Premiered on TNT, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2004.
Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hours 42 min.
Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 2; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God;
be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering[a] and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces[b]
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
You might recall that in the summer VP I ran a photo feature of a film that I wished were available on video, Jackie Gleason’s classic 1962 film Gigot. What a surprise to receive a screener for a new TNT film, The Wool Cap, based on Jackie Gleason’s story! I think the TNT folk say “story,” rather than “film,” because the current work is definitely not a reworking of the old movie, so different is it in both plot and tone. Gleason’s film, set in Paris, has more of a naïve or fantasy tone, with the mute Gigot standing in the long line of film and literature’s “Holy Fool” tradition. The new film, which talented William Macey both stars in and co-wrote (with Steven Schachter), has far more of a gritty or hard edged tone, and is set in Manhattan or some other Eastern city a bus-ride away from Philadelphia. I almost wish I didn’t know the film was inspired by Gigot, as I might have enjoyed it more.
Charles Gigot (William H. Macy—he gives the character a first name this time) is the superintendent and janitor of a run-down apartment building, just as was the original Gigot, only this time far more competent. Thus he is awakened out of sleep early one morning by several tenants complaining about the water dripping, and then pouring, from their ceilings. He had told the owner about the problem, but the man had done nothing, so now Gigot is the focus of the tenants’ displeasure, especially when the ceiling of the top apartment caves in, the water falling all over the furniture and floor. However, this is but the beginning of a day filled with far greater troubles. Gigot becomes a marked man when he finds and throws away the cache of drugs of a teenager, and then a harried African American mother dumps her grade-school aged daughter Lou (Keke Palmer) upon him, promising to return soon as she scurries off with her addicted lover on an unspecified mission.
This Gigot is not the gentle naïf of the Gene Kelly-directed original, but instead a hard-edged Vietnam vet suffering from something in his past that has soured him on life and led him to seek escape in the bottle. Instead of reaching out to the little girl, as in the original, he openly resents her, clearly wanting her out of his way. Lu also is very different from the waif of the original: she is a street smart child who sees nothing wrong snitching whatever she takes a fancy to in a store. These two are on a collision course, and yet Gigot’s pet monkey is one of several factors that prevent a crash. The girl, never having been so close to such an exotic animal, at first is frightened of it, and only later, when the trio find themselves stranded in Philadelphia because Gigot’s wallet has been stolen (they have come to the City of Brotherly Love in search of Lu’s long-absent mother) and the monkey collects money from the crowd listening to Gigot play the harmonica, does she lighten up and contribute her dancing skills to the sidewalk show.
Thus the plot is far more complicated and Gigot’s travels far greater in this version. It is also darker, there being two deaths in the present, and one in the past that haunts Gigot. I kept looking for the church scene that was so memorable in the original, and was not disappointed, though its import is also different this time. Gigot has by now bonded with Lou and wishes to become her foster parent, but he cannot because of a felony conviction in the past—one involving the wrongful death of his young sister and also which led to his becoming mute. He goes to others seeking help, but his mistress Gloria (Catherine O’Hara) tells him that she too has an arrest-conviction; his old army buddy whose life he had saved is too tired from raising and educating his own children to take in one more child; and the father (Ned Beatty) whom he has not contacted for 28 years is still hurting from the crash caused by Gigot’s drinking, and which, as he put it, “took from me two children.” Having given up all hope of reuniting with Lou, who has been taken away from him and passed from foster home to foster home and now feels that he has abandoned her to the institution which she regards as a prison, Gigot throws the box of his family photos into the river. We almost expect him to follow, but instead, he takes off the old wool stocking cap he favors, and throws it in instead. It is night, and the streets are decorated with Christmas lights as Gigot trudges along. Then he spies the church.
The large doors swing open as if by themselves, seeming to bid him welcome. Then we see the two young acolytes who have pushed them. As Gigot enters the church, the boys prepare the candles for the coming Christmas Eve Service. A priest places the figure of the Christ child in the center of the large crèche set. Gigot looks around the lovely sanctuary, his eyes moist. Something catches his attention, and the camera, in a close-up, reveals what it is. It is an older translation of the fifth verse of Psalm 86, chiseled in capital letters above one of the sanctuary columns. It could not have been more appropriate for the overburdened derelict: “FOR THOU, LORD, ART GOOD AND READY TO FORGIVE, PLENTEOUS IN MERCY UNTO ALL THAT CALL UPON THEE.” What follows is deeply moving, guaranteed to moisten the eyes and get even the most jaded viewer ready for a deeper appreciation of the Holiday season.
Directed by Steven Schachter, the film is one that should not be missed. Alongside the sterling performances of William H. Macey and young Keke Palmer, there is Don Rickles as Ira, a curmudgeonly old tenant who is one of Gigot’s few confidantes. I am still longing for the release of the original Gigot, but this version will do nicely until the Jackie Gleason film is released. It will be difficult to miss The Wool Cap, because after its premiere on Nov. 21 it will be repeated at least five times later that week. There is no excuse for missing out on one of the best films to be seen on cable at the beginning of the Holidays.
1. How would you describe Gigot and Lou’s spiritual journey?
2. How do Gigot and Lou turn out to need each other? That is, what does each offer the other that contributes to their maturity and healing?
3. What do you think is the meaning of the wool cap? What is Gigot’s state of soul when he casts it away? Have you ever felt that way? What helped bring you out of such a state?
4. There is little or no God talk, and yet at what points do you see God at work in the story? How does the inscription in the church show the power of the Scriptures?