Gigi (1958)

I’d originally planned to pair a different movie with my first selection this week, but it just so happened to fit in quite well with my month-long theme for August, so I decided to make a last-minute substitution.  That’s where Gigi comes in.

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I fundamentally find musicals kind of boring.  The songs in musicals tend to be great expository blocks that could have been summed up in a couple of lines of dialogue.  “Oh, I find my wealthy playboy life unsatisfactory and boring,” says Gaston the wealthy playboy, but instead we need a show-stopping number to drive the point home.  And what is it anyway with romances that start with at least one character who is cynical about ever falling in love?  Maybe the most important lesson to learn is that if you want to live a romantic life, you should start out by being as unromantic as possible.

On the other hand, the thing I do enjoy about musicals (since my mind tends to wander so easily during the song) is imagining what it would be like if people just went around in real life breaking out into song.  There you are, catching Pokémon in the park, and suddenly a dude sitting on the bench behind you starts going on with “Bellsprouts are ringing in my heart” or something.  You’d think he was loony.

In terms of this film, I’d like to point out another pet peeve I’ve noticed in old movies:  the Creepy Old Guy Who Leers at Young Girls.  Uncle Honore (curious name for an aging French bachelor) narrates the story at the beginning, looking remarkably like Sam the Snowman in the Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer Christmas special, originating in the same era.  Though he is certainly in his 60s or older by that point, he starts off with a song thanking heaven for “little girls.”  Also, the little girl he’s talking about is the one who ends up marrying his nephew, just in case it wasn’t tasteless enough to ogle any random girl.  Oh, but such is life in the 1950s.  Or the 1900s, when this film is supposed to be set.

I’d seen in some ranking that this movie was considered to be nearly at the bottom of the pile of all the Oscar winners.  In truth, I was expecting it to be much worse.  Though it wasn’t really to my taste – I’d rather see witty banter than drawn-out songs – it wasn’t really any worse than the other musicals of that same era.  I consider this to be on part with An American in Paris or even My Fair Lady.  At least the male romantic lead had some endearing qualities.

One thing, though, for which I think Gigi is rightfully praised is the look of it – the costumes, the set pieces, the artistic art cards to introduce scenes in a party montage.  There’s one little shot of the shore in waning light, with Gigi and Gaston dragging donkeys along the beach (don’t ask) that just looks really nice.

I’m just glad it all works out for Gigi in the end, and she can spend the rest of her life pouring coffee and lighting Gaston’s cigars.  True romance.

 

Theme:  Classic romantic comedy

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  I’d rather be miserable with you than without you.

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It Happened One Night (1934)

 

Without knowing anything about the film except its title, I probably would have placed this in the genre of those 50’s science fiction-y flicks with the Claymation monsters.  You know, the sort that would be parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000 or something.  It Came From Outer SpaceIt’s AliveIt Happened One Night.

I mean, what is “It,” anyway?  (It’s it.)  How do I interpret this vaguest of pronouns in any way other than a hook-handed man scratching at the side of the bus that Ellie and Peter are riding… TO THEIR DEATH!  The only other alternative is that “It” refers to sexytimes, although nighttime is the traditional time for It to happen.  They’d probably be happier in the long term if It Happened more than One Night.  In fairness, though, they seem to have found a way to keep things kinky in the bedroom with their use of ropes and trumpets.

To briefly summarize, this film is not about an unearthly creature who creeps into a placid seaside town and eats everybody.  It’s actually about a couple that fall in love.  Ellie is the daughter of a ridiculously rich guy (who at one point offers someone $100,000 as a throwaway reward, and this is in the middle of the Depression).  She’s married some guy she just met and jumps off a yacht to run away and join him forever.  Meanwhile, another guy, Peter, is a journalist who’s looking for a big scoop, and apparently journalism was slightly classier back then than it is today, because he thinks it’s a good idea to write about how he fell in love with this missing society girl.

I don’t know if this is the first film that falls into the genre of romantic comedy, but even if not the very first, it’s interesting to see the origins of what’s become pretty much cliché these days.  The man and woman who have a mostly antagonistic relationship and suddenly realize that the chafing feeling is actually love.  There’s usually another man (not often another woman, oddly) who initially seems a good fit but eventually turns out to have some fatal flaw.  And of course, there are the moments where the lady and man-friend are forced into some uncomfortable intimacy before they’re ready for it.  Pick any romantic comedy you’ve seen, and I’m sure you’d find one of these tropes.

I’ve never seen a romance set on a Greyhound bus, though.  I’ve ridden a fair number of buses in my day, and I don’t recall ever meeting anyone remotely sexy.  Also, I spent the first half of the film really stressing out about the bus.  What was it like riding a bus in the 30s?  Did they even have a highway system back then?  I thought the interstate highways were set up in the 1950s.  How long of a trip was that from Miami to New York?  Were there even any bathrooms on the bus, and how the hell did that work?  If that part in the back where Ellie and Peter sat was right next to the bathroom, wouldn’t it have smelled so disgustingly that neither of them could have even fallen asleep, let alone in love?

Finally, I’ve heard that song “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” all my life, and never knew where it came from.  It doesn’t seem to have originated in this movie, but I’m sure that’s what has kept it popular enough in the modern age for me to have heard it, even without ever having seen the movie before.  Strange the way certain things manage to last.

 

Theme:  Classic Romantic Comedy

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  And the walls came tumbling down