Vincente Minnelli's Gigi was arguably the last great movie of the director's career and the last great musical made at MGM. It was an improbable hit in its time, and it is often denigrated as a poor relation of My Fair Lady, which, like Gigi, was the work of composer-screenwriters Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. In 1958, it had been five years since Minnelli's last successful musical The Band Wagon, and the genre was believed to be running out of steam at the box office. This project, based on a Colette story about a young courtesan matched up with a wealthy man, seemed unlikely material in the supposedly staid 1950s. But Lerner and Loewe's script downplayed the morally equivocal nature of the adults and the title character (without totally losing it) and wrapped the story around a score that drew on the richest melodic influences of My Fair Lady, which was just going into previews at the time. Gigi even inherited one song dropped from the stage version of My Fair Lady, and the score gave it the feel of a 19th century operetta, with the sweeping, melodic elegance of the Viennese tradition and the sauciness of its Parisian counterpart. It was Minnelli's enviable task to make all of this look beautiful, shooting partly in Paris (a privilege he'd been denied on An American In Paris) with a dream cast. The result was a movie that pleased audiences; got away with presenting a tale of prostitution to a general audience in a decade when the screen supposedly didn't even acknowledge the existence of moral terpitude, much less allow its heroes and heroines to have engaged in it (see Detective Story); and introduced a brace of superb songs that still play to audiences. Gigi was the last great score and script that Minnelli ever got to work with, and it is the last MGM musical that is essential viewing even for non-fans of Minnelli and the movie musical.
by Bruce Eder review