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Warner Home Video presents
Gigi (1958)

"Instead of getting married at once, it sometimes happens we get married at last."
- Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: May 08, 2003

Stars: Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier
Other Stars: Hermione Gingold, Eva Gabor, Jacques Bergerac, Isabel Jeans
Director: Vincente Minnelli

Manufacturer: Warner Home Video
MPAA Rating: G for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:56m:00s
Release Date: May 02, 2000
UPC: 012569506022
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's impossible to imagine a more fitting swan song for the Golden Age of movie musicals than Gigi. As bubbly as champagne, as light as a French soufflé, this charming confection from the esteemed team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe won nine Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, and remains a perennial audience favorite. Produced by the legendary Freed Unit at MGM, which was responsible for most of Hollywood's greatest musicals, Gigi corralled many of Hollywood's finest creative personnel and drew from them their best work. The result is a canvas rich with color, dazzling costumes and winning performances. Gigi also innocently heralded a new chapter in the evolution of the film musical, freeing the form from the confines of Hollywood soundstages and allowing it to touch upon more adult subject matter.

Yes, it's hard to believe a film as gentle as Gigi could present a quandary for the censors, but indeed it did. The story of a young girl who is essentially groomed to be a high society mistress provoked its share of raised eyebrows from those entrusted with the production code. But after some initial "concerned" correspondence, they backed off, nervously putting their faith in the good taste of the Freed Unit, which toned down the material without shrinking from its core elements. This masterful juggling gives the humor a saucy edge and the film as a whole a frothy, sophisticated air—one that hasn't diminished lo these many years later.

When we first see Gigi (Leslie Caron) she is frolicking in the park with her schoolmates, a young carefree girl in turn-of-the-century Paris who knows little of her family's secret history. She visits her rich aunt for lessons in ladylike behavior, but soon learns the tutelage is actually a systematic preparation for life as a courtesan, a role both her mother and grandmother (Hermione Gingold) have played with varying degrees of success. Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan) is a dear family friend, who, along with his uncle, the randy Honoré (Maurice Chevalier), spends his idle days pursuing various forms of pleasure. While Honoré adores his pampered existence, Gaston has become bored by it all, preferring instead to while away countless hours with Gigi and her grandmother. As Gigi grows, a mutual attraction develops between her and Gaston, which becomes prickly when Gaston offers to become her first "sponsor."

Caron makes a lovely Gigi, excelling as both ingénue and sophisticate, while Jourdan also shines as the often befuddled and restless Gaston. Of course the scene-stealers are Gingold and Chevalier, and their delightful duet, I Remember It Well, ranks as one the film's many high points. But all the musical numbers are packed with panache, directed with impeccable taste and visual splendor by Vincente Minnelli, whose efforts were duly rewarded with an Oscar. True to the intimate nature of the film, there are no production numbers. All the songs either advance the plot or delineate character, a typical element of the work of Lerner and Loewe. Even the charming Thank Heaven for Little Girls, sung with Chevalier's patented savoir faire, is underplayed, never allowing the focus to wander too far from the plot and characters. Caron, unfortunately, is dubbed, but Jourdan sings for himself in the talky style made famous by Rex Harrison, and handles his numbers with surprising aplomb.

But if there is a true star in Gigi, it is Paris. The City of Light shines resplendently and the location shooting in the Bois de Boulogne and Maxim's restaurant gives the film a French flavor that could never be replicated on a Hollywood set. (Remember the disastrous backdrops for Brigadoon?) Coupled with lavish period costumes by Cecil Beaton, impeccably detailed art direction and lush cinematography, Gigi becomes a true visual feast, and one of the crowned jewels in MGM's glittering musical roster.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Somewhere there should be a steadfast law stating that every film honored with the Academy Award for Best Picture is required to be drawn from the best possible source material or else undergo restoration before being released on DVD. For it is a crime that such a mediocre transfer has betrayed a sumptuous visual treat like Gigi. Sure, the widescreen side of the disc is anamorphic (an equally mediocre full-screen pan-and-scan version appears on the flip side), but all the squeezing in the world can't hide the problems of the print. Myriad imperfections mar this disc. Scratches, bleach spots, dirt, grit, horizontal lines that remain for several minutes, reel change markers, occasional vertical lines, missing frames—you name it, it's here. Not all the time, and of course certain scenes suffer more than offers. (The beach sequence that contains I Remember It Well is especially bad.) When the print is clean (and there are long stretches when no problems occur), one can really revel in the beauty of Gigi. The colors are true and vibrant, film grain is not especially noticeable, and the movie leaps off the screen. But when it rains, it pours, and some scenes are so riddled with marks, it's impossible to concentrate on the film, except for bemoaning its sorry state.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: An interesting Dolby Digital 3.0 mix is included and does the job nicely, although ambient sounds are practically nonexistent. Dialogue is clear and intelligible, and the music comes through with proper warmth and depth. No distortion exists, and hiss and pops are absent. A French mono track is available as well. All in all, a serviceable soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Snapper
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: For a Best Picture winner, it's a travesty that a non-anamorphic trailer is the only extra to be found on this disc. A retrospective featurette with Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan would have added a great deal to this presentation. Production notes, costume sketches, filmographies and awards listings also would have given the viewer more historical context for this important film. The trailer itself has faded some, but remains in generally good condition.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Gigi is a glorious feast for the eyes, ears and heart, injecting the viewer with a welcome dose of joie de vivre through its lovely performances, music and production values. Unfortunately, this Warner Home Video release cheats its audience with a sub par transfer and skimpy extras. The marked-up print is so distracting, it sucks much of the joie out of the viewing experience. This film deserves a restoration and special edition treatment, and while such attention may not be forthcoming for many years, if you're in the market for Gigi, my advice would be to wait. This disc is passable, but Gigi deserves much better.


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