Gigi has finally arrived on Blu-ray, looking better than I’ve ever seen it before. Released in 1958, the film reunited director Vincent Minnelli with producer Arthur Freed, Alan Jay Lerner and actress Leslie Caron. After the success of An American in Paris, Freed and Minnelli were more than happy to put a new twist on what had proven to be a very successful formula. Once again set in Paris, the screenplay was written by Alan Jay Lerner, who also wrote the music (lyrics) along with his partner Frederick Loewe (music). The film is based on the bestselling novella of the same name by French author Colette, which was first adapted for the screen with Danièle Delorme in 1949.
Gigi gives us the Frenchman Maurice Chevalier, who had his own brand of special talents, instead of Gene Kelly. Similar to An American in Paris, Gigi is about an older man falling for a gorgeous French ingénue, once again played by Leslie Caron. Gigi doesn’t quite have the spark or the tremendous dance routines of An American in Paris but any fan of musicals will find the film a very enjoyable experience.
Leslie Caron plays Gilberte aka ‘Gigi’, a nineteen year old girl being trained by her grandmother, Madame Alvarez (Hermoine Geingold) and Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) to be an escort for rich, sophisticated men. Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan), the heir to a sugar empire is only moderately successful in his own business endeavors. However, he keeps his name in the society pages with his long list of romantic liaisons.
Gaston finds himself becoming bored with the playboy lifestyle. After a particularly disastrous affair with the dramatic Liane d’Exelmans (Eva Gabor), Gaston finds himself a scandalous figure in gossip circles. And though his dedicated playboy uncle Honoré Lachaille (Maurice Chevalier), tries to help him through the tricky art of seduction, the women around Gigi have a different idea; One look at Gaston and Gigi and they see the perfect couple.
The first thing any viewer is bound to notice about Gigi is the visual presentation. Vincente Minnelli shot much of Gigi in Paris; at a time when on location shooting was nearly as common as it is today. The legendary Cecil Beaton designed all the costumes and decorated the scenery to give Gigi a turn-of-the-century glamour that both captures the feeling of the Parisian spirit but also gives it that “Cecil Beaton” look, much like he did for London in My Fair Lady a few years later. Preston Ames, the art director for An American in Paris, joined Beaton to make the screen a virtual explosion of color.
Much like An American in Paris, director Vincent Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed seemed to understand that the story wasn’t the real driving force behind the film. Instead, it was the visuals and top-notch music by Lerner and Lowe.
Lerner and Loewe came up with an impressive batch of songs, including such enduring standards such 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”. Chevalier has one of the best numbers when he gets to sing “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” addressing the audience directly as he compares the perils of youth and romance to the comfort of old age. Chevalier’s character establishes one of the central conflicts in Gigi: the rift between the people who will not marry and the people who do not. Chevalier’s character will not marry, whereas Gigi’s Grandmother and Aunt have not. As Aunt Alicia says, some marry at once, some marry at last. Can Gigi handle commitment? Will Gaston leave behind the life of a bachelor and fully commit to marriage?
Honestly, the ending of Gigi leaves things muddled. Gaston acts impulsively, which leaves the viewer feeling like he’s trying to avoid a major confrontation rather than making a heartfelt commitment. Despite the flaws, Gigi manages to be a very entertaining musical. Just sit back, enjoy the music and don’t worry about the plot.
Gigi looks wonderful, given a new digital transfer reproduced here via a dual-layered BD50 and a VC-1 encode. The colors sparkle and the lavish sets and beatiful costumes look better than ever. The disc presents the film in its original 2.40:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio, in hues rich, deep, and luxurious. In fact, the colors are so deep and brilliant, they are almost too good a thing, particularly when set off as they are by strong black levels. The parks, gardens, buildings, and restaurants of Paris show up opulently, with only a touch of gloss and a touch of natural print grain. Just look at the opening shots of women’s pastel dresses and then on to the plush reds of Gigi’s apartment, and you’ll get the idea of how vibrant the whole color scheme is and how sharply the HD replication brings it out.
Gigi arrives on Blu-ray with an above average Dolby TrueHD 5.1 remix and an underwhelming Dolby stereo track. While purists will probably prefer the original presentation, the lossless audio track serves up some minor LFE support, naturally distributes ambient elements into the rear speakers, and increases the heft and clarity of the cast’s speaking and singing voices. Likewise, the film’s music receives a notable boost as well, offering fuller and more robust orchestration and more dynamically swelling crescendos.
However, the sound does appear a bit muffled and not as spread out as one might like at times.
Gigi has quite a few special features which are presented in standard definition, unless othrewise noted.
• Live Action Short and a Cartoon Short (13:02) – The live-action selection is The Million Dollar Nickel. This 10-minute propaganda piece features immigrant actors, including Leslie Caron, the other Gabor (Zsa Zsa), Ricardo Montalban, and Pier Angeli writing postcards to their families overseas to let them know how good life is in the U.S., and using $0.05 stamps to send them. The cartoon is The Vanishing Duck, also made in Cinemascope and featuring Tom and Jerry directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
• Full Length Audio Commentary – By film historian, professor, author Jeanine Basinger. She gives detailed explanations of what we are seeing on screen and how the filmmakers made it happen. Basinger also uses clips from an interview with Leslie Caron to get her thoughts on things.
• Theatrical Trailer
• Thank Heaven! The Making of Gigi (35:40) (HD) – featuring a new interview with Leslie Caron (She looks wonderful.) 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.
• A French Language Version of Gigi from 1949 – As it says in the insert, “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.” While the quality is fairly poor, fans should enjoy the chance to this non-musical version of Gigi and the changes that were made for the 1958 film.