Musical Monday: “Lili” (1953)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

liliThis week’s musical:
Lili“– Musical #473

Studio:
MGM

Director:
Charles Walters

Starring:
Leslie Caron, Mel Ferrer, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Kurt Kasznar

Plot:
An orphan young girl named Lili (Caron) goes to work for a baker who has already died. She is taken in by a carnival group and develops a crush on the lecherous magician Marc (Aumont). After she loses a waitressing job in the carnival, she doesn’t know who to turn to. Just as she considers taking her life, a puppet calls to her from the puppet booth (with Mel Ferrer behind the curtain). Lili sings and jokes with the puppets, and a crowd grows behind her. The angry Paul (Ferrer) sees the crowd and stars an act with Lili. The whole time, Lili is still infatuated with Marc, which angers Paul.

Trivia:
-Leslie Caron is supposed to play a 16 year old girl in the film. She really was 22 years old.
-Gower Champion directed a stage version on Broadway of the movie in 1961 called “Carnival.” The Leslie Caron role was played by Anna Marie Alberghetti.
-The song “Hi-Lilli Lo-Lilli” reached #30 on the charts
-Based on the Saturday Evening Post short story “The Man Who Hated People” by Paul Gallico. The story was based on the puppet show “Kukla, Fran and Ollie”.
-Bronislau Kaper won an Academy Award for Best Music Scoring
-Other Academy Award Nominations: Leslie Caron was Best Actress, Best Art Direction for a Color film, Best Cinematography for a Color film, Charles Walters for Best Director, Helen Deutsch for Best Writing, Screenplay
-Cabaret puppeteers Walton and O’Rourke made the puppets for the film.
-Professional puppeteers worked the puppets of Carrot Top, Golo the Giant, Marguerite and Reynardo—not Mel Ferrer.

Leslie Caron as Lili talks with puppets

Leslie Caron as Lili talks with puppets

Highlights (and unintentional humorous scenes):
-Lecherous Aumont says about young Lili “The female soul is like a chestnut, it has to go through fire before it gets delicious”
-Mel Ferrer’s character used to be a great dancer, but his leg was injured in the war so he can no longer dance. And he’s bitter. At one point, he angrily shouts, “I shall now perform a double pirouette!” and then dramatically slams into a cabinet and says he no longer can dance. It’s hilariously awkward.
-During a dream sequence, Caron sort of dances with Aumont. She first wears a sexy waitress outfit and then is transformed into a slinky sequin dress that his assistant (Gabor) wears.
-Caron says that Carrot Top the puppet is her boyfriend.
-Ferrer walks in as Aumont is trying to seduce Caron. Ferrer basically calls her a whore, but a short time later is calling her sweet and as pure as a silver bell.
-After being hurt by both Ferrer and Aumont, Caron decides to leave. Ferrer convinces her to stay through the puppets. Caron hugs the puppets. Then Caron asks, “Why do you hide behind these puppets?” Ferrer yells, “I am the puppets!”
-Caron finally leaves town and has another dream sequence and has a dream sequence where she is walking with life sized versions of Ferrer’s puppets.

Lili dances with life size puppets during a dream sequence.

Lili dances with life size puppets during a dream sequence.

Notable Songs:
-Though this is said to be a musical, “Lili” only has one song that is sung multiple times: “Hi-Lilli, Lo-Lilli”

My Review:
Several reviews says that “Lili” is refreshing, charming and whimsical, but I can’t say that I was as enchanted. The premise of the story is fairly charming, but the puppets, the lecherous men and Mel Ferrer’s dramatic outbursts killed it for me.
The movie-dubbed a musical- was a huge waste of Leslie Caron’s immense talent as a ballet dancer. Caron’s film career started off with the extravaganza “An American in Paris” (1951) where she had elaborate dance scenes. Even in the dream sequences, Caron only made a few prances here and there, but nothing that showed off her professional dancing skills.
Following “Lili,” Caron once again got to show off her ballet skills in “The Glass Slipper” (1955) and “Daddy Long Legs” (1955).
All in all, I found “Lili” rather strange and couldn’t close my mouth from disbelief when the film ended.

Check back next week for Musical Monday.

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3 thoughts on “Musical Monday: “Lili” (1953)

  1. Pingback: Amazonian actress and sex symbol Anita Ekberg dies in Rome (1931-2015) | Bunnybun's Classic Movie Blog

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