Monday, February 17, 2014

cinema obscura: Gene Kelly's "Gigot" (1962)

Ah, Gene Kelly.  That dancing representative of the American Work Ethos - accessible leading man, choreographer extraordinaire, creative genius, occasional director and, arguably, Hollywood's most affable showoff.

They're all Gene Kelly.

I'm concerned today with Gene Kelly, the  occasional director and his lesser-known work behind the camera.

Of the handful of movies that Kelly directed, either in tandem with Stanley Donen or solo, the one title that's always fascinated me is his simplistic, deceptively disarming "Gigot," from 20th Century-Fox in 1962 - a film that, until just recently, couldnot be seen anywhere.

I say the film is "deceptively disarming" because it's near-silent and was shot modestly on location in Paris by the estimable French cinematographer, Jean Bourgoin. Complicating matters, Bourgoin photographed the film in wide-screen and Fox opened it at the cavernous Radio City Music Hall. A small, yet large, film, so to speak.

Two incredible talents joined forces for the occasion - star Jackie Gleason, who provided the idea for John Patrick's screenplay, and Kelly.

Gleason plays a mute Parisian hobo named Gigot who becomes involved with a little street gamine, named Nicole (the charming Diane Gardner), the daughter of a prostitute (Katherine Kath). The entire supporting cast is French. Nicole is the one denizen of Paris who doesn't mistreat Gigot.

The shots of the tiny Gardner scampering around the massive Gleason, hugging his legs, and of Gigot attending his own funeral make for a series of indelible, sentimental images.

It would be easy to classify "Gigot" as Chaplin-esque, but it is actually a hybrid of Jacques Tati and Gleason's own Poor Soul creation.

Gleason also composed the film's music score, which is given a distinct, tinkly French reading by orchestrator Michel Magne.

Yes, Kelly's filmography as a film director is scant - but also eclectic and fascinating. He, of course, is best known for having co-directed "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) along with "On the Town" (1949) and its pseudo-sequel, "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955), all with Donen, and Barbra Streisand's "Hello, Dolly" (1969) and "Invitation to the Dance" (1956) on his own.

But he also helmed a handful of songless films like "Gigot."

These include the France-based "The Happy Road"/"La Route joyeuse" (1957), in which he also starred; "Tunnel of Love" (1958), with Doris Day and Richard Widmark; the Walter Matthau-Robert Morse farce, "A Guide for the Married Man" (1967) and "The Cheyenne Social Club" (1970), a comic Western starring Henry Fonda, James Stewart and Shirley Jones.

Kelly also took to the stage to direct the original 1958 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Flower Drum Song," recruiting Carol Haney to do the choreography and her husband, Larry Blyden, to star - as Sammy Fong. (Ross Hunter's wonderful 1961 film version was directed by Henry Koster and choreographed by Hermès Pan.)

Perhaps, one day, an enterprising young repertory specialist will organize a program exclusively around Gene Kelly, the director.

And "Gigot" would be included.

And how about a double-bill of late-in-his-career cameo performances?  I'm thinking of  his dances with Shirley MacLaine in J. Lee Thompson's "What a Way to Go!" (1964) and with Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac in Jacques Demy's "The Young Girls of Rochefort"/"Les demoiselles de Rochefort" (1967). Or maybe a pair of his straight-dramatic roles in Stanley Kramer's "Inherit the Wind" (1960) and Irving Rapper's "Marjorie Morningstar" (1958). Just thinking/suggesting.

Gene Kelly - the everyman who mastered everything.


rdanlord said...

There is a message above and beyond all the wonderful talent that participated in this movie. And I'm sure Gleason and Kelly were aware of it. In that the heart will find love no matter where it may hide. Even if it doesn't try to find it, and even if the heart doesn't even know it is looking.It finds that it is there, and no matter what the consequences, Love will prevail.

Bennett said...

I've always wanted to see "Gigot," mostly because of Gleason, but I have to put a word in for the film's writer, John Patrick, who has a really fascinating filmography. He co-wrote a film that I know you admire - "Some Came Running" - as well as "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing," "High Society," "Les Girls" and "The World of Suzie Wong." He also wrote "The Hasty Heart" and the Tony-winning "Teahouse of the August Moon," which he also adapted for the screen.

Dave in Seattle said...

what a shame there is no more info on Diane Gardner who played the little girl in Gigot. If it wasnt for her that movie would not be worth watching