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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

GIGI (1949)

It’s always a jolt to see just how unsentimental an education lies at the core of Colette’s famous story. Unexpectedly, this modest French adaptation finesses the more unseemly aspects of sexual barter just as smoothly as the stunningly adept Lerner & Loewe/Vincente Minnelli musical does in ‘58. But if the story is structured around Gigi’s home-schooled courtesanship, the drama comes from its rejection, and the rise of bourgeois marriage & morality. Anyway, why can't a musical be concerned with adult themes & manners, even if rigidly coded for ‘50s sensibilities. They were coded in La Belle Epoque, too. This early version, available as an extra on the new GIGI restoration, has been put together with the only surviving elements which have sadly subfusc image & subtitles, but fans of the remake will enjoy seeing how the musical numbers can be ‘spotted’ in the earlier film. Unlike the classic film of PYGMALION/’38, which Lerner used as template for MY FAIR LADY, this is no cinematic masterpiece though it does have some extra historic interest as it’s director, Jacqueline Audry, was one of the rare female helmers of the era. She runs a tight pic and deals nicely with her mezza-mezza cast and small budget. It’s worth a look.

A glance at the restoration of the Minnelli GIGI reveals a cleaned up picture element (the previous DVD edition was awfully smudgy), but also an over-saturated palette that’s more ‘30s TechniColor than ‘50s MetroColor. Try taming your color level and adjusting the tint & contrast. At least, they’ve permanently buried the portrait-of-Gigi montage that once disfigured the film’s climax. And hold tight for that glorious jump-cut to Maurice Chevalier right at the end. It’s up there with Lawrence of Arabia blowing out that match.

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