Gigot (1962), starring Jackie Gleason
Simply put, Gigot is one of the finest films I’ve ever seen. The phrase that keeps coming to my mind is “Chaplinesque” — it’s cliched, and it’s trite, but it’s absolutely accurate. In Gigot, Jackie Gleason plays the title role of Gigot, a mute man living in Paris around the turn of the twentieth century. He is loved by children and dogs but picked upon by the various adults in the film. The first third of the film sets his character, as his landlady/employer gyps him of his wages as her janitor. “You lean too hard on the broom — you wore it out!” His ‘friends’ make him the butt of jokes, etc. In fact, the only adult who treats him with any kindness at all is the priest at the local Catholic church.
One night, after his ‘friends’ have used him as the butt of a practical joke again. This ends with their getting him drunk, Gigot is sitting out in the rain, alone. Walking home, he encounters a little girl named Nicole and her mother, both seemingly homeless. He demonstrates the largeness of his heart by taking them to his basement ‘home’ and sharing what little he has with them. Gigot quickly begins bonding with the little girl, becoming a surrogate father. The mother, a nasty-tempered, angry woman of the streets, threatens to leave multiple times. Only her poor health preventing her from leaving. There’s a scene, equal parts funny and heartbreaking, as Gigot spends his last money to buy the little girl a ride on a carousel at the park. He runs around the carousel to keep on eye on her, falling over items and people as his eyes are only on the little girl.
The heart of the movie happens when Gigot takes the little girl to the Catholic church. The little girl knows nothing of God, and the mute Gigot tries to pantomime the message of the Cross, to tell the story to her. He fails, and for the first time, we see this gentle giant become truly angry. He mutely yells at God about his affliction since he only wants to tell the girl about Him. The little girl quiets him, and blows a kiss to the Man on the cross, as she & Gigot leave. It’s a very tender, touching scene.
Eventually, the mother recovers enough to leave — unless Gigot can prove that he has a lot of money. Gigot is tempted and takes an opportunity to steal money from the till of the local bakery. Although he takes pains to pay for his cookies on the way out. The movie changes it’s focus slightly, as Gigot goes on a shopping spree, buying new clothes for the mother & Nicole, even getting a shave and a new straw hat. They go for a meal at the local restaurant/tavern, where his — friends — are incredulous at the sight of Gigot with money. Gigot generously buys drinks for the house and leaves a large tip when paying the bill.
Despite what Gigot has done, Nicole’s mother plans to leave the next morning to move back in with her old boyfriend, breaking Gigot’s heart. While the mother and boyfriend are gone, Gigot takes Nicole to an abandoned building. Once there, he plays music on an old Victrola and dances to it, to amuse the little girl once more. Unfortunately, the roof collapses on them, and Nicole is hurt. Not knowing where else to turn, Gigot takes her to the church, where the priest quickly calls for the doctor. Nicole asks for the music, and Gigot goes to retrieve the Victrola from the wreckage. On the way back, however, he’s spotted by the owner of the bakery. The townspeople, who now suspect him of the robbery, and a comedic chase scene ensues. It ends with Gigot falling into the river, presumably drowned, leaving nothing behind him but his wool cap.
The townspeople feel badly for how they have treated poor Gigot. They decide that the only way that they can make it up to him is by holding a large, lavish funeral for him. In life, Gigot loved funerals, and would always attend, even when he didn’t know the deceased. Gigot, it turns out, isn’t dead after all, and can’t resist the urge to trail his own funeral procession. This is a very comic scene. At the end, Gigot is the last person at the grave site, unsure of what to do. However, the townspeople see him and start chasing him again. Whether to imprison him or to apologize for how they’ve treated him in the past is up to the viewer, as the film ends.
Gigot is a wonderful film, both funny and heart-warming. If Jackie Gleason were to be remembered for only one film, it would be this one.