Friday, March 18, 2011

FORGOTTEN FILMS: GIGOT

People who have seen the forgotten 1962 movie GIGOT seem to either love it or hate it. I am one of the fans of the movie. I saw the movie as a teenager, and it took me a long time to find a good copy of the film. The movie has not been released on DVD - which is a crime. The movie starred the great Jackie Gleason - who was one of the truly underappreciated actors of our times.

Gleason had conceived the story himself years earlier and had long dreamed of making the film. He wanted Orson Welles as director, and Paddy Chayefsky as screenwriter. Though Welles was an old friend, the board at Fox rejected him as being an overspender. Gene Kelly was selected as a compromise. Chayefsky was not interested and John Patrick, writer of Teahouse of the August Moon was signed instead.

The film was shot on location in Paris. Most of the production crew and cast were French, some spoke no English. Gleason bore with this in two ways: Kelly spoke French, and Gleason's character had no lines, being mute.

Gleason was extremely proud of the film, which earned one Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Score. Gleason received a story credit and a music credit. On the other hand, according to the book, The Films of Gene Kelly, by Tony Thomas, Kelly himself said that the movie "had been so drastically cut and reedited that it had little to do with my version"..
Gigot (Gleason) is a mute Frenchman living in the Montmartre district of Paris in the 1920s. He makes a hand-to-mouth living as a janitor at his landlady's apartment building. Though treated with condescension by most of his neighbors (and often the butt of practical jokes), he is much loved by the local children and by animals, whom he often feeds. He seems content with his life, though he has one strange passion: he attends every local funeral, whether or not he knew the departed, marching and crying along with the other mourners.

One rainy evening he returns home to find Collette (Katherine Kath) and her young daughter Nicole (Diane Gardner) sitting in a doorway trying to keep dry. He lets them stay at his apartment. Collette is suspicious of Gigot but young Nicole warms to him.
Gigot takes Nicole to church only to discover she is unbaptized and completely ignorant of what a church is and unaware of God. Nicole points to a crucifix and asks Gigot who that is. Gigot acts out the story of Christ beginning with Mary cradling the baby Jesus, His childhood through to the horror of the crucifixion. Nicole cries a single tear, then blows a kiss to Christ on the cross.

Gigot entertains the little girl by dancing to his old Victrola and by dressing as a waiter to feed a mouse. He is protective of Nicole, once running alongside her on a merry-go-round to make sure she doesn't fall off. It is this protectiveness that leads him to prevent Collette from soliciting a john on a park bench near the merry-go-round. Gigot is beaten by the frustrated man for his troubles.
With their ill-gotten gains, Gigot, Collette and Nicole go on a shopping spree, buying much-needed new clothes for Collette and Nicole and a meal at the local restaurant. Gigot is even persuaded to get a straw boater and a shave. But the good times are not to last -- Collette's ex-boyfriend decides he wants her back, and Collette agrees. She wants to take Nicole, but he persuades her to wait til morning. Gigot is heartbroken. The next morning, Collette finds Gigot and Nicole missing.

The baker discovers the theft, and soon Gigot is a suspect. Two bureaucrats called in by one of Gigot's neighbors have come to (apparently) have Gigot committed. But Gigot and Nicole are only at an abandoned basement, listening to the Victrola while Gigot dances -- with a little too much gusto, though, as the roof falls in. Gigot is unhurt, but Nicole is unconscious.

Frightened, he takes the girl to the church, where the parish priest calls a doctor. Thinking the Victrola may help, he goes back to retrieve it and runs straight into an angry mob. The mob chases Gigot to an old coal loader. Gigot falls into the river and does not resurface.

The locals think Gigot is dead, and organise a funeral for him. Gigot is merely hiding. He sees the funeral march and, as always, follows. When the time comes for the eulogy, he realizes it is he for whom they are holding the service. Suddenly, one of the mourners sees Gigot, and the chase starts again.

17 comments:

  1. oh, my--and what ever happened to diane gardner, the little nicole??? she was such a cutie!

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    1. She can be found on facebook

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    2. according to rumor - too much "editing"

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  2. I don't like this film and I'm a huge Gleason fan. One of his writers supposedly said to him after seeing this film "It's not humor Jackie, it's mental retardation" I agree and think only Chaplin had the skill and taste to pull off that kind of sentimentality.

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    1. It has humor in it. What are you ,blind. Gleason did an excellent job. You are wrong period.

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    2. I always dismissed Jackie Gleason as "just another actor" - nothing special, until I saw this movie. Chaplin's skill was all in his body movements, executed with a dead-pan expression, whilst Gleason managed to convey a wide range of emotions with his facial expressions. To do that without even speaking a word; note that there are two or three scenes in this movie where you even suspect that he will magically find a voice, but he doesn't. To do so would have completely destroyed the feeling of the film. This is the mark of a true artist.

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    3. I loved the movie as a child and I still love it! I think the reason it was not popular in the states is because at that time they were dealing with the cold War politics and wanted to go in to their own mind, like a Brain Shelter. They did not want to face their own bigotry at the time that included homelessness.

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  3. I don't know Greg - I disagree. While Gleason was no Chaplin, I think Gleason worked well in the role.

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  4. Could not agree more with David L. Saw this movie as a teen and was amazed at how much that I learned about humanity - something that we could sure use just now. It spoke volumes to me about how someone with almost completely nothing could selflessly try to help those around him whom he believe had less than himself.

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  5. I totally agree David. This movie is a classic. I remember seeing this movie when I was 11 and it stayed in my mind & heart. I still cry when I see it. It teaches us that we need to be kind to one another and not judge those who are less fortunate, at least that was my take on the movie and I feel the same way now. This movie is now available on DVD. 20th century finally released it after receiving over a million requests I believe. You can find it on amazon and best buy.

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  6. Like many others, I saw this movie as a kid and it had me both laughing and crying by turns. Recently, I was pleased to see that TCM showed it, after having been forgotten for so many years. I think it's high time that this gem of a classic got its due.

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  7. This film is a brilliant work that should have underscored the talent Mr. Gleason had. I think Greg is a bit misguided in his thinking and criticism of the film. It was a daring film for its time.

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  8. Empathy what a valuable lesson learned from this movie. If only our children were able to view it in our time. Our world needs alot more of it....Empathy and its sidekick...Compassion .

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  9. The Great One...Another good one is - 'Papa's Delicate Condition'...

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  10. That's why he was called 'The Great One' ~ 'Papa's Delicate Condition' is another good one...

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  11. Maudlin sentimentality. An embarrassment.

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  12. I first saw this film with my Mom and feel in love with it. I had recalled Gleason as always being a loud person, but for him to play a mute was just amazing and I gave him much more respect as an actor

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