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LILI, the 1953 film starring Leslie Caron in the title role, is one of
first examples of a screenplay being turned into a stage musical
Though it is common these days for Broadway to find inspiration in film
sources, it was highly unusual at the time. It began life as a short
with inspiration from the KOOKLA, FRAN AND OLLIE television program.
made into a dark and unusual novella of sexual awakening, the tale was
adapted for the screen as LILI, a film which became the sleeper hit of
eventually running in the same New York City theatre for almost 2 years.
It's one, beautifully utilized song, "Hi Lili, Hi Lo" was an enormous hit
and contributed to LILI's popularity.
The story, concerning the sexual and emotional coming of age of a young French girl, is unusual for its Freudian overtones and stark emotional mood. When young Lili (Leslie Caron in a gorgeously crafted and heartbreaking performance) comes to a small French village, looking for a family friend, she is devastated to learn that he has died. Without friends or family, she begs a job from a local merchant who sees her desperation as a sexual opportunity. When the merchant tries to rape Lili, she is saved by Marc, the handsome magician of a traveling carnival (Jean-Pierre Aumont). On Marc she foists all of her adult and childhood needs, her bursting sexuality along with her need to be cared for and loved. Eventually she begins working with the carnival but proves a terrible disappointment as a waitress in the carnival cafe. Lonely and desperate, she attempts to kill herself but is saved once again; this time by Paul the carnival puppeteer (a dashing Mel Ferrer in a fine performance) who speaks to her through his puppets, kindly Carrot Top, vain Marguerite, wily Reynaldo the Fox and innocent Horrible Henry the Giant. Paul, a former dancer, crippled years earlier in an accident, is full of anger and resentment but takes pity on Lili, who is so charmed by the puppets that, like a child, she forgets his presence.
The film explores their turbulent relationship as Lili becomes the star of the Carnival, charming patrons with an uncanny ability to speak to the puppets as if they are real. Complications arise as Paul begins to realize his own affection for Lili, while Lili continues to be infatuated with the magician, who's assistant (Zsa Zsa Gabor) is his wife.
With fine performances all around and an unusual atmosphere, the film has something of a cult following and is highly regarded for its frank and emotional nature. With its full-color cinematography, adorable puppets and carnival setting, this film might be mistaken for a children's story but deals, rather, with powerful adult themes. LILI may seem tame by today's standards, but given the conservativism of the 1950's as well as the strict production code in force at the time, LILI is rather shocking.
There is a very unusual dream sequence late in the movie which attempts to explore certain aspects of Lili's psyche through dance. This sequence is not entirely successful, but manages to get its point across and leads directly to the film's moving final moment. It's subtle treatment of a difficult subject is inspiring. The loss of innocence, the retreat from childhood and the desperate need for someone to love prove compelling subjects in a film that is, though imperfect, haunting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Lili' opens in the bright atmosphere of a French town with a likable
16-year-old orphan looking for a job with her deceased father's old
friend... Lili soon discovers that the place is close and the baker
with whom she came to work with has died a month ago...
With no money, no family, and no place to go, Lili meets Marc, a delightful entertainer who offers her a job as a waitress in a traveling carnival show...
Marc's hilarious blend of comedy and magic leaves the wistful Lili roaring with laughter... Marc is breathtakingly good on stage... He is blessed with the fastest hands in the business... Lili is fired, that same night, for spending too much time watching his whole act...
Feeling intensely sad, hopeless, drained and helpless, Lili thinks of killing herself... She begins to climb a highly wooden staircase, ignoring a gently voice calling her to come along... She is distracted by a group of character puppets, who helps her forget her sorrow...
Lili is introduced to Carrot Top, the interesting fellow capable of running his life and everybody else; to Golo, the cowardly giant longing to be loved; to Reynaldo, the thief and opportunist full of compromises and lies; and finally to Marguerite, the vain, jealous beauty obsessed with self...
Childishly happy with the colorful puppets, and not realizing that she is having a big impact, Lili receives the ovation that ignites her creative spark, responding to the four unique puppets losing herself in their questions and imaginations...
When she is asked to sing, Lili belts out an old song of love... The entire company of puppets behind her joined in for a stirring chorus... This was executed to perfection that night - accompanied by the waltzing music of the accordion...
The show is a hit! Lili's childish manner proves she can entertain, persuade and appeal...
But Lili remains dazzled by Marc, who reinforces his spoken humor with visual effects... She dislikes the boss, Paul Berthalet, believing him to be cruel, heartless, frustrated and always angry...
Mel Ferrer had the talent for improvisation... He uses his puppets with humor, voice sound effects, stories and more...He captures Lili's heart and soul... And by speaking through his models he was able to express his anxiety, curiosity, austerity, and confusion...
Lili, touched by the magic of romance, comes to understand the meaning of love much later... She tells Marcus: 'I've been living in a dream like a little girl, not seeing what I didn't want to see.' She discovers that the love exuding from her adorable puppets comes from the loves of that unreasonable, mean, jealous, bitter puppeteer...
Jean-Pierre Aumont adds his charm to the whole story, and remains the beautiful magician armed with an exceptionally likable stage personality...
Kurt Kaszner continues to be Paul's loyal and peaceful friend who explains to the delicate girl that the boss had once been a great dancer until his leg was injured in the war and could no longer dance...
Zsa Zsa Gabor behaves as the glamorous assistant whose fervent desire is to reveal to everybody her secret...
Charles Walters' motion picture is not very musical, but his film culminates in a delightful dream ballet... Caron demonstrates a graceful dancing...
The movie received six Academy Award nominations including Leslie Caron as Best Actress in a Leading Role, and won the Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, and accommodated the hit song "Hi Lili, Hi Lo.'
First of all, to correct a comment made by at least one person here, the movie came before the stage musical "Carnival." Second, the movie is far superior to the stage musical. True, it's short. So? True, there's just one song. But the one song, "Hi-Lili Hi-Lo," is better than anything in "Carnival." So much for comparisons. The movie absolutely defines movie magic. It creates an unforgettable world with an unforgettable heroine played with genius by the great Leslie Caron in a performance nominated for an Oscar and deserving of a win (she was beaten by the charming but less-inspired Audrey Hepburn). Anyone who passes up the chance to see "Lili" is denying themselves one of the prime treats in all of cinema. I've seen it countless times and never fail to laugh and cry. But where is the DVD??? Give, already!
Of all the popular overblown, oversexed "coming of age" movies (mostly
about male coming of age - starting with "The Summer of '42"), none has
the honesty and truth of "Lili". Why? Because coming of age has less to
do with sex (as most men think) than it has to do with an awareness of
evil. The most telling line in the film is spoken by Paul's partner,
who chides Paul for slapping Lili and says, "She is realizing that
there is cruelty in the world, and she is learning to protect herself
from it." Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, Lili's loss of innocence
comes with her knowledge of evil, not her loss of virginity.
And unlike other coming of age movies that have the young actors tossing around "cute" sexual comments that don't ring true for a callow young person (because they were obviously scripted by a jaded 50-year-old male), "Lili" rings true with every note (as Paul says, "She's like a little bell that gives off a pure sound every time you strike it."). Her naivety is far more true to form -- when she is warned by one of the puppets that the lecherous puppet Renaldo "is a wolf", the innocent Lili replies, "I thought he was a fox." This is exactly the way a kid would really respond -- not "getting" the sexual reference and thinking that the comment was about the species of the animal.
I understand Audrey Hepburn beat out Leslie Caron for the Oscar that year with her amateurish performance in "Roman Holiday" -- what a travesty that was, since Audrey's performance had none of the depth and exquisite vulnerability of Leslie's performance in "Lili".
"Lili" is one of the sweetest, most enchanting musicals Hollywood has ever
produced. Not that most of the Hollywood musicals are ever realistic, but
this particular story is more of a fable than an imitation of life. The
character of Mel Ferrer is reminiscent of the Beast in "the Beauty and the
Beast", a tortured soul aching for love, and as any girl worth her salt
would know, tortured souls make the best kind of heroes!
The two dance/fantasy sequences are charming, especially the latter one, where Lili grows from an awkward, love-sick child into a woman of character and determination, all in a few steps of waltz. Oh, and the puppets are totally adorable!!
Last night, driving with a friend, she popped a CD into the player in her
car and Jimmy Durante's voice sang a song I had not heard in about 35 years
- "Hi-Lili Hi-Lo." The emotion of this movie that I saw as a young child,
perhaps six years old, came rushing back to me.
I don't remember a lot of things from when I was six but I do remember being entranced and a bit haunted by the movie Lili. I was easily able to relate to Lili's encounter with the puppets that became her confidants and friends when the adult world became too hard to handle. The initial charm of the magician character that, as all too often became the case for people in my young life, turned to emotional unavailability. The course by which Lili's fear of the puppeteer gets dissolved through understanding. And most of all the hauntingly beautiful song and dance sequence.
I don't remember much of the plot but I am very much looking forward to seeing this movie again. If it was available on DVD I would immediately buy it for my own children.
"Lili", based on Paul Gallico's "Love For Seven Dolls", is one of the most delightful films ever. Leslie Caron deserved her Academy Award nomination as "Lili". The ballet sequence at the end of the film in which each puppet turn into Paul, the puppeteer, making Lili realize she loves him is magical. "Lili" was the basis for a big, lavish Broadway musical "Carnival" that lost the basic beautiful simplicity of the original. This film is a classic and deserves to be. The puppets are magnificent.
This is one of my all time favorite movies, and I have taken every occasion to see it again after the first time in 1953. Leslie Caron is perfectly cast as the homeless orphan who falls in with a circus troupe and becomes part of their puppet act, only to fall in love with the embittered puppet master. In the end, the lovers get together after Lili (Leslie Caron) gets to display her ballet dancing talents.
In 1953 I was 5 and LILI was my favorite movie. My parents were cool enough to take me to see it 3 (THREE!) times and they even bought me the soundtrack record. I'd try to see it every time it played on TV over the years (not very often) and at college screenings. I taped it when it was on PBS not too long ago and now my granddaughter who's 5 loves it too. Talk about genetics! This is a wonderful, haunting story. Leslie Caron is PERFECT in the title role. The puppets are fabulous and the rest of the cast are brilliant. PLEASE see this if you enjoy "simple" romantic stories with no special effects, nudity, bad language, nor violence! Interestingly I have been married twice, my first husband was a puppeteer and my second (present) husband is a magician. Hmmmm...
This movie is my favorite movie of all time! The innocence and sweetness conveyed by Leslie Caron in this movie is supreme! You'll find no other film like it! Personally, I think it is better than an American in Paris. The reasons why I like it are almost inexplicable, however. I first watched it at age 16. Afterwards I felt like the world was a wonderful thing and that there was still purity in the existence. Leslie Caron's virginal character is so convincing that she doesn't even need to say anything to make the viewer feel that she is truly good. Mel Ferrers performance is also noteworthy. The chemistry between these two characters is real. This movie is often overshadowed by Leslie Caron's more popular films (such as an Gigi). However, I recommend that all movie lovers watch this film.
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