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Daniele Delorme is a turn-of-the-century teenage courtesan-in-training in the French romantic comedy Gigi (1948). Instructed by her beloved grandmother Yvonne de Bray (Mamita) and glamorous courtesan aunt Gaby Morlay (Alicia) in the art of using her feminine wiles, 16-year-old Gigi learns how to select a man's cigar, determine the value of the various jewels she will be given by her rich lovers, chew her meat while continuing to carry on a conversation and other priceless tidbits in the feminine arsenal of seduction.
Her first test in l'amour is a plan hatched by her aunt and grandmother who want to unite her with a longtime, wealthy family friend and playboy Gaston (Franck Villard). Gaston has recently had his heart broken by a mistress who betrayed him with her ice skating instructor. The scene where Gaston and fellow rake Honore (Jean Tissier) ride in their car coats and goggles on a primitive automobile to the countryside to expose the lovers' secret liaison is one of many amusing moments in director Jacqueline Audry's film.
The man who once brought her candy and played innocent games of cards with Gigi is suddenly transformed into a romantic prospect and the schoolgirl soon falls in love with Gaston. But Gigi surprises both her grandmother and her aunt with the depth of her feminine arsenal of seduction when she actually makes playboy Gaston fall in love with her in this sophisticated French story of true love triumphing over all. The film works so well in large part due to Delorme who conveys both delightful innocence and an independent spirit that surely play no small part in wooing Gaston.
Esteemed French woman of letters Colette penned the novel Gigi in 1945 when she was 72, which was then adapted by French screenwriter Pierre Laroche for this 1948 screen adaptation. But the more familiar Gigi is undoubtedly the 1958 Technicolor Hollywood musical starring Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier as Honore. MGM producer Arthur Freed decided on a musical version of Gigi after watching the French adaptation. In the interim, Gigi had enjoyed some success in a Broadway version starring Audrey Hepburn, who declined to appear in Freed's film.
But what works in Paris does not necessarily work in Des Moines and MGM first had to make sure their Gigi could sidestep some of the more sordid material involving courtesans and sex without marriage. Before production on the 1958 Gigi ever began steps first had to be taken and approval gained from Hollywood's censorious Production Code officials to clear treatment of such scandalous subject matter. Rather than a mistress-in-training the Hollywood Gigi is simply a naive girl whose grandmother and great-aunt are determined that she marry a wealthy man. After several meetings about the proper treatment of the material, Production Code administrator Geoffrey Shurlock assured Freed "I know you're not going to do anything wrong. You've got our approval-go ahead the way you want to do it."
In order to meet with Production Code approval, no mention was made of the fact that Gigi's aunt and grandmother were never married. Likewise, their plans for Gigi are that she make a good (married) match with a rich man, rather than simply be a rich man's mistress. Gaston is, in turn, "marriage shy" and initially reluctant to unite with Gigi, though he eventually realizes he can only be with the innocent Gigi within the sanction of a loving marriage. A preexisting romantic relationship between Honore and Mamita was also purged from the story, replaced with the backstory that the two were once just "good friends." Freed's purging of unsavory material certainly worked, since the film went on to win an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1958 along with 8 more Oscars®.
Gigi was made by the French director Jacqueline Audry, who once worked as an assistant director under Pabst, Ophuls and others and conveys more of the culture and sophistication of the director's background than the 1958 Hollywood version. Colette, who wrote the novel on which Gigi was based, was also a music hall dancer, mime and a multitalented woman of letters who wrote books, screenplays and even film criticism as early as 1916, and whose novels often deal with the pain and pleasures of love. Colette injected a fair amount of scandal into her stage work as well, baring her breast in one performance and causing a riot at the Moulin Rouge when she mimed copulation onstage. Audry would go on to direct three more adaptations of works by Colette starring Daniele Delorme.
Director: Jacqueline Audry
Producer: Claude Dolbert
Screenplay: Pierre Laroche from a novel by Colette
Cinematography: Gerard Perrin
Production Design: Raymond Druart
Music: Marcel Landowski
Cast: Daniele Delorme (Gigi), Gaby Morlay (Alicia), Yvonne de Bray (Mamita), Franck Villard (Gaston), Jean Tissier (Honore).
by Felicia Feaster