Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Studio: Warner Bros.
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:11080pVC-1 codec
Running Time: 115 minutes
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English; 1.0 French, Spanish, others
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, German, many others
MSRP: $ 28.99
Release Date: March 31, 2009
Review Date: April 7, 2009
After their triumphant 1956 Broadway musical My Fair Lady won six Tony Awards and was well on its way to becoming the biggest musical hit of the century up to that time, composer Frederick Loewe and librettist Alan Jay Lerner embarked on their first musical together written for the screen. For their subject, they chose the small Colette story Gigi whose play version written by Anita Loos had played successfully already on Broadway and London. Touching it with the same kind of delirious magic that had made My Fair Lady such a rapturous experience, the movie Gigi was enthusiastically received, became the biggest musical smash in the history of MGM, and won nine Academy Awards, not a bad one-two punch for the team of Lerner and Loewe at all!
Tomboyish teenager Gigi (Leslie Caron) has reached the age where she must follow in her female ancestors’ footsteps, and so she begins her training as a courtesan under the tutelage of her Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) though her grandmother Alvarez (Hermione Gingold) and family friend Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jordan) both feel Gigi’s perhaps still too immature to begin the lessons in earnest. Gaston, despite numerous amorous conquests, has much more fun with Gigi and her grandmother and would rather spend time with them rather than chasing Paris‘ most delectable beauties or having them chase him. His uncle Honoré (Maurice Chevalier), meanwhile, implores Gaston to live life to the fullest and to enjoy all of the beautiful girls that come into one’s life.
Vincente Minnelli won the first Oscar ever given to the director of a musical for his breathtaking work in this picture. Known for his intense interest in art (he served many years before coming to Hollywood as a production designer on Broadway), he infuses every frame of Gigi with a painterly look, composing shots as if his principal actors were models being placed on an Impressionist’s canvas. This gives Gigi something of a stylized look and feel (most notably attained during the Maxim sequences), unique among classic musicals, and with the addition of the marvelous songs of Lerner and Loewe, it’s no wonder the movie became so celebrated.
The score is a tremendous achievement, filled with charming, memorable melodies that rival in quality the songs for any Broadway musical (indeed, the musical version of Gigi was eventually mounted for the stage, but no production could possibly match the film’s lustrous beauty). Three of the numbers became instant standards: “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” Honoré’s paean to the bounties of ladies both young and otherwise; “I Remember It Well,” the amusingly droll reminiscence between Mme. Alvarez and her lover from olden days Honoré; and the title song, which allows Gaston to discover in song what his unrealized feelings for Gigi really are. The latter, an interior monologue that bursts into a full flowering rhapsody, won the 1958 Oscar for Best Song.
The performances of the all-star cast are now legendary. Leslie Caron was not the first choice for the title role. Audrey Hepburn had played the part on Broadway in the nonmusical play but was unavailable. Caron had played it in the London production, however, and fit the role like a glove (though her singing voice had to be dubbed by Betty Wand. Recordings of Caron’s attempts at the score’s songs as heard on the Rhino soundtrack album show dubbing her was indeed a wise move.) Louis Jourdan’s combination of bored playboy and bon vivant awakened to life’s joys through his love for Gigi is one of his greatest performances, his lack of vocal training not proving a problem at all since he talk/sings his songs in the same manner employed by Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. The film was a sensational comeback for Maurice Chevalier who hadn’t made a musical film in America since 1934 and was until that time considered something of a bad risk since his reputation had been tarnished by performing for the Vichy government during the Second World War. He was awarded a special Oscar for his work in the movie which brought him back to American films in a big way. Hermione Gingold won the only acting award in competition of any of the leading players, the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her delightfully shrewd grandmother constantly worried that Gigi’s inexperienced exuberance will bring scandal to the family name. No one who has seen the tender sequence on the balcony between her and Chevalier as they relive past experiences will ever forget it.
Gigi’s exquisite look is as much due to the talents of production designer Cecil Beaton as it is to Vincente Minnelli. Having won a Tony for the costumes for My Fair Lady, he was certainly the right person to bring onto the film to design its overall look in its turn of the century sets and costumes. He won the Oscar for his dazzling costumes for the film, helping it exude a classiness and lush tone that basically defies description but must be seen to be believed. Though not the greatest musical in the MGM canon, Gigi is certainly one of the classiest, a Cinderella story told with all the Gallic charm and delightful melody that the artisans at MGM could summon.
The film’s 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in 1080p using the VC-1 codec. Though Metrocolor is notoriously difficult to color time consistently well, admirable attempts to tame it have brought forth an often dazzling picture with only occasionally blooming reds (Gigi’s sitting room is all in various shades of red) and ruddy flesh tones once in a while. Sharpness is most of the time exemplary, and dimensionality is often quite striking as the real Paris locations come alive through the Oscar-winning cinematography. (The infrequent use of rear projection, however, is glaringly obvious in this encode.) The image is clean, too, a minor miracle compared to the original DVD release of the film which was cluttered with dirt and debris. The movie has been divided into 33 chapters.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track is a lovely aural experience. The orchestrations by Conrad Salinger are lush and have an open feel and a lightness and verve that strikes all the right notes in the listener. Though the rear surrounds are not used optimally, the sound still impresses with the music never drowning out the singers whose voices stay rooted in the center channel.
Film historian Jeanine Basinger contributes a rather average audio commentary for the movie. Though usually scene specific, her thoughts sometimes seem a bit repetitive and scattered though her enthusiasm for the movie is unquestionable. Occasionally prerecorded audio reminiscences by star Leslie Caron are added to extend Basinger’s comments.
“Thank Heaven! The Making of Gigi” is an entertaining 35 ¾-minute retrospective on the film’s troubled production and subsequent triumph. Along with recent interviews with Leslie Caron, the documentary features vintage interviews with Vincente Minnelli and others connected with the movie. Film historians Dr. Drew Casper and Hugh Fordin also speak eloquently on the film’s greatness. It’s in 1080p.
The original 1949 French version of Gigi is presented in 480i. This 82 ½-minute nonmusical version is a treat to watch with many of the familiar scenes from the color musical first being seen in black and white in the original language. The film is in poor condition (an enclosed notice warns that the transfer was derived from the only known surviving print of the movie) and subtitles are often lost against white blooming backdrops of shirts, blouses, tablecloths, and curtains.
“The Million Dollar Nickel” is a 1952 MGM short imploring American citizens to send air mail letters (which then cost a five cent air mail stamp) to relatives and friends in Europe and Asia contradicting Communist propaganda at the time about the "harsh" conditions in America. MGM stars Pier Angeli, Ricardo Montalban, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Leslie Caron speak in their native languages to their countrymen imploring them to write the truth about life in the United States. It’s in 480i and lasts 9 ½ minutes.
“The Vanishing Duck” is a 1958 Cinemascope cartoon (presented in 480p) featuring Tom and Jerry and a new family duck that Tom is interested in pursuing. It runs for 7 minutes.
The film’s theatrical trailer in faded color (which gives a good idea of the amount of restoration needed for the Blu-ray version of the movie to look as good as it does) runs 3 ½ minutes in 480i.
One of the most pictorially ravishing and most melodically invigorating musicals ever made, Gigi gets its definitive home video release in this splendid Blu-ray package. Excellent picture and sound quality and some worthwhile bonus features make this a release that earns my overwhelming endorsement.