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In this 1960 musical, Shirley MacLaine plays Simone Pistache, the owner of a small cafe in Paris in the late 1890s.  She allows the saucy but illegall Can-Can dance to be performed in her establishment (and indeed, is one of the dancers), and winds up in court.  Frank Sinatra plays her lawyer and caddish boyfriend Francois (yes, Sinatra plays a French lawyer – albeit with an American accent!), who doesn’t like it when the new Judge Philip Forrestier (played by Louis Jourdan) falls for her.  Complications ensue…but who will Simone choose…..?

I loved this film – except for one thing…the ending.  I would have given it 10 out of 10, but the ending stopped me from doing so.  I won’t reveal what happens, but after reading a few reviews of the film, it appears that several other viewers felt the same way.

However, on the plus side – Louis Jourdan looked amazing and played a great part; Shirley MacLaine defied all my expectations as Simone – she looked stunning, danced beautifully and gave a really very funny turn indeed, and in fact was the best thing about a very enjoyable movie.  Sinatra on the other hand, seemed to be walking through his lines; he had some lovely songs, and of course he has that voice, but his acting skills really weren’t up to much (he could certainly turn in a good performance when he felt like it, such as in The Manchurian Candidate and From Here To Eternity), although it didn’t detract from the film overall.

I loved the dancing – the Can-Can itself hardly actually features in the film, but when we do see it, it’s a great dance.  Also excellent was a ballet about the story of Adam and Eve, which features towards the end of the film, and which really is a visual treat.  There were also plenty of genuinely funny moments, and a soundtrack which was chock-full of great music.  Cole Porter wrote much of the music, and while it may not have been his best or most memorable stuff, it is still a joy to listen to.

Overall then, definitely worth watching (and a pleasant surprise), but oh, that ending; the only weak spot in an otherwise lovely film.

Year of release: 1960

Director: Walter Lang

Writers: Dorothy Kingsley, Charles Lederer, Abe Burrows

Main cast: Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier

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Gigi (Leslie Caron) is a young girl living in Paris in 1900, and being raised by her grandmother and great aunt to be a courtisan.  Gaston (Louis Jourdan) is a rich Parisian playboy, who has become bored of his superficial lifestyle.  He and Gigi have a platonic friendship, but as she becomes more sophisticated and grown up, the dynamic of their relationship starts to change…

This film, based on the novel by French author Colette, was not the last musical released by the MGM studios, but it was the last musical made by the Arthur Freed Unit at MGM (this unit was responsible for many of the classic musicals of the day, including Easter Parade, An American in Paris, and of course, Singin’ In The Rain).  The unit’s swansong did very well, being nominated for nine Oscar awards, and winning all of them, breaking the then record of eight Oscars, held by Gone With The Wind.

I thought the film was good, but not great.  Some parts of it definitely worked – Leslie Caron was a delight as Gigi.  I was not convinced by her performance in An American In Paris (although I love An American In Paris and never get bored of watching it), but here she was great, and actually rather adorable.  Audrey Hepburn was originally picked to play the part (having played Gigi on stage before she was famous), but due to other filming commitments, she was not available.  Audrey is one of my favourite actresses, and I think she would have been perfect in the role, but Leslie Caron really worked well.  Louis Jourdan was also great as the cynical and bored Gaston – making what could have been rather a dislikeable character into someone who the viewer liked a lot.  Hermione Gingold and Isabel Jeans provided good support as Gigi’s grandmother and great aunt.

There were some lovely songs, in particular the title number sung by Louis Jourdan as he wanders throughout Paris, realising that his feelings for Gigi are changing; and the incredibly catchy The Night They Invented Champagne which I couldn’t get out of my head after watching the film.

Paris itself looks fabulous – most of the film was shot on location there, and it really is a lovely setting, very colourful and pretty.

There were some parts that I didn’t like – Maurice Chevalier’s character Honore (the uncle of Gaston) seemed an unnecessary and distasteful character.  This is no criticism of Chevalier’s acting, which was fine, but the character was hard for me to warm to.  In one scene Honore is highly delighted upon hearing that a former girlfriend of Gaston’s has tried to kill herself after he ended her relationship.  Honore toasts Gaston and says that he hopes this will be the first of many suicides.  It may have been written flippantly, but this scene did not sit well with me.  (Indeed the whole storyline of two women training their young relation to be a courtesan could be distasteful, although it was handled fairly well and with humour.)

I was also slightly disappointed that there was no dancing in this film!  I love to see fabulous dancing in musicals, and with Leslie Caron being an excellent ballet dancer, it feels like a missed opportunity not to show off her skills.

Overall then, it’s an enjoyable film, but ultimately a forgettable one.  Worth watching for fans of musicals.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Writers: Colette (novel), Alan Jay Lerner

Main cast: Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan

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Click here for my review of the book.

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