The Silver-Tongued Chevalier

Oh yes, and GIGI! How could I have forgotten seeing that yesterday? In a vintage Metrocolor print, no less. In fact, vintage prints of musicals should carry a health warning: the smallest splice can be a major irritation if it happens during a number. But this one was relatively free of such issues, and the colo(u)r was radiant.

How can something be simultaneously problematic and perfect? The sense of ickiness around the theme is mostly skirted artfully. Listening to any of the lyrics other than the title of “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” makes it clear that it’s NOT an ode to paedophilia. But there are plenty of other bits to worry about if you’re so inclined. And John Bailey of the Academy reassuring as that Leslie Caron was 26 doesn’t quite cut it — she’s playing a character who’s 14 in the book, and the movie is careful not to assign her a specific age…

But the Freed Unit has it covered. It’s great the way Chevalier, our guide through the story, is basically wrong about everything and his “well-meaning” advice is nearly disastrous. It’s helpful that Jourdan is so charming and looks younger than he is. I’m not sure if Leslie Caron’s extreme sensuality helps or hinders in this context, but I enjoyed it.

And my God, the songs, and Minnelli’s visual perfectionism! Quite hard to write about things that are perfect. I’ll have to try when I have more time.

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10 Responses to “The Silver-Tongued Chevalier”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Rather fascinating that this is the Freed Unit film that got the Oscar as in many ways its barely a musical at all. Minnelli directs it in the style of his comedies and dramas — which is most appropriate. There are no real dance numbers (Chuck Walters staged the closest thing to one : “The Night They Invented Champagne”), and the songs are for the most part solos. I suspect Jacques Demy learned a lot from it.

    I do hope you’ve seen Wash Westmoreland’s “Colette” biopic, as it’s quite charming. Her ability to make “racy” material mainstream rhymes with chevalier who Michel Legrand called “That old man who sang ‘naughty’ songs your grandmother liked.”

    Leslie Caron’s skill at playing a “gamine” on the verge of adulthood is in full flower here, though the stakes aren’t as high as in Chuck Walters’ “Lilli” whose embittered anti-hero is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Here it ends in marriage. That Jourdan should marry the girl who has only a few scenes before had been his playmate is PG Roman Polanski, no?

  2. Another striking aspect of the songs is that most of them tie together several scenes, rather than forming one unbroken performance. They’re sort of montage songs, maybe partly because Minnelli wanted to show off as many Parisian locations as possible. I like the effect.

  3. ehrenstein47 Says:

    You’re quite right — as Minnelli’s staging of the title song makes plain

  4. ehrenstein47 Says:

    It’s Louis Jourdan in “Letter From a Well-Known Nymphette’

  5. bensondonald Says:

    Random babbling:
    — Caron was married and a mother when she made this; she was beginning to get fed up with playing blossoming virgins.
    — Gigi’s paternity is never mentioned, and her mother is simply an audio gag: an unseen singer ever practicing with no connection to her daughter or the rest of the household. To avoid the discomfort of having Gigi’s actual mom packaging her for market?
    — Gascon’s initial reaction to Gigi growing up is annoyance. She’s been the safe playmate in his life with minimal drama or politics, and all he sees (at first) is losing that. In fact, it’s granny who forces the issue of what the relationship will become. He has to brought around to the idea of Gigi’s sexual viability being a good thing.
    — The whole comic business of dealing with the mistress and her lover seems designed to emphasize Gascon is less than a seasoned roué. He needs to be walked through it, and paying off the lover so he’ll allow himself to be ejected is a bit less than masterful. The follow-up is Gascon’s “first suicide” (the mistress, deliberately unsuccessful) being treated as a rite of passage for a young gentleman.
    — Wouldn’t work as a double feature, but interesting to juxtapose this with Harry Langdon’s “Long Pants”. There, a boy just beginning to moon over girls is abruptly thrust into manly trousers and matrimony by his parents, and possibly deflowered by a violent female criminal (the film seems to want to imply it without implying it).

  6. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Gaston has to be brought around because Gigi has been trained to be exactly like his previous girlfriends — and demi-mondaines of that place and time. She’s suppressing herself. It’s when she throws the “rules” of that world in Gaston’s face that he realizes she’s truly become a woman and won’t be a playmate anymore.

    As for Eva Gabor dropping her for Ginger Rodgers husband, Gaston is clearly bored with the whole charade and is forced by Chevalier to go through with it. Darkly amusing.

  7. chris schneider Says:

    Somebody should add that there was a non-musical stage version of GIGI, around the time the Minnelli was made, which included a lot about the mother — and the shutting out of the mother in the MGM film was their reaction to this.

    One of my first memories of seeing GIGI was of shock at “insufficient poison” scene. I’ve always thought of GIGI as a film about beautiful-but-heartless people.

  8. ehrenstein47 Says:

    OFF-TOPIC AN AXIOM OF THE CINEMA HAS DIED

    EDITH SCOB R.I.P.

  9. Judex is playing here. Some tribute to Scob is required.

    The suicide stuff is pretty damn dark, and the pretense that nobody ever gets hurt in these things seems wafer-thin.

    Gabor double feature: we already had Moulin Rouge. Both sisters seem to have been cast as epitomes of shallowness!

  10. ehrenstein47 Says:

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