrities enlisted for the appeal include Pier Angeli, Ricardo Montalban, Leslie Caron, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, each who makes a subtitled appeal to viewers in their native language. It is presented in 4:3 black and white video.
Next up is The Vanishing Duck, a 1958 Color MGM Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoon where Jerry and Little Quacker discover vanishing cream that makes them invisible and use it to wreak havoc on Tom. Listed as a CinemaScope cartoon, the credits are letterboxed to 2.55:1 while the body of the short fills the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. I am not familiar with the history of this particular short, but a number of the later Tom & Jerry CinemaScope shorts were produced simultaneously for both flat and scope ratios.
The last extra on disc one is the Theatrical Trailer which is presented in 4:3 letterboxed video and runs three minutes and 31 seconds. Its plays up the songs, the stars, and the Lerner & Loewe My Fair Lady pedigree.
Disc two is a double layered disc that contains only two features. First up is the 1949 French version of "Gigi" which runs 83 minutes. This black and white non-musical adaptation of Colette's story was directed by Jacqueline Audry and stars Danielle Delorme, Yvonne de Bray, Gaby Morlay, Frank Villard, and Jean Tissier. It is presented in 4:3 full frame video representing its original theatrical aspect ratio with French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio. English subtitles are burned in, and player generated subtitles are also available in English (with captions for the hearing impaired) and in Japanese.
The video and audio quality leaves a lot to be desired, but an explanation is provided on a printed insert included with the disc:
It is interesting to compare to the Hollywood film as it is structurally very similar and makes some decisions in adapting the story that were retained, such as making Honoré a full-fledged foreground character.
Among the array of bonus features, the rare 1949 French movie of "Gigi" is taken from the only known surviving print.
It reflects the ravages of time in picture and sound quality but nonetheless we share it with you to enhance your enjoyment of the charming chronicles of Colette's indelible character.
Finally, we have the newly produced featurette: Thank Heaven! The Making of "Gigi". It is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound and runs 35 minutes and 44 seconds. It is not quite as thorough an overview of the film's history as Basinger's commentary, but it is certainly more compact and benefits from a broader cross-section of perspectives. Some of the comments from Leslie Caron are excerpts from the same interviews as were used for the audio commentary. One of the more interesting segments covers the dubbing of Leslie Caron's singing voice, and an excerpt of a scene with her voice is included. Apparently, there are complete takes of her performing "Say A Prayer for Me Tonight" and "The Night they Invented Champagne" that have appeared on CD, and it is too bad that they were not included here for the sake of completeness. On camera interview participants include Author/Historian Drew Caspar, Author/Colette Expert Diane LeBow, Caron, Author/Historian Hugh Fordin, and Lerner and Loewe Biographer Gene Lees. Audio and video footage from archival interviews with Vincente Minnelli and Alan Freed secretary Mildred Kaufman is also incorporated into the featurette along with a mix of film clips and behind the scenes images. Japanese subtitles are available on this featurette.
The disc is packaged in an Amaray style case with a hinged tray allowing it to accommodate two discs. The cover has the familiar painting of a winking Gigi with the film's title spelled out in the Cecil Beaton designed font style. The hard case in turn is enclosed in a cardboard slipcover that exactly reproduces the art on the hard case with no additional enhancements such as foil or embossment. Both discs are dual-layered DVD-9s. The second disc is authored as if it were an independent release of the 1949 French version, with "Play Movie" "Scene Selections" and "Languages" options available from the main menu. The menu image is from the 1958 musical version, though, so viewers who accidentally place the wrong disc in their player may be surprised when the French version appears.
Gigi receives a fairly substantial audio/video upgrade with this two-disc special edition DVD, although there are still some source related issues with the film that prevent the image from looking ideal. A generous array of extras are highlighted by the rare 1949 French adaptation of Gigi, a very good "making of" featurette, and an excellent scholarly commentary from Jeanine Basinger with interview excerpts from Leslie Caron.