Set in turn-of-the-20th century Paris, the film opens with Honoré Lachaille (Maurice Chevalier), who is surrounded by members of high society in the Bois de Boulogne. Being a charming old roué, he remarks that in Paris, marriage is not the only option for wealthy young bon vivants like his nephew Gaston (Louis Jourdan), who is bored with life. The one thing Gaston truly enjoys is spending time with Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold), whom he calls Mamita, and especially her granddaughter, the precocious, carefree Gilberte, also called Gigi (Leslie Caron).
Following the "family tradition", Madame Alvarez sends Gigi to her great aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) to be groomed as a courtesan to learn etiquette and charm. To Alicia, love is an art, and a necessary accomplishment for Gigi's social and economic future, but Gigi shows disdain for such trivial love that a man and his mistress usually have. Remaining true to her girlish, yet charming personality, she finds herself having the most fun when she is with Gaston, whom she regards as an older brother.
Like his uncle, Gaston is known as a wealthy womanizer. The whole of Paris watches his every move, and Parisian high society shows unrestrained judgment towards his mistresses and him. Gaston's latest mistress attempts to run off with her ice skating instructor. As a response, he publicly humiliates her, resulting in her attempted suicide. After this ordeal, Gaston wishes to retreat to the country, but his uncle insists on him staying in Paris and attending more parties.
Gigi makes a wager during a card match with Gaston, suggesting that if he loses, he has to take her grandmother and her to the sea with him when he goes on vacation. Gaston agrees, and they all travel to Trouville. While Gaston and Gigi spend countless hours having fun together, Honoré and Madame Alvarez reveal their once-passionate relationship. While other women at the resort are shown holding perfect poise constantly, and giving off an air of boredom and disdain for anything unfamiliar, Gigi is pulling Gaston out of his depressive rut with her carefree, fun attitude.
Once Gigi and her grandmother return to Paris, Gaston goes to Monte Carlo for some time. During this time, Gigi's aunt and grandmother discuss the possibility of Gigi becoming Gaston's mistress, thereby fulfilling their goals for her. Madame Alvarez, though dubious at first, agrees to let Gigi train around the clock to prepare for Gaston's return. Gigi accepts this as a necessary evil.
When Gaston returns, he is surprised and discomfited when Gigi appears in her new, adult dress. Gaston stammers out that she looks like a giraffe and that he misses her old outfits. He storms out, realises his folly, and rushes back to apologize. He tells her that she looks lovely, and says that he will prove it to her by taking her to tea at the Reservoir. Gigi's grandmother refuses and tells Gaston that this may ruin her reputation to be seen unchaperoned with Gaston before her reputation has even begun. Gaston, angered, storms out once again.
As he walks, he starts to reflect about Gigi. He stops and realizes suddenly, that she has become a woman whose charms, wit, and personality have sent his head spinning, and comes to the conclusion that he has developed a romantic desire for Gigi. Although he has doubts due to their enormous age difference, he also realizes that he loves her even more than he thought (unheard of between a man and a mistress) and he wants to be with her. He proposes an arrangement to Madame Alvarez and Aunt Alicia for Gigi to become his mistress. They are overjoyed. Gigi, wisely, is not.
Gaston talks to Gigi and she tells him that she is not the type of girl who wants publicity and to be dumped by him one day, then having to become someone else’s mistress. Gigi wants their relationship to remain platonic but when Gaston accidentally reveals that he loves Gigi she bursts into tears, upset that he would want to expose her to the uncertainty of being his mistress if he actually loves her. Gaston leaves angered, where he later runs into Honoré, who declares the family has always been a bit odd. Gigi later calls Gaston up, admitting she would rather be miserable with him than without him and agrees to accompany him in public. Gigi dresses in finery for their date, and when Gaston arrives, he is entranced by her beauty.
They go to a restaurant, where Gigi acts the role of courtesan perfectly – perhaps a little too perfectly. Gaston is uncomfortable with her knowledge of the other courtesans, and concerned for Gigi because of the unrelenting attention and judgment of other patrons. Honoré then delivers a crushing blow when he congratulates Gaston on his new courtesan and makes degrading remarks towards Gigi. Gaston, too in love with Gigi to give her this appalling life of uncertainty and judgment, leaves without a word after dragging her home crying. However, he stops a little way down the street and realizes his love for her is too strong, so he does something he never thought he would do and he proposes marriage.
The final sequence reverts to Honoré Lachaille, proudly pointing out Gaston and Gigi riding in their carriage in the Bois de Boulogne. The couple is elegant, beautiful, and happily married with a sense of fun and love that has been unseen when looking at other relationships high society has to offer.Leslie Caron as Gilberte "Gigi"
Maurice Chevalier as Honoré Lachaille
Louis Jourdan as Gaston Lachaille
Hermione Gingold as Madame Alvarez
Eva Gabor as Liane d'Exelmans
Jacques Bergerac as Sandomir
Isabel Jeans as Aunt Alicia
John Abbott as Manuel
Marie-Hélène Arnaud as a Maxim's girl
Hollywood producer Arthur Freed first proposed a musicalization of the Colette novella to Alan Jay Lerner during the Philadelphia tryout of My Fair Lady in 1954. When Lerner arrived in Hollywood two years later, Freed was battling the Hays Code to bring his tale of a courtesan-in-training to the screen. Another roadblock to the project was the fact Colette's widower had sold the rights to her novella to Gilbert Miller, who planned to produce a film version of the 1954 stage adaptation by Anita Loos. It cost Freed more than $87,000 to purchase the rights from Miller and Loos.
Lerner's songwriting partner Frederick Loewe had expressed no interest in working in Hollywood, so Lerner agreed to write the screenplay only. He and Freed discussed casting; Lerner favored Audrey Hepburn, who had starred in the Broadway production written by Loos, but Freed preferred Leslie Caron, who had co-starred in An American in Paris for him. Both agreed Maurice Chevalier would be ideal for aging boulevardier Honoré Lachaille, and Lerner proposed Dirk Bogarde for Gaston. Lerner agreed to write the lyrics if Freed could convince Bogarde and designer Cecil Beaton to join the project. He decided to approach Loewe once again, and when he suggested they compose the score in Paris, Loewe agreed.
In March 1957, the duo began working in Paris. When Chevalier, who already had agreed to appear in the film, first heard "Thank Heaven for Little Girls", he was delighted. When he discussed his waning interest in wine and women in favor of performing for an audience in cabarets, Chevalier inadvertently inspired the creation of another tune for his character, "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore". The lyrics for another of his songs, the duet "I Remember It Well", performed with Hermione Gingold as his former love Madame Alvarez, were adapted from words Lerner had written for Love Life, a 1948 collaboration with Kurt Weill. "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight", a solo performed by Gigi, had been written for Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady but was removed during the pre-Broadway run. Lerner disliked the melody, but Loewe, Freed, and Minnelli voted to include it in the film.
Lerner recalls that for the film Gigi, "The casting was so haphazard, I don't know how they ever got it on." He wrote the part of Honoré Lachaille for Chevalier, but the rest of the casting was still undecided. Having second thoughts about Audrey Hepburn, Freed asked Lerner to meet with her in Paris, but she declined the role. The producer then asked him to fly to London to speak to Leslie Caron, who was living there with her husband Peter Hall. Lerner was surprised to discover the star had become Anglicized to the point of losing her French accent. She had recently starred in an unsuccessful stage production of Gigi, but when she heard Lerner's interpretation of the story greatly differed from that of the play, she accepted his offer. Her singing voice was dubbed by Betty Wand, though Caron filmed mainly to her own tracks (a brief clip of Caron's voice is heard in the DVD extras.) Dirk Bogarde expressed interest, as well, but ultimately was unable to free himself from his contract with J. Arthur Rank. Recalling Louis Jourdan from his performance in Three Coins in the Fountain, Freed offered him the role of Gaston.
In late April, Freed and Minnelli and their respective entourages arrived in Paris. The weather had become unseasonably hot, and working in unair-conditioned hotel rooms was uncomfortable. Minnelli began scouting locations while Freed and Lerner discussed the still incomplete script. Lerner had taken liberties with Colette's novella; the character of Honoré, nonexistent in the original book and very minor in the Loos play, was now a major figure. Gigi's mother, originally a significant character, was reduced to a few lines of dialogue delivered off-screen. Lerner also expanded the focus on Gigi's relationship with her grandmother.
By mid-July, the composers had completed most of the score, but still were missing the title tune. Loewe was at the piano while Lerner was indisposed in the bathroom, and when the former began playing a melody the latter liked, he later recalled he jumped up, "[his] trousers still clinging to [his] ankles, and made his way to the living room. 'Play that again,' he said. And that melody ended up being the title song for Gigi."
In September, the cast and crew flew to California, where several interior scenes were filmed, among them the entire scene in Maxim's, which included a musical number by Jourdan. Lerner was unhappy with the look of the scene as it had been shot by Minnelli, and at considerable expense, the restaurant was recreated on a soundstage and the scene was reshot by director Charles Walters, since Minnelli was overseas working on a new project.
The film title design uses the artwork of Sem's work from the Belle Époque.
- Overture – Played by MGM Studio Orchestra
- "Honoré's Soliloquy" – Sung by Maurice Chevalier
- "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" – Sung by Maurice Chevalier
- "It's a Bore" – Sung by Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan and John Abbott
- "The Parisians" – Sung by Leslie Caron (dubbed by Betty Wand)
- "The Gossips" – Sung by Maurice Chevalier and MGM Studio Chorus
- "She is Not Thinking of Me" – Sung by Louis Jourdan
- "The Night They Invented Champagne" – Sung and Danced by Leslie Caron (dubbed by Betty Wand), Hermione Gingold and Louis Jourdan
- "I Remember It Well" – Sung by Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold
- "Gaston's Soliloquy" – Sung by Louis Jourdan
- "Gigi" – Sung by Louis Jourdan
- "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore" – Sung by Maurice Chevalier
- "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight" – Sung by Leslie Caron (dubbed by Betty Wand)
- "Thank Heaven for Little Girls (Reprise)" – Sung by Maurice Chevalier and MGM Studio Chorus
Following completion of the film, it was previewed in Santa Barbara. Audience reaction was overwhelmingly favorable, but Lerner and Loewe were dissatisfied with the end result. Lerner felt it was 20 minutes too long and most of the action too slow. The changes he proposed would cost an additional $300,000, money Freed was loath to spend. The songwriting team offered to buy 10% of the film for $300,000, then offered $3 million for the print. Impressed with their belief in the film, MGM executives agreed to the changes, which included 11 days of considerable reshooting, putting the project at $400,000 over budget. At a preview in Encino, audience reaction changed from "appreciation to affection", and Lerner felt the film finally was ready for release. It premiered at the Royale Theatre, a legitimate theatrical venue in New York City, on May 15, 1958.
According to MGM records, the film earned $6.5 million in the US and Canada and $3.2 million elsewhere during its initial theatrical release, resulting in a profit of $1,983,000.
In total, the film grossed $13,208,725 in its initial release and later 1966 re-release.
In the 1959 review for Sight & Sound, David Vaughan calls Gigi "an elegant film" with a "cultivated visual taste [which] is everywhere apparent". He summarises that "while Gigi does not represent a revival of the MGM musical in its heyday, it is a welcome extension of latter-day musical style in its adult subject-matter and its avoidance of spectacle made vulgar by emphasis on size." He praises Minnelli's talent for "the delicious amorality of the anecdote, but also the honesty and irony of its telling [which] have become foreign to the American cinema." Vaughan points out "Chevalier's practiced but irresistible charm [as] one of the film's greatest assets" as well as "the brilliant high-comedy playing of Isabel Jeans, who as Aunt Alicia consummately portrays the distinction and beauty of a retired aristocrat of the demimonde."
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it "a musical film that bears such a basic resemblance to My Fair Lady that the authors may want to sue themselves". He added, "But don't think this point of resemblance is made in criticism of the film, for Gigi is a charming entertainment that can stand on its own two legs. It is not only a charming comprehension of the spicy confection of Colette, but it is also a lovely and lyrical enlargement upon that story's flavored mood and atmosphere…Vincente Minnelli has marshaled a cast to give a set of performances that, for quality and harmony, are superb."
Abel Green of Variety called the film "100% escapist fare" and predicted it "is destined for a global box-office mop-up". He added, "Alan Jay Lerner's libretto is tailor-made for an inspired casting job for all principals, and Fritz Loewe's tunes (to Lerner's lyrics) already vie with and suggest their memorable My Fair Lady score… Miss Caron is completely captivating and convincing in the title role… Skillful casting, performance and presentation have endowed realism to the sum total… Director Minnelli's good taste in keeping it in bounds and the general sound judgment of all concerned…distinguishes this Arthur Freed independent production. The Metrocolor rates recognition for its soft pastels under Joseph Ruttenberg's lensing; the Beaton costumes, sets and general production design are vivid physical assets at first sight. The skillful integration of words-and-music with the plot motivation makes this Gigi a very fair lady indeed as a boxoffice entry."
Time Out New York said, "The dominating creative contribution comes from Minnelli and Cecil Beaton… The combination of these two visual elitists is really too much—it's like a meal consisting of cheesecake, and one quickly longs for something solid and vulgar to weigh things down. No doubt inspired by the finicky, claustrophobic sets and bric-à-brac, the cast tries (with unfortunate success) to be more French than the French, especially Chevalier. The exception is Gingold, who inhabits, as always, a world of her own."
TV Guide rated the film 3½ out of five stars, calling it "Overbaked but enjoyable, and a banquet for the eyes, thanks to the visual wonder of the Minnelli-Beaton teaming… Caron…leads the cast in a contest to see who can be the most French. The winner is Chevalier, in a performance that makes one feel as if you're gagging on pastry… Perhaps if the sweetness of Gigi was contrasted with elements of honest vulgarity, the picture could balance itself out… Ten minutes into the movie, you've resolved the plot and are left to wallow in lovely frou-frou. [The film] makes wonderful use of the usual Parisian landmarks, and benefits from extraordinary period costumes and sets."
Gigi won a record-breaking nine Academy Awards (at the 1959 Oscars ceremony); however, this record only lasted for one year, as Ben-Hur broke this record the following year with 11 Oscars. In tribute to Gigi's domination of the Oscars, the MGM switchboard answered calls the following day with "M-Gigi-M". Gigi, eventually along with 1987's The Last Emperor, held the record as the film(s) with the most Academy Award wins in every category in which it was nominated, until 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King broke the record at the 2004 Oscars ceremony with 11 Oscar nominations and 11 Oscar wins.Academy Awards
Best Picture (winner)
Best Director (Vincente Minnelli, winner)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Alan Jay Lerner, winner)
Best Art Direction - Set Decoration (E. Preston Ames, F. Keogh Gleason, Henry Grace, and William A. Horning, winners)
Best Cinematography (color) (Joseph Ruttenberg, winner)
Best Costume Design (Cecil Beaton, winner)
Best Film Editing (Adrienne Fazan, winner)
Best Musical Score (André Previn, winner)
Best Original Song ("Gigi" by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, winners)
Golden Globe Awards
Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (winner)
Best Director – Motion Picture (Vincente Minnelli, winner)
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture (Hermione Gingold, winner)
Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Leslie Caron, nominee)
Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Maurice Chevalier, nominee)
Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Louis Jourdan, nominee)
Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical (Alan Jay Lerner, winner)
Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film (Vincente Minnelli and assistant director George Vieira, winners)
Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media (André Previn, winner)
American Film Institute
AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions -#35
AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs
Thank Heaven for Little Girls -#56
In about 2008, the film was digitally restored by Prasad Studios, which removed dirt, tears, scratches, and other defects frame by frame.Jazz trumpeter, bandleader and arranger Shorty Rogers released an album of Lerner and Loewe's music, Gigi in Jazz, in 1958.
The album cover appears on the cover for Pink Floyd's Ummagumma (1969) album, designed by Storm Thorgerson. For the US/Canada and Australian releases the cover was airbrushed out because of fears of copyright infringement. The artwork was restored in the later CD releases in all territories.
Edith Bouvier Beale (best known as "Little Edie") mentioned several times in the Maysles brothers documentary Grey Gardens that Gigi was "absolutely marvelous".