The Warner Archive recently released the charming 1953 film Lili, starring Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer. Much lauded in its time, Lili won the Academy Award for Original Music Score, and was nominated for several other, inlcuding Leslie Caron for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Charles Walters for Best Director, as well as Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography (Color), and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Lili is not strictly a musical, but because of its award-winning song “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo,” its colorful and fanciful costumes and setting, and an extended dream sequence, has the feeling of a classic Hollywood movie musical. Director Walters, a veteran of such films (Easter Parade, Summer Stock, and The Glass Slipper, which also starred Leslie Caron), certainly helped in this regard.
Lili was based on a 1950 short story, “The Man Who Hated People,” by Paul Gallico. He later expanded the story into a novella, The Love of Seven Dolls. Lili also found itself turned into a stage musical, Carnival, in 1961.
The film tells the story of a naïve young orphan girl, Lili (Caron). Homeless, Lili joins a carnival at the suggestion of its star, Marcus the Magnificent, a magician (Jean-Pierre Aumont) with whom she immediately falls in love, but who, although he constantly flirts with her, has no feelings for her. When Lili loses her job she goes to Marcus for help, but he carelessly tells her to go back to where she came from. Despondent and friendless, the girl considers suicide, but the show’s puppeteer Paul (Mel Ferrer) is able to stop her by getting her attention through his puppet characters — Carrot Top (a boy), Reynardo (a fox), Marguerite (a ballerina), and Golo (a giant).
Lili soon becomes so enthralled with each puppet that she sees them as real. She begins to interact with them, and not only frees herself from her problems but also delights the growing, observing crowd. Paul and his assistant Jacquot (Kurt Kasznar) quickly add her to the act. But will Lili ever stop caring for the narcissistic Marcus (who is actualy married to his assistant Rosalie, played by Zsa Zsa Gabor) and realize that Paul, who she calls “the angry man,” may actually have much deeper feelings for her?
The DVD of Lili is viewable in all regions, with a running time of 81 minutes. The image is 4 X 3 full frame, with an original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. There are no other extras on the made-to-order DVD. Although the story includes some mature themes of despair, homelessness, and negative feelings, the experience of watching the G-rated Lili can only be described as delightful and uplifting. Caron’s gamine charm is perfect. The fairy tale-like Lili is truly a lovely film, to be enjoyed by all ages.