Let me tell you from the outset, this one looks mostly glorious in high def.
If you are old enough, or interested enough in musicals, you may remember there was a time in the mid twentieth century when Broadway and Hollywood filled their musicals with appealing stories and memorable songs. "Oklahoma," "Singin' in the Rain," "My Fair Lady," "The Music Man," "Camelot," "Cabaret," and dozens more left audiences humming the melodies as they left the theater. Now, we get largely downbeat musicals with a single good tune hammered out in endless variations. It's no wonder the movie musical has gone out of favor.
Anyway, MGM produced "Gigi" in 1958, at the height of the genre's popularity, where it not only won audience approval but nine Academy Awards in the process, for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Score, Song, Editing, Cinematography, Costumes, and Art Design. It's gorgeous, it's fun, it's romantic, and, most of all, it's overflowing with charming characters and remarkably good music. Even if you're not already familiar with the music, you'll be humming it by the time you finish watching this lavish Blu-ray edition.
MGM asked the noted songwriting team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe to do the screenplay, music, and songs, based upon a 1944 book by Colette. There had already been a 1949 French movie version (included on this Blu-ray disc) and a 1951 Broadway play version (which introduced Audrey Hepburn to the world of acting), and now the studio wanted to add music to the story. Lerner and Loewe ("An American in Paris," "The Band Wagon," "Brigadoon," "My Fair Lady," "Paint Your Wagon," "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever") were at first reluctant to write directly for the screen, but MGM persuaded them to do it. Then the studio got Vincente Minnelli ("Meet Me in St. Louis," "The Pirate," "An American in Paris," "Brigadoon," "Kismet") to direct and Cecil Beaton ("My Fair Lady") to do the costume design, Andre Previn ("Kiss Me Kate," "Kismet") to supervise and conduct the music, and a top-notch cast. How could they lose?
The movie was a smash hit.
The studio hoped that "Gigi" would be another "My Fair Lady" (which had not yet reached the big screen but was one of Broadway's most successful stage musicals), and, indeed, the plot of "Gigi" is virtually the same Cinderella fairy tale as "My Fair Lady." However, while "Gigi" won a ton of awards at the time, it has not proved quite as durable as "My Fair Lady," perhaps because "Gigi" looks at life and love from a point of view very different from that of "My Fair Lady." In "My Fair Lady," we see an author (George Bernard Shaw) poking fun at courtly manners, high society, and pretentious ways. In "Gigi" the story is a bit kinder to high society, and we see a tale that in many ways glorifies their profligate ways, despite a conventional happy, moral ending. Let me explain.
In the story, set in Paris in 1900, Leslie Caron plays Gigi, a young woman whose family are grooming her to be a courtesan, a paramour for rich and powerful men. There are only women in Gigi's family, and it is the aunt (Isabel Jeans) and the grandmother (Hermione Gingold), who are personally experienced in such matters and qualified to train the girl in a life to which they were themselves raised. The idea is that in those days wealthy and powerful men frequently had mistresses, whom they treated very well, and there was money in being a well-kept lady. Basically, then, the family are raising Gigi to be a high-class tart. That notion didn't set well with the Hollywood censors, but the way the movie treats the subject, hardly anyone notices. It's sort of like how Audrey Hepburn played a call girl in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" without audiences seeming to mind.
So, as the movie opens, Gigi is young and still too naive and tomboyish to understand the customs of Parisian life and love or why her aunt and grandmother are teaching her the proper manner of eating and speaking and behaving. Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jordan) is a wealthy, spoiled, idle, young man about town, bored by the social swirl of Paris, who is a friend of Gigi's middle-class family and visits them often. As Gigi matures, Gaston begins, slowly, to notice her and become attracted to her. Naturally, the aunt and grandmamma begin to groom Gigi specifically to snare young Gaston. The question is, What are Gaston's intentions, and is the word "marriage" in his vocabulary?
Caron works well as the young girl (although the actress was in her mid twenties at the time, married, with a child of her own, and Betty Wand dubbed her singing voice; it's called acting, and Caron glistens). Plus, Jeans and Gingold perfectly suit the stuffy older ladies. But the real star of the show is old trooper Maurice Chevalier as Gaston's uncle, Honore Lachaille, the confirmed bachelor and boulevardier who has had a string of mistresses through the years and now tutors his nephew in the art of love and women. That most people today would probably find Honore a dirty old man, his ideas antiquated and repellant beside the point. He narrates the story, and he gets the best songs, including "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," "I'm glad I'm Not Young Anymore," and the poignantly humorous and showstopping "I Remember It Well," with Ms. Gingold.
Despite the movie's questionable thematic material, the songs, costumes, settings (much of the film shot on location in Paris; yes, that really is Maxim's), and general atmosphere carry the picture, along with the actors' scintillating charm. There is endless fun and a bit of mischief in songs like the ones I've mentioned and "It's a Bore," "The Parisians," "Gossip," "The Night They Invented Champagne," "Lessons," "Gigi," the "Waltz at Maxim's," "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight," and many more.
"Gigi" had its work cut out for it. After all, it's one thing to show a phonics professor teaching a young girl to speak properly in order to gain access to high society ("My Fair Lady"), and it's another thing to show a family teaching a young girl to be a prostitute in order to gain access to high society ("Gigi"). Nevertheless, with a strong cast, splendid songs, and wonderful costumes and settings, "Gigi" continues to entertain, making us forget its dubious story line. Just be glad that it all ends well and enjoy the film's warmth along with its glitz and glitter.
The Warners video engineers have given "Gigi" a spanking new digital transfer reproduced here via a dual-layered BD50 and a VC-1 encode. The fancy processing does justice to the movie's sparkling colors, lavish sets, and vivid costumes. 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. The only minor concern I had was that colors do seem to fluctuate very slightly in a few scenes, and, for reasons unknown, a small number of images seem unnaturally stretched. Both of these concerns are so small, though, I doubt most viewers will even notice them, so not to worry.
The disc comes in English with both lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1. In my earlier review of the regular Dolby Digital, I mentioned I found it a tad hard, thin, and sharp sounding, as well as oddly low in output level. The TrueHD track modulates the situation somewhat, smoothing out the rougher edges and producing a slightly more satisfying sound. However, the level is still rather low; when you switch back to the main menu, you'll have to turn down the volume. In any case, there is a wide front-channel stereo spread, with voices moving left and right between the speakers rather than being anchored out in the center as in most of today's films, and there is a fair degree of ambience reinforcement in the rear channels that fills out the room nicely during musical numbers.
The Blu-ray disc contains the same bonus materials found on WB's Two-Disc Special Edition DVD set. They are not numerous, but they are extensive and important. The first item is an audio commentary by historian Jeanine Basinger and star Leslie Caron that can be enlightening. The second is a 2008 documentary in high definition, "Thank Heaven! The Making of Gigi," about thirty-five minutes, with comments from various film historians, authors, and critics, and Ms. Caron (who is a delight). After those items we find an entire second movie: the 1949 nonmusical version of "Gigi," eight-two minutes long, in French with English subtitles, with twenty-two unmarked chapter stops. It stars Danielle Delorme as Gigi, with Frank Villard, Gaby Morlay, and Jean Tissier. Interestingly, the French version of a decade earlier is more provocative--more sexually suggestive--than the later Hollywood version.
Following the main items, we get a vintage short, "The Million Dollar Nickel," about ten minutes, and an MGM "Tom and Jerry" cartoon, "The Vanishing Duck," in CinemaScope. In addition, the main feature contains thirty-three scene selections; along with a non-anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer; English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian spoken languages; French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Swedish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
The documentary suggests that "Gigi" was one of the last great musicals to come out of Hollywood, but that isn't quite true. "West Side Story," "The Music Man," "My Fair Lady," "How to Succeed in Business," "The Sound of Music," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Oliver," "Camelot," "Paint Your Wagon," "Cabaret," "Chicago," and many more notable musical productions were yet to come. Still, "Gigi" holds a firm place in many moviegoers' hearts as one of Hollywood's most celebrated classics from an era when studios were still making meticulous, tune-filled musicals. Moreover, the film's new high-definition Blu-ray transfer renders the picture and sound all the more pleasurable, making a good thing even better.