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Jerry Mulligan, a struggling American painter in Paris, is "discovered" by an influential heiress with an interest in more than Jerry's art. Jerry in turn falls for Lise, a young French girl already engaged to a cabaret singer. Jerry jokes, sings and dances with his best friend, an acerbic would-be concert pianist, while romantic complications abound. Written by
Scott Renshaw <email@example.com>
A famous painter was hired to create the paintings that Gene Kelly displays on the streets of Paris. See more »
Shadow tracks across Henri while he is seated singing "'S Wonderful", as the camera begins to pull back. See more »
This is Paris, and I'm an American who lives here. My name is Jerry Mulligan, and I'm an ex G.I. In 1945 when the army told me to find my own job, I stayed on. And I'll tell you why: I'm a painter, and all my life that's all I've ever wanted to do.
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Gene Kelly came up with some really grand ideas for musicals while with MGM. Here he's at the top of his creative powers working with the Arthur Freed musical unit. Hard to believe when you watch An American In Paris that the players never left the back lot at MGM.
The magic of An American In Paris is due to the creative editing under the direction of Vincent Minnelli and the sets that MGM designed blended with some background establishing shots. The idea of the film originated with Kelly who wanted simply to do a film with a lengthy ballet sequence involving George Gershwin's tone poem An American in Paris. It sounded good to Arthur Freed who approached Ira Gershwin who said fine with him as long as they used other Gershwin material.
Gershwin got the kind of deal for Gershwin music that Irving Berlin normally got. Not one note of non-Gershwin music is heard in An American in Paris. Listen to some of the background music and you will hear things like Embraceable You and But Not For Me which are not real musical numbers.
Another guy who was a fair hand at writing lyrics, Alan Jay Lerner, wrote the story which admittedly is a thin one. All about an ex-GI played by Gene Kelly who after World War II never left France, just settled into an apartment on the Left Bank and proceeded to become a starving artist. He lives with eccentric composer Oscar Levant and does that ever sound like a redundancy.
Two women are interested in him. Another expatriate American played by Nina Foch who wants to sponsor him as a painter if he'll reciprocate in other matters. But Kelly falls for a shop girl played by Leslie Caron in her film debut. Caron also has musical comedy star Georges Guetary interested in here.
Of course the plot is just an excuse to sing and dance to the music of George Gershwin. An American in Paris happens to be the first film I ever saw as an in flight movie on the first airplane trip I ever took. I still remember flying back from Phoenix Arizona to Kennedy Airport seeing Gene Kelly doing I've Got Rhythm. My favorite number in the film however is Tra-La-La which Kelly sings and dances all over the apartment with Oscar Levant playing the piano. At one point Kelly dances on top of the baby grand piano.
In a book about Arthur Freed, I read a quote where he said in the American in Paris ballet sequence was to be done with the background of the French impressionists which he felt the public would take to rather than a realistic setting on the streets or back lot. So it happened that way. Kelly had done lengthy ballet sequences in Words and Music, The Pirate, and On the Town. But this one topped them all. Still does in my opinion and that includes some of Gene Kelly's later films.
In a surprise upset at the Oscars, An American In Paris was chosen best picture for 1951, beating out the heavily favored A Streetcar Named Desire. I guess fantasy trumped realism that year. Big budgets also have an upper hand in these things as well.
Still An American in Paris is one of the best movie musicals ever done and since the studios no longer have all that creative talent under one roof, something less likely to be repeated.
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