Cast & Crew
Jean Pierre Aumont
Zsa Zsa Gabor
In a small French town, the recently orphaned Lili Daurier arrives at the local bakery, only to discover that the owner, who had promised her father he would give her a job, died the previous month. The proprietor of the general store takes the destitute young woman in, but promptly makes a pass at her. At that moment, Marc, a member of a traveling carnival, comes into the shop to buy handkerchiefs and helps Lili get away. Lili then follows the debonair Marc and his friends, puppeteers Paul Berthalet and Jacquot, back to the carnival grounds, and begs Marc to let her stay with him. Marc gets Lili a job as a waitress at the carnival's cabaret, and that night, Lili watches, enchanted, as Marc performs his magic act, assisted by his glamorous partner Rosalie.
Lili is fired for neglecting her job, however, and when Marc offers no sympathy, she considers jumping off the acrobats' ladder. She is stopped by Paul, who speaks to her from behind the puppet stage and improvises a show with his puppets to cheer her up. The other carnival workers slowly gather to watch as Lili converses and sings with Paul's alter ego, the puppet Carrot Top. Recognizing the audience appeal of Lili's innocent charm, Paul and Jacquot incorporate her into their act. When he is not speaking through his puppets, however, Paul, who is jealous of Lili's infatuation with Marc, treats her coldly.
Lili privately asks Jacquot why Paul is so angry, and he explains that the puppeteer had been a famous dancer before his leg was injured in the war. The new puppet act is a great success, but Paul remains tortured by his feelings for Lili. One day, Lili is devastated to learn that Marc is leaving the carnival to take a job with a fine hotel. That night, Rosalie tells Marc that she refuses to go on keeping their marriage a secret. Marc leaves their trailer to escape her nagging, and Lili offers him coffee in the trailer that she shares with Paul and Jacquot. Marc flirts with Lili and is about to kiss her when Paul comes in. After Marc leaves, Paul berates Lili viciously. Lili notices that Marc has left his wedding ring behind and tries to run after him, but Paul misunderstands her intentions and slaps her.
Later, Paul is approached by Tonit and Enrique, who have been observing his act. Tonit, who recognizes Paul as the former dancer, offers him an engagement with Les Follies Paris. Paul is genuinely moved because Tonit praised his work as a puppeteer before learning about his injury, but Jacquot, who has come in with news for Paul, says they will have to consider the offer. After Tonit and Enrique leave, Jacquot tells Paul that Lili is leaving because of his cruel treatment. Meanwhile, Lili returns Marc's wedding ring and, after reproaching herself for her foolishness, says goodbye to the magician and his wife with great dignity. Lili prepares to leave, but as she walks by the puppet theater, Carrot Top calls out and begs her to stay.
Through the puppets, Paul expresses his affection, but when Lili suddenly pushes aside the curtains, he resumes his usual gruff manner. Lili sadly sets off on foot, but after walking a good distance, she realizes that the spirit behind the puppets she loves is Paul's. She runs back to the carnival and joins Paul in a joyful embrace as the puppets applaud.
Jean Pierre Aumont
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Eda Reiss Merin
Edwin H. Knopf
Mary Anne Nyberg
Wolo Van Trutzzchler
Paul E. Walton
Edwin B. Willis
Best Music, Original or Comedy Series
Best Art Direction
Best Writing, Screenplay
Lili (Leslie Caron) is a sad and lonely 16-year old orphan who joins a carnival and becomes involved with the members of the troupe: Marc (Jean-Pierre Aumont), a womanizing magician; Rosalie (Zsa Zsa Gabor), his sexy assistant; and Paul (Mel Ferrer), a crippled, embittered puppeteer. Unable to reach out to Lili, Paul can only do so through his puppets. Lili, simple and innocent, responds to the puppets as if they were human friends, and pours out her heart to them.
Lili is based on a 1950 magazine story by Paul Gallico, "The Man Who Hated People," about an anti-social television puppeteer. Gallico drew his inspiration from a then-popular television show, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, which featured the puppets of Burr Tillstrom. In 1954, the year after Lili was released, Gallico published a reworked version of this story as a novella, Love of Seven Dolls. The setting was changed to a carnival in France, but it was darker in tone than Lili.
Gallico was a prolific author who began as a sports writer, worked as a war correspondent, and wrote nonfiction, children's books, short stories, novels, and screenplays. Among the dozens of films based his work are The Pride of the Yankees (1942), The Clock (1945), The Three Lives of Thomasina (1964), and The Poseidon Adventure (1972).
Leslie Caron was a teenager dancing with Roland Petit's ballet company in Paris when she was seen by Gene Kelly, who chose her as his co-star in An American In Paris (1951). She was signed to an MGM contract, but had not had another role worthy of her talents until Lili. Caron's waifish charm, musical talents, and absolute conviction when acting with the puppets earned her rave reviews, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She lost to another charming waif, Audrey Hepburn, for Roman Holiday (1953).
Although he had directed Caron in An American in Paris, Vincente Minnelli was not impressed by Lili, and decided against directing it. Charles Walters, a reliable veteran of such musicals as Easter Parade (1948) and Summer Stock (1950) was then recruited to helm the project. MGM had no great expectations for Lili, and it was hardly a conventional musical, in spite of a catchy title song, "Hi Lili, Hi Lo," which became a huge hit. But the ads promised, "you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll love Lili"... and audiences did. So did the critics. The New York Times called it "a lovely and beguiling little film touched with the magic of romance and the shimmer of masquerade." Film Daily placed Lili sixth on "Ten Best" list for 1953. Even the curmudgeonly writer H.L. Menken, who considered movies a waste of time and rarely saw one, was persuaded to see Lili, and loved it. Along with Caron's Best Actress nomination, Lili was nominated for five other Oscars: Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, and Score. Surprisingly, "Hi Lili, Hi Lo" was not nominated for Best Song. Bronislau Kaper's lilting score, however, was the only Oscar winner for the film.
In 1961, Lili became the first film ever to be adapted into a Broadway musical, called Carnival, starring Anna Maria Alberghetti, James Mitchell as the magician, and Jerry Orbach as the puppeteer. It ran for 719 performances.
Director: Charles Walters
Producer: Edwin H. Knopf
Screenplay: Helen Deutsch, based on a story by Paul Gallico
Editor: Ferris Webster
Cinematography: Robert Planck
Costume Design: Mary Ann Nyberg
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Music: Bronislau Kaper; song "Hi Lili, Hi Lo," by Kaper and Adolph Deutsch
Principal Cast: Leslie Caron (Lili Daurier), Mel Ferrer (Paul Berthalet), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Marc), Zsa Zsa Gabor (Rosalie), Kurt Kasznar (Jacquot).
C-81m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
What the devil is the matter with you? You're in love with the girl and she's in love with someone else. This sort of thing happens all the time; people don't *die* of love. You'll recover... But meanwhile can't you be civilized about it?- Jacquot
The earliest known appearance of the famous yellow smiling face (usually associated with the words "Have a Nice Day") was in ad for this film in the New York Herald Tribune on 10 March 1953, page 20, columns 4-6. The film opened nationwide, and this ad possibly ran in many newspapers. "Today You'll laugh[smiley face] You'll cry[sad face] You'll love[Heart-shaped face] 'Lili'" (On a side note: That famous smiling face is usually attributed to artist Harvey Ball, but he did not draw his yellow-faced smiley until 1964).
In Paul Gallico's original short story, "The Man Who Hated People," the puppet show is not a carnival attraction, but rather a popular television program, and Crake, the puppeteer, is a former hockey player whose face was badly scarred in an accident on the ice. His assistant is a young actress named Milly, who develops a deep bond with the puppets, only to realize that she really loves their misanthropic creator. A modern source suggests that the story May have been inspired by the very popular television program Kukla, Fran and Ollie and star Fran Allison's improvised conversations with the puppets operated by Burr Tillstrom. In 1954, Gallico expanded his theme in a novella entitled Love of Seven Dolls, which introduced the French carnival setting but made the relationship between the puppeteer and the orphan girl darker and violent.
According to modern sources, Vincente Minnelli was originally asked to direct the film. In his autobiography, Minnelli wrote, "The sentiment wasn't that far removed from An American in Paris, and I wanted to take another creative path." Pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter reported that Leslie Caron would co-star with Ralph Meeker, Fernando Lamas and Ann Miller. According to an internal memo contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the studio had "someone along the lines of Michael Wilding" in mind for the role of "Marc."
In a modern interview, Caron claimed that taking the unglamorous role of the waif "Lili" was regarded by many as a disastrous career move: "I heard later that the whole studio laughed at me." Caron also related that M-G-M producer Arthur Freed approached her during filming one day and said, "I don't know what they're doing to you, but they're ruining the image I worked hard to create....I've got to do something to restore you to stardom. Any ideas?" Later Caron proposed a film adaptation of Gigi, having previously appeared in a nonmusical stage version of the Collette story in London. Freed eventually agreed, and the 1958 film Gigi became one of M-G-M's most successful musicals.
According to Hollywood Reporter's June 11, 1953 "Trade Views" column, M-G-M feared that the picture "might not have the necessary mass appeal." In his autobiography, Dore Schary, M-G-M's head of production, confirmed that executives in the studio's sales and distribution departments in New York dismissed the film as "an art-house picture" and declined to set a release date. Schary's friend, New York theater owner Harry Brandt, offered to run the film at his Trans-Lux Theatre if he was given exclusive New York exhibition rights, and Schary agreed. Lili went on to play for a year at the Trans-Lux, making it one of the few films to play so long at one theater. Schary recalled that under the terms of their agreement, M-G-M had to pay Brandt for the right to distribute Lili in Europe. Lili won the Academy Award for Best Score and received the following nominations: Best Actress (Caron), Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography (Color) and Best Art Direction (Color). Caron lost to Audrey Hepburn, who was at that time married to Caron's co-star, Mel Ferrer. The film was also honored as the best-written musical of 1953 by the Screen Writers Guild.
Lili was later adapted as the stage musical Carnival, which opened on Broadway on April 13, 1961 and starred Anna Maria Alberghetti and Jerry Orbach. The film score, including the popular song "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo," was replaced by an original score by Bob Merrill that featured the theme song "Love Makes the World Go Round." The musical ran for more than seven hundred performances and brought Alberghetti a Tony Award for her portrayal of Lili.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best American Films by the 1953 National Board of Review.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1953 New York Times Film Critics.
Released in United States Spring March 1953
Released in United States November 1990
Shown at Laemmle's Monica in the series "MGM Musical Festival" in Los Angeles November 16-22, 1990.
Released in United States Spring March 1953
Released in United States November 1990 (Shown at Laemmle's Monica in the series "MGM Musical Festival" in Los Angeles November 16-22, 1990.)