From The Warner Archive: Lili, 1953 (dir. Charles Walters)
The Warner Archive recently released a newly remastered DVD of the six-time Oscar nominated 1953 film Lili starring Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer. This is a film I had been meaning to watch for years and I am so glad I finally got to see it. It’s a simple film and a sweet one, yet somehow it is never saccharine. It’s almost like a children’s book come to life, except that there are a few scenes – especially at the beginning – that are quite dark. I think this is a film that could have fallen into an overly melodramatic trap, but Walters tackles the subject with such a light touch, the result is nothing short of magical.
The film received six Academy Award nominations: Original Score (won), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color), Best Cinematography (Color), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress Leslie Caron and Best Director. 1953 was a year where two of the Best Director nominees directed films not nominated for Best Picture (the other was Billy Wilder for Stalag 17).
At twenty-two, this was Caron’s fifth film (her debut was in 1951’s Best Picture winner An American in Paris opposite Gene Kelly), and her first full on lead role. She would later star in Best Picture winner Gigi (which won a then-recording breaking nine Academy Awards; it is a film I do not particularly care for). I’ve seen a few comments around the web about Caron’s titular character being annoying and I just don’t get that at all. She’s naive, sure, but far from annoying. She’s a sixteen year old orphan on her own for the first time, of course she is going to be naive. What I love about Caron’s performance is how natural it feels. Never once to we feel like we are watching Caron play Lili; we just feel like we are watching Lili. Oddly enough, despite all of Gigi’s Oscar nominations and wins, Caron’s only other Oscar nomination came from 1962’s The L-Shaped Room.
If you didn’t already have a Mel Ferrer problem (see Born to be Bad), then you will have to watch his puppy dog face in this movie for an hour and a half. Ferrer plays the puppeteer that gives Lili a job after she gets fired after one shift as a waitress at the carnival. He does more than just that, but that’s an emotional beat I don’t want to spoil for you. The bulk of Ferrer’s performance is in his eyes and boy are they emotive. He also voices all the puppets, each which represents a facet of his personality. I think this is a case of perfect player for the perfect part.
French actor Jean Pierre Aumont plays the magician that rescues Lili in a key scene at the beginning of the film, securing her affections for much of the rest of the film. Zsa Zsa Gabor is great as his assistant. Aumont is such a pompous ass throughout the film, it’s almost hard to understand what Lili sees in him, except the few moments when he is charming, he really is hard to resist.
I just had to share this shot from one of Lili’s dream sequences. Caron is such a fantastic dancer and this sequence blew me away. Also look at that Technicolor red dress! Fantastic.
Kurt Kasznar plays the straight man to Ferrer’s embittered/love-sick lead. His solid performance helps keep the film grounded.
Normally puppets freak me out and I will admit it took awhile for me to warm up to these damn things. They are a key element to the film, and they do grow on you the viewer as much as the endear themselves to Lili.
Of course, then this terrifying dream sequence happens and the puppets comes to life in a creepy way only the 50s could really do.
Speaking of dancing, the very last dance sequence between Caron and Ferrer is so damn hot. So. Damn. Hot.
I gotta throw a shout out to this fabulous matte painting. Just look at that depth! Anyways, this is a great film and this new remaster is well worth your time/money.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a review disc given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.
Posted on November 11, 2012, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged 1953, Charles Walters, Jean Pierre Aumont, Kurt Kasznar, Leslie Caron, Lili, Mel Ferrer, the Warner Archive, Zsa Zsa Gabor. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.