I'm glad I'm not young anymore…
Oh, sorry, we're just humming the tune from one of Gigi's songs. We're actually glad we're still young—maybe Honoré will give us a second look.
In a musical, the writers are the lyricists and composers—in this case, the incomparable Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. (Well, maybe Rodgers and Hammerstein are comparable. And Stephen Sondheim.) We've covered their careers in the "Screenwriters" section, but let's turn to the music itself and spend some time thinking about how the music and songs impact Gigi's story and the experience of watching it.
The duo of Lerner and Loewe spent more time in theatre than film, and that's clear as day as you find yourself humming their broad, happy songs. They paired Loewe's waltz-inspired tunes with witty turns of phrase and emo declarations to get the plot moving and your feet tapping.
Getting It Right the Second Time Around
When director Minnelli was called away to work on another project, Gigi was still in post-production in L.A. An early screening left Lerner and Loewe grimacing. They thought everything sounded too slow and too big. While a pinch-hitter director named Charles Walters re-shot a couple of scenes, MGM agreed to let the pair re-do the soundtrack with musical director Andre Previn with a smaller orchestra. (Source)
It's still an orchestra, but it's no big band, and we think the downsizing preserved a bit of intimacy as the characters open up their hearts and sing. Let's break down one of the scenes to look at how music changes the movie-watching experience. Thinking about what Gigi would be like without its soundtrack is like wondering what the Fourth of July would be without fireworks: totally possible, but not very fun. Or very much like the 1951 non-musical stage play, we guess.
Case Study: Gaston's Anger Turns to Love
So, Gaston has just finished chewing out his old friend Madam Alvarez. Wanting to take Gigi to tea, he's flabbergasted that her grandmother is worried about appearances, "that being seen alone with me will compromise her in some way."
But surely he can't be so naive? Yes he can, and don't call him Shirley. That this man, playing mid-30s, wouldn't have "noticed" that Gigi, playing 15 or 16, was growing up real pretty seems impossible to us, the viewers. But what's Hollywood for but suspending disbelief?
As Gaston storms out of the apartment, and down the steps, staccato strings play insistently under his grumbling: "Utter rubbish!" he says. A playful-but-still vigorous concert of strings and brass continues as Gaston arrives to his motorcar. Then the music stops. "Do I look upset?" he asks his driver. The driver admits he does, and Gaston strides into the streets, still grumbling in silence, to walk it off.
"She's a babe! Just a babe! She's cavorting in her crib, eating breakfast with a bib, with her baby teeth and all her baby curls!" Gaston scream-sings in the street, while the music rises in volume, almost as forceful as a marching band.
This continues until the man relents for a moment, leaning on a bench in front of a large fountain. The music slows until it's almost waltz-y, mooning, matching his words: "Except that weekend in Trouville, in spite of all her youthful zeal, she was exceedingly polite, and on the whole a sheer delight." For a moment, Gaston relaxes into this moment, smiling. But then Gaston jumps up again, to complain, and music returns to its hectic pace.
As Gaston argues with himself, the music follows along, reflecting his strife until it seems as if the orchestra players might explode from the effort. The music seems to hit a plateau, just then, as Gaston realizes that Gigi has indeed blossomed.
A moment later, he'll sit in front of those languid swans, and begin to sing the dreamy title song, sweet as the flowers in the park around him. Cue lush strings. It's a straight-forward formula, but by George, it certainly does seem to work.
Dipped Pearls & Dubbed Vocals
Those dipped pearls Aunt Alicia wrinkles her nose at aren't the only imitators in this picture. You might notice that Leslie Caron has only two solo songs, despite playing the title character. There's at least one good reason for this: Leslie Caron might have been a sparkling actor and dancer, but she was no singer. Her parts were sung instead by Betty Wand, who also pinch-hit for singers in West Side Story and a Shirley Temple movie or two.
Curious about what Caron's own voice sounded like? Check it out at your own risk and you'll see why she was dubbed.