To be honest, I’ve pretty much said all I had to say about this misbegotten mess in the lead-in. It really is nothing but a vanity project for Jackie Gleason. The concept and story is his. The overbearing musical score is his. He’s onscreen nearly all the time. My guess is that he believed that the little mime skits he did on his TV show qualified him to do an entire film in mime. Unfortunately, what works for three minutes does not necessarily work for 90. The whole idea of taking on Chaplin is grounded in a complete misunderstanding of Chaplin’s Tramp. The Tramp is clever, quick, resourceful — and not above petty acts of meanness. Plus — and this is key — the Tramp never begs for our sympathy, but lets it grow out of the story. Gleason’s Gigot (meaning “leg of mutton,” though “leg of ham” would be nearer the mark) is a simple-minded buffoon. He exists mostly to be tormented by the other characters in the film — nearly all of whom are mean beyond all reason.
Gleason mostly plays the character as an oblivious blank, only becoming somewhat active with the introduction of the little girl (Diane Gardner) and her prostitute-without-a-heart-of-gold mother (Katherine Kath). The obvious idea is that the interplay between the little girl and Gigot will warm our hearts. (I have to note that the film has amassed a number or ardent admirers on the IMDb, whose hearts were touched by this manipulative treacle.) Problem is they do nothing much to earn our sympathy. Gleason has a very limited repertoire of mime antics — mostly grounded in his lack of intellect with outbursts of really embarassing dramatics. The little girl, while cute, has even less range. No one gets much help from Gene Kelly’s direction, which is just as flaccid as it is in every movie where he didn’t have Stanley Donen as co-director. Kelly’s major contribution — apart from indulging his star — is to make the Parisian locations look good, which they admittedly do. Otherwise, this is strictly for Gleason’s most determined fans.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Gigot Sunday, Nov. 30, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.