Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gene Kelly|
|Produced by||Kenneth Hyman|
|Written by||Jackie Gleason (story)
|Music by||Jackie Gleason|
|Edited by||Roger Dwyre|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox
Seven Arts Pictures
Warner Brothers (1967 re-release)
CBS (1969 TV premiere)
|Box office||$1.6 million (rentals)|
Gigot (Gleason) is a mute Frenchman living in a cellar in the Ménilmontant district of Paris in the 1920s. He ekes out a hand-to-mouth existence as a lowly janitor at his landlady's apartment building. He is routinely treated with condescension by most of his neighbors and often is made the butt of practical jokes. However, he is a most decent and kindhearted fellow, traits not unnoticed by children and the local animals he often feeds. He is accepting of his humble existence, but has one unusual predilection: he is attracted by funeral processions and finds himself attending, whether or not he ever knew the departed. He marches straight through to the grave site and can't help but cry along with all the other mourners.
One evening after being extraordinarily abused by some locals at a nearby pub, he is meandering toward home in the rain. He chances upon a weakened and fearful street woman, Colette (Katherine Kath), and her 6-year-old daughter Nicole (Diane Gardner), huddled in a doorway trying to stay dry. Unaware and uncaring as to whom or what he might have encountered, he takes them to his dingy basement abode where he dries and warms them, gives them what food and drink he has, a bed to sleep in, and shelter from the rain. Colette is suspicious of Gigot but is so exhausted and ill that she reluctantly and ungraciously accepts what she senses are likely his innocent gifts. Nicole, now rested and with the vitality of youth, begins to warm to him while mother convalesces.
Gigot gleefully dotes upon Nicole. They happen upon a local church where Gigot is astonished to discover she is ignorant of what a church is, and completely unaware of God. Nicole points to the altar crucifix and asks Gigot who that is upon it. The mute attempts to act out the story of Christ, beginning with Mary cradling the baby Jesus, from childhood through to the horror of crucifixion. In a most poignant scene, Gigot rails at this Christ who has seemingly left him so inadequate to the job of explaining all to Nicole. Nicole protests his impulsive fit of anger at the God she has just found through Gigot's hand, and his self-recriminations. She cries a single tear for him, then blows a reassuring kiss of love to the Christ upon the Cross.
Gigot entertains the little girl by dancing for her to his old Victrola, and by dressing as a waiter to feed his pet mouse in a hidden room, to her extreme delight. He is very protective of Nicole, once running alongside her on a merry-go-round to make sure she doesn't fall off, and in the process creating a public scene. It is the same protectiveness that leads him to attempt to intervene to protect Colette's honor while she is in the act of soliciting a john on a park bench near the merry-go-round. Gigot is trounced by the frustrated man and a friend for his trouble.
Furious over his interference with her 'activities', Colette threatens to bolt with Nicole unless Gigot can make good on her demand that he provide her a life with a 'man of means'. With only an hour to prove himself before she leaves, Gigot, on the hunt, is tempted by a singular opportunity as he happens past his local bakery. The baker and his wife (having taken advantage of him for years) have been called away, thus leaving their till unattended. Gigot, though guilt ridden, seizes the opportunity and steals their money anyway.
With those ill-gotten gains all three go on a shopping spree, buying much-needed new clothes for Colette and Nicole, and for Gigot a straw boater and a shave. Later, he buys a grand meal and drinks for all at the local restaurant to the amazement of the locals. But the good times are not to last — Colette's ex-boyfriend decides he wants her back immediately, and Colette succumbs. She wants to take Nicole along, but her pimp persuades her to wait until morning to retrieve her so they can share a single night together, alone.
The next morning two bumbling bureaucrats previously called in by one of Gigot's snooty neighbors, have come to try to remove Gigot to a home for the feeble-minded. Meanwhile, the baker has discovered the theft, and when Colette returns she finds Gigot and Nicole are now missing. Soon Gigot becomes suspect, but he and Nicole are only playing at their secret abandoned basement chamber below the streets of Paris, listening to his old Victrola while Gigot dances for her – with so much gusto that the roof timbers fall in. They are nearly buried in rubble, but are actually only slightly hurt, although Nicole is unconscious. Frightened and thinking she is dead, Gigot rushes the girl to the church where the parish priest calls in a doctor. The priest wanting to know what happened, causes Gigot to rush back to retrieve his Victrola to help explain their actions before the cave-in. Gigot runs straight into the angry mob which is looking for them. Panicked, Gigot runs right into an old industrial coal barge loader and is washed into the river and overrun by a tug; he fails to resurface.
Thinking him dead, the locals are despondent over their despicable actions. In remorse they decide to organise a funeral for Gigot, though all they have from the river is his chapeau to bury. But Gigot survived and is merely hiding. Unknowingly, he witnesses his own funeral procession and as usual is compelled to join it. When the time comes for the eulogy, he realizes it is he himself for whom they are holding the service. Upon the conclusion of the burial, Gigot is spotted by the crowd and the screwball chase begins again.
Background and other information
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".
- Jackie Gleason - Gigot
- Katherine Kath - Colette
- Gabrielle Dorziat - Mme Brigitte
- Jean Lefebvre - Gaston
- Jacques Marin - Jean
- Albert Rémy - Alphonse
- Yvonne Constant : Lucille Duval
- Germaine Delbat : Mme Greuze
- Albert Dinan : Bistro Proprietor
New York Times critic Bosley Crowther did not much care for Gigot: "[Gleason's] characterization of a lonely, unspeaking vagabond, who hungers for social acceptance and the warmth of somebody's love, is modeled after Chaplin... [U]nfortunately, Mr. Gleason, for all his recognized comic skill when it comes to cutting broad and grotesque capers, as he does now and then, does not have the power of expression or the subtleties of physical attitude to convey the poignant implications of such a difficult, delicate role."
Life magazine was perhaps more taken with the spirit of the film, calling it a "genial fable." "Gleason portrays a Parisian ragamuffin who, though trapped in a world of silence and poverty, finds great joy in just being alive." The unsigned piece observes that "Because he cannot speak, people think Gigot is a fool and constantly make cruel fun of him. But like all legendary simpletons, Gigot has a heart of 36-carat gold and when he outsmarts the smart alecks, many customers in a good many lands are going to have their happiest cry since Little Red Ridinghood...."
In its entry on Jackie Gleason, the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors said the performer had "some starring vehicles, of which Gigot, from a story by Gleason himself, was the noblest attempt. In it he played, quite nicely, a mute, slow-witted Parisian janitor, but the extreme sentimentality of the whole piece turned off both critics and public."
- In 2004, the movie was remade for television as The Wool Cap with William H. Macy.
- The term "gigot" means "leg of mutton" in French.
- French actress Katherine Kath is best known in the USA for her high-stepping role as the dancer La Goulue in John Huston's biofilm Moulin Rouge (1952). She also appeared in an episode of the TV series The Prisoner ("A.B. and C."), in which she played Madame Engadine.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p229. Please note figures are rentals accruing to distributors.
- Crowther, Bosley (1962). "Screen: Gleason's 'Gigot': Story of Parisian Mute Opens in Music Hall." The New York Times, September 28, 1962
- Halliwell, Leslie, with John Walker, editor (1994). Halliwell's Film Guide. New York: Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-273241-2. p. 470
- "Movies to melt the heart and thwack the funnybone: Genial Fables from Afar." Life August 3, 1962, p. 73
- Monush, Barry (2003). Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors, Vol. 1: From the Silent Era to 1965. New York: Applause. ISBN 978-1-55783-551-2. p. 280