Lili (1953)

Lili (1953)

“A song of love is a sad song.”

A sweet, simple orphan named Lili (Leslie Caron) falls in love with a womanizing magician (Jean-Pierre Aumont), and joins his carnival troupe to be near him. Meanwhile, a disabled dancer-turned-puppeteer (Mel Ferrer) is enamored with Lili, but afraid to show her his true feelings, and speaks to her through his puppets instead.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carnivals and Circuses
  • Coming of Age
  • Leslie Caron Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Mel Ferrer Films
  • Musicals
  • Orphans
  • Puppets and Ventriloquism
  • Romance

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, Leslie Caron is “truly captivating” in this “charming one-song musical” which was nominated for six Academy Awards. Indeed, as many reviewers have pointed out, Lili would not work without Caron’s magical performance; she literally lights up the screen, and we immediately care about her. But while Peary argues that the “sentimental story is skimpy and dated”, I disagree: I see Lili as a fable-like romance, in which two misfits eventually come to terms with both their naive dreams (Caron follows Marc around like an eager puppy, not recognizing him for who he really is) and their lost hopes (Ferrer is bitter about his dashed career as a dancer).

I also disagree with Peary that Caron is surrounded by “supporting players [who] aren’t particularly exciting”. Aumont is perfectly cast (and drolly amusing) as a womanizer who lusts after Lili, but recognizes that she’s still a child — I especially love the line when he tells her, “Lili, you mustn’t throw yourself at a man! It isn’t nice! Well, it’s nice, but you shouldn’t do it!” And Ferrer is appropriately moody as the brusque puppeteer; one of my favorite shots in the film shows his face behind the puppet booth after he’s first interacted with Lili — we can literally see his hard shell melting. Lili may be a simple story, but it’s finely told, and guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings if you let it. At the very least, you’ll be humming “Hi Lili, Hi Lo” for days afterwards.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Leslie Caron as Lili
  • Jean-Pierre Aumont as Marc
  • Lili failing miserably in her first attempt at waitressing
  • Lili interacting with the puppets
  • Lili’s dream dance, in which she competes with Zsa-Zsa Gabor for Aumont’s attentions
  • The touching final dance sequence
  • A clever, magical screenplay

Must See?
Yes. This Oscar-nominated musical is worth seeing for Caron’s performance alone.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


One thought on “Lili (1953)

  1. Not a must – except for budding ffs, for whom it serves as a fine intro to MGM musicals and contains valuable life lessons. Though even for such younger viewers it may be a bit dark (esp. when Lili considers suicide; as well, the lyric “A song of love is a sad song…”, though backed by a lilting melody, is something of a downer).

    While I don’t agree with Peary that the story is “dated” and the “supporting players aren’t particularly exciting” (Aumont, esp., is extremely charming and manages to keep his ‘Marc’ from being a complete heel; as Jacquot, Kurt Kasznar nicely underplays compassion), I’ve grown a little too cynical to appreciate Caron’s slightly stuttering ‘waif thing’. (Maybe the problem there is that Caron – 21 at the time – is trying a little too hard to be the character’s age of 16. As well, the character seems a little too old to be that simple.)

    Did Woody Allen ask Mia Farrow to watch Caron’s performance when she was preparing for her own leading role in ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’? Hmm…

    Points for terrific puppets and director/choreographer Walters’ fantasy dance sequences.

    ‘Lili’ served as the basis for the long-running Broadway musical ‘Carnival’ – which, admittedly, has a charming score.

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