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Often called the last great movie musical, Gigi (1958), which won nine Oscars®, including Best Picture, was certainly the most unlikely. Based on a novella by the French novelist, Colette, it's the story of a young girl in Belle Epoque Paris who is raised and educated to go into the family business of being a courtesan. The film was also the last hurrah for the greatest creative team in the history of the movie musical: the Freed Unit at MGM.
Written in 1944, Colette's novel had been made into a French film in 1951, and into a Broadway play in 1953, starring Audrey Hepburn. Soon after, Producer Arthur Freed became interested in turning it into a musical, but he hesitated, fearing that the censors would never approve. It took several years to settle the problems with the censors, then Freed began assembling his team: Vincente Minnelli, director of some of Freed's most successful musicals (Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), An American in Paris, 1951); writer-lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and his composer partner, Frederick Loewe, who currently had the biggest hit on Broadway, My Fair Lady; music supervisor Andre Previn; and production and costume designer Cecil Beaton. It was as starry a group as the one in front of the camera.
Freed wanted Audrey Hepburn to repeat her stage success as Gigi, but she declined. Fortunately, Leslie Caron, who played the part in London, was available. Lerner had written the part of the world-weary Gaston with British actor Dirk Bogarde in mind, knowing that Bogarde had a fine singing voice. Bogarde was eager to do the film, but was unable to get free of his contract with British producer J. Arthur Rank. Louis Jourdan proved an inspired second choice. Lerner had long admired Maurice Chevalier, and it was Lerner's idea to build up the character of Gaston's uncle Honore (barely mentioned in the novel) and tailor it to Chevalier's talents. Chevalier's performance as the charming boulevardier was a career high note, and everyone expected him to be nominated for an Academy Award. When he wasn't, the Academy corrected the oversight by awarding him an honorary Oscar®.
Shot on location in Paris, Gigi was a worldwide hit....everywhere but in France. It was nominated for nine Oscars, and won all of them, a record at the time. It remains an elegant landmark of the Golden Age of the movie musical.
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Vincente Minnelli, Charles Walters (uncredited)
Screenplay: Alan Jay Lerner, Colette (novel), Anita Loos (play)
Production Design: Cecil Beaton
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg, Ray June (uncredited)
Costume Design: Cecil Beaton
Film Editing: Adrienne Fazan
Original Music: Frederick Loewe
Principal Cast: Leslie Caron (Gigi), Maurice Chevalier (Honore Lachaille), Louis Jourdan (Gaston Lachaille), Hermione Gingold (Madame Alvarez), Eva Gabor (Liane d'Exalmans), Jacques Bergerac (Sandomir), Isabel Jeans (Aunt Alicia).
C-116m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Margarita Landazuri