Responding to a reader request this week, I’m featuring what has been deemed by many as the last great MGM Musical, Gigi (DVD/Download). The original Broadway play starred a young Audrey Hepburn, who sadly declined the lead role in this 1958 musical film version. Leslie Caron is charming enough, but let’s face it, she’s no Audrey.
Gigi is the story of a young woman in Paris who is groomed for life as a courtesan by her grandmother and great-aunt. She grows up thinking of family acquaintance Gaston as an older brother-type, until her meddlesome family pushes them together romantically. Gaston suddenly sees Gigi in a new light, and offers to make her his mistress. She refuses initially, then relents. Then he reconsiders their arrangement, but then proposes marriage. If this sounds confusing, it is. I actually needed some Wikipedia help to get through this one, and I’m still not sure I totally understood it. The main problem originates from the severe French accents that most of the actors use. I probably would have done better if they had actually spoken French, with subtitles. Much of the plot moves forward through the songs, however the tunes weren’t all that catchy to me. I prefer musicals with big, splashy song-and-dance numbers (like Singin’ in the Rain), and that just isn’t Gigi. This is more of a My Fair Lady, Rex Harrison “I’m speaking these songs because I can’t really sing” variety of musical. I tip my hat to Maurice Chevalier, who manages to make the pedophile anthem “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” seem marginally charming. This is probably the best song from the film, though I have personal negative connotations after dancing to it in a kindergarten recital while a Maurice Chevalier look-alike twirled us around on stage. And then I stumbled mid-twirl. But I digress.
There are some fabulous scenes at Belle Epoche haunt Maxim’s, where art nouveau scenery frames colorful men and women drinking champagne and gossiping. I love that the men in Gigi are unafraid to drink copious amounts of champagne, as I feel it’s fallen victim to a “girly” reputation in recent decades. Therefore, while watching Gigi, I recommend drinking a Sparkling Gigi-tini.
1 oz Vodka
2 oz Pineapple Juice
½ oz Brandy
2 oz champagne
Mix Vodka, Pineapple, and Brandy together in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe glass, and top with champagne.
Two things I really did love about Gigi were the costumes and the sets. All that art nouveau fabulousness in Maurice Chevalier’s apartment made me swoon, and Leslie Caron’s white dress toward the end (which I mistook for a wedding dress because up until that point I still didn’t understand she was learning to be a courtesan) was pretty fantastic. How did I live all these years without black fans jutting out from my shoulders? Cecil Beaton was truly a master of art direction. With stunning visuals orchestrated by Vincent Minnelli, you could do worse than this musical. And of course, a little champagne makes everything better. Cheers!