Some have called 'Gigi' a French version of 'My Fair Lady,' and the comparison makes sense…to a degree. Both musicals were written by the legendary team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (who also gave us 'Camelot'); both were adapted from well-regarded literary works by Colette and George Bernard Shaw, respectively; and both detail the transformation of an awkward, unrefined duckling into a graceful, sophisticated swan. The major difference? Eliza Doolittle is groomed by Henry Higgins to be a lady, while Gigi is tutored by her elderly Aunt Alicia to be, well, a prostitute.
Okay, not really a prostitute in the literal sense of the word, but rather a courtesan or mistress – a woman of quality who gives her man undivided attention, companionship, and, yes, her body in return for economic security, travel, and a high-class lifestyle. When her lover tires of her (and he most assuredly will), she finds another man, then another, and another. As her dowager aunt (Isabel Jeans) tells the impressionable Gigi (Leslie Caron), "Instead of getting married at once, it sometimes happens we get married at last."
That's a bitter pill for a teenager to swallow and a heavy weight to hang on a musical, but the magic of 'Gigi' is its ability to gloss over such tawdry details and concentrate on the charming characters, engaging songs, and glorious Parisian locations of Vincente Minnelli's Oscar-winning film. As bubbly as a champagne cocktail and sumptuous as foie gras, 'Gigi' is the last of the great MGM musicals, and though it's far from my personal favorite, there's no denying its beauty, style, and lyrical grace. To enter the world of 'Gigi' is to be transported to turn-of-the-century Paris and immersed in its intoxicating culture. From the Bois de Boulogne to the Place de la Concorde to Maxim's iconic restaurant, 'Gigi' celebrates the City of Light like few other films. And as seen through the eyes of bon vivant extraordinaire Maurice Chevalier, the story adopts an irresistible airy quality that belies its underlying substance. The wink on the cover art says it all.
Gigi lives with her flighty mother (who remains an unseen presence throughout the movie) and wise, practical grand-mère (Hermione Gingold) in a modest Paris apartment reflective of their limited means. Twice a week, the effervescent teen meets her dour, well-to-do Aunt Alicia for lunch, where she learns how to eat exotic food, pick out cigars, and distinguish real pearls from those that are "dipped" – all in preparation for her future responsibilities. Occasionally, the obscenely rich and quite eligible Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan), an old family friend, takes a break from his tedious schedule of fancy parties and ritzy social engagements to drop by their humble abode and enjoy the simple bourgeois pleasures of chamomile tea and a spirited game of cards with Gigi. Though she's several years his junior, Gigi connects with Gaston like none of his hot-to-trot girlfriends, and as she grows up, their bond solidifies, ultimately prompting a business proposal that will alter their relationship forever.
Opulence defines Minnelli's musicals, and 'Gigi,' for which the director won a well-deserved Oscar, is arguably his trademark film. Sets and costumes are meticulously designed and coordinated to produce eye-filling images, and the simply staged songs grow naturally out of the story. No production numbers or overblown fantasy ballets disrupt the leisurely flow, and though not a lot of plot transpires, the mood and structure Minnelli creates sustains the film.
As does Lerner and Loewe's delightful score, which includes such gems as Thank Heaven for Little Girls, the melodic title tune, Chevalier's jaunty I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore, the buoyant The Night They Invented Champagne, and the priceless duet, I Remember It Well, performed with wit and warmth by Gingold and Chevalier, who wryly recall their past love affair. Though Caron's vocals are dubbed (interestingly, her solo Say a Prayer for Me Tonight was cut from 'My Fair Lady' before its Broadway premiere) and Jourdan speaks-sings his numbers á la Rex Harrison, both performers possess such charisma, we forget their limitations.
If you count the special Oscar Chevalier received for his "contributions to the world of entertainment," 'Gigi' garnered a total of 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Color Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Editing, Scoring, and Song. Yet even such effusive industry praise couldn't save the old-style MGM musical. Changing audience taste and the demise of the studio system conspired to make 'Gigi' the last of its breed, but thanks to the artistry of Minnelli, producer Arthur Freed, and their peerless creative team, the era ended on a high note.
'Gigi' was long overdue for a high-def makeover, and though this 1080p transfer may not be perfect, it's a major improvement over the banged up, scratch-ridden print that graced Warner's previous standard-def DVD. Minnelli's film certainly has never looked better, and fans should be quite pleased with this rendering, which really brings out all the joie de vivre of the Paris locations and fine details of the movie's impeccable production design. Despite the use of single-strip Metrocolor, hues burst forth and, for the most part, look realistic. The one exception might be the plush red that envelops Gigi's apartment; it's intentionally garish and the transfer pushes it to the limit, but it resists bleeding. The cloudless Parisian skyscapes are often breathtaking, and no banding breaks up the sea of deep blue, while the pastel costumes exhibit plenty of vibrancy and texture. Fleshtones can look a little ruddy, but blacks are luxuriously rich, and nice depth and delineation distinguish the lovely exterior night scenes. Clarity is quite good, with background elements possessing good detail levels, but because of the wide aspect ratio, close-ups seem a bit remote and don't flaunt all the HD facets that would lend the transfer more dimensionality.
Warner deserves kudos for maintaining the original look and feel of this 50-year-old film, and not resorting to edge enhancement and digital noise reduction to obtain a sleeker, more "modern" look. Still, the amount of grain present in the picture really surprised me, especially for a movie from the late 1950s. From the opening credits onward, grain is very noticeable, but it blends well into the image, lending it a slight antiquated quality that suits the period setting. It rarely distracts, but if you allow your eyes to consistently wander over the screen and concentrate on solid-toned areas, the grain will look very pronounced – even a tad noisy. But this is the natural way 'Gigi' looks. The grain never dulls any of the transfer's other high-quality aspects, and this accurate remaster beats any hyper-processed alternative by a mile.
Best of all, every single blemish afflicting the previous transfer has been erased. No more nicks or grit dot the print, and all those annoying vertical lines, bleach spots, and reel change markers that previously obscured the beauty of this Oscar-winning film have been removed. A few brief shots betray a jarring softness, but on the whole, this is another solid effort from Warner.
Warner pulls out all the audio stops, supplying 'Gigi' with both Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Of the two, the TrueHD option is the clear winner, offering clean, clear, well-balanced, and substantive sound. Vocals are nicely prioritized, so all the lyrical patter is crisp and distinct, and dialogue comes through without any impediments. Subtle accents, such as horse hooves and the crunching of ortolons (delicate birds Gigi must consume for lunch at Aunt Alicia's), add punch to the track, and a slight fidelity increase lends the musical numbers welcome oomph. The orchestrations enjoy terrific tonal depth and fine stereo separation, but unfortunately don't bleed into the rear channels. Despite the multi-channel moniker, this is still a front-centered aural affair.
Once again, Warner technicians have scrubbed away any age-related defects, such as pops, crackles, and hiss. This isn't a flashy track, but it delivers, and those who appreciate the genius of Lerner and Loewe will enjoy hearing this high-def mix.
Warner dresses up this classic release with a fine array of supplements, combining brand new and vintage material to give viewers a feel for the film's period as well as a more complete understanding of its content.
'Gigi' is one of MGM's most beloved musicals, and this charming, sophisticated tale of Parisian manners and mores in the early 1900s looks and sounds better than ever, thanks to a spanking new transfer culled from restored picture and audio elements, and a nice array of supplements. Fans waiting to upgrade need not hesitate, and those who haven't yet discovered the allure of 'Gigi' should definitely check out this stellar classic release from Warner. Recommended.