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In the year of distribution (1951) of An American in Paris, I had just been
married. My husband and I saw the film, and laughed and cried over it. We
enjoyed the spectacular dancing, the vibrant colors of clothes and sets, and
the marvelous Gershwin music. We both swore that someday we would get to
Sadly, it was not to be for us, as my husband, Thanos, died 24 years later, having been sick for many years.
The following year an old friend invited me to visit him while he was on sabbatical from school. He had spent many years in Paris, teaching English there, and rented a little house in Neuilly. I said no, but all my friends said "GO! It's the opportunity of a lifetime." So I did, and fell in love with that glorious old city.
I cried because Thanos was not with me, and yet I felt he knew I had come here for both of us, and was glad for me. I have since visited the City of Light 5 times, and love it so very much. I am now too old and too disabled to do any more world traveling, but that city of romance is something that will always remind me of Thanos. That's why I still love to see the youthful Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron falling in love as WE were once young and in love - and the glorious city of Paris - the most beautiful place in the world!
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Vincente Minnelli directed some of the most celebrated entertainments
in cinema history... He was among the first Hollywood directors to show
that a profound love of color, motion and music might produce
'American in Paris' is the story of an ex-GI who remains in France after the war to study and paint... He falls in love with a charming gamine Lise Bourvier... Their romantic love affair sparkles as brightly as the City of Lights itself... The whole movie brings a touch of French elegance where technique, artistic style and music all come together in perfect synchronism...
The first musical sequence introduces the exciting personality of Leslie Caron in her screen debut... She is like a diamond, a touch of class... George Guetary describes his fiancée ambiguous grace in a montage of different dance styles, sweet and shy, vivacious and modern, graceful and awesome... The number leads to an unpretentious bistro, where Kelly and his very good friends in Paris share a gentle parody of Viennese waltzes... Later Kelly celebrates a popular tap dancing with a crowd of enthusiastic children singing with him 'I Got Rhythm,' and at the massive jazz nightclub Kelly spots the girl of his dreams... He is instantly hit by her sparkling sapphire blue eyes, and only one clear thing is in his mind, to pull Lize onto the dance floor and sing to her: "It's very clear, Our love is here to stay."
To the joyful 'Tra-La-La,' Kelly provides humor, wit and talent all around Oscar Levant's room ,and even on the top of his brown piano...
When he meets his pretty Cinderella along the Seine river, Kelly is swept away by his happy meeting with Caron... He expresses all his emotions with 'Our Love Is Here to Stay.' The piece had a definite nighttime feel as the two lovers were bathed in soft, blue smoky light... They start an enchanting dance-duet juxtaposing differing elements... Caron dances with her head on his shoulder, then tries to run away in a fluid way... They move backward, away from each other, then pause to rush toward each other, for a little kiss, and a warm hug...
The film's weakest numbers were those that bear little relation to the story... In one, Georges Guetary performs an entertaining stage show with showgirls in giant ornaments floating down to the stage... In another, Oscar Levant imagines himself conducting a concert, and playing not only a piano recital, but the other instruments as well... He even applauds to himself as members of the audience...
The extravagant climactic super ballet of the film is quite an adventure, a breakthrough in taste, direction and design... It is a blaze of love, fury and vividness... It is Kelly's major fantasy of his lost love and of his feeling about Paris as viewed through the huge backdrops of some of France's most Impressionist painters...
The number starts at the Beaux Arts Ball after Kelly finds himself separated from Lise, and begins a sketch with a black crayon... It gathers the important parts of the film's story through a constantly changing locations, all in the style of the painters who have influenced Jerry... The tour, richly attractive and superbly atmospheric, includes the Place De la Concorde Fountain, the Madeleine flower market, the Place De l'Opéra, to his Rendez-Vous at Montmartre, with the cancan dancers in a representation of Lautrec's Moulin Rouge...
Kelly seems to defy the boundaries of his physical self... Caron seems to dominate her space and sweeps you away to another time and place...
Nina Foch appeared very attractive and elegant in her one-shouldered white gown... In one of the film's most famous lines, Kelly asks her: 'That's quite a dress you almost have on. What holds it up?" Nina, cleverly replies, "modesty!"
'An American in Paris' garnered six Oscars, including an honorary award to Gene Kelly... The film gave us a wealth of memories to take home...
An American in Paris was, in many ways, the ultimate mixture of art and
Hollywood musical. Made at the height of MGM's powers as a musical
powerhouse, the film features memorable music from the Gershwins, who
rightly have been called the 20th Century's equivalent of Beethoven and
Gene Kelly was also at the height of his powers in this film, though it could be rightly argued that this movie was just the warm-up for his best work in Singin' in the Rain (1952). The two films are actually closely linked. Aside from the Arthur Freed connection, the Broadway Melody segment in "Rain" owes its existence to the incredible American in Paris Ballet sequence in this film. This might well have been the only time a dance number is specially mentioned in the opening credits of the film. And it deserved to be, as it showcases Gene Kelly's skills as a dancer and choreographer to their utmost degree.
The film's cast is uniformly excellent. Leslie Caron, incredibly making her film debut, shows a maturity that makes you think she'd been making films for years. Her introductory dance sequence, and later her work on the Ballet, provides some surprisingly sexy moments rivalled in MGM Musicals only by Cyd Charisse's work in Singin' in the Rain and The Band Wagon. Oscar Levant is hilarious as Kelly's stoic pal, who gets two of the film's best moments: during the end party sequence (which I will not give away for anyone who hasn't seen the film), and one of the film's most memorable musical numbers which couples his incredible piano skills with state-of-the-art (for the time) special effects.
Less memorable are Georges Guetary as Kelly's romantic rival, though he does get a few musical highlights, and Nina Foch as Leslie Caron's romantic rival. The May-December relationship between Kelly's character and Nina's reminded me of the same "kept man" relationship seen between George Peppard and Patricia Neal in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
There are a few elements of the film that made it less satisfying for me than Singin' in the Rain. The Ballet, though lavish and well-produced, doesn't really fit with the rest of the movie. Without giving away the plot, the Ballet just happens, with no real rhyme or reason. And unlike the Broadway Melody sequence, it really doesn't have anything to do with the plot -- and in the best musicals, the songs always have some sort of raison d'etre.
Making matters worse is the ending of the film which happens immediately after the Ballet. Although the ending shouldn't be a surprise (this IS an MGM musical, after all), I was hoping for a bit more ... movie after the Ballet ended. It's as if director Vincente Minnelli felt that he couldn't follow the Ballet with anything else. The film literally left me in the lurch.
That negative aside, An American in Paris rightly ranks alongside the best of Hollywood's musicals. It doesn't quite reach the heights of Singin' in the Rain, but it comes close and it remains a testament to Gene Kelly's skills as one of the greatest dancers of all time.
Don't get me wrong: the musical numbers are still top rate. Watching
Kelly dance anything from the tap on the sidewalks to the full blown
ballet at the end is still very much a marvel to behold. But the story?
Ehhhh... not so much.
Granted, plots in MGM musicals are pretty thin affairs anyway, little more than slight variations on their Broadway cousins (who, at the time, weren't anywhere near Shakespeare themselves!): stock formulae that involved a boy and a girl and a happy ending. But in American IN Paris, we're to somehow believe that Gene and Leslie are a perfect couple from their very first glance, even though it means trampling all over the feelings of the two people genuinely in love with these two (and Lord only knows why). Poor Nina Foch gets the worst of it: her storyline doesn't even get a proper resolution... and I'm not quite sure I hold to the idea that she wanted to make Kelly a "kept man": instead, she comes across as a woman who falls in love way too easily and has the cash on hand to help her man of the moment realize his own dream with little thought of her own. Certainly she gets twisted in all directions from the moment Kelly, spurned by Caron, shows up at her apartment, seemingly ready to accept her a "real woman"... only to discover that she's just a rebound relationship -- and we all know how well those work out, right? Meanwhile, the guy who's kept Caron's body and soul together comes across as the kind of nice guy that would do *anything* to keep his wife happy... even if it means giving her up for some schmuck he (and she!) barely knows. Again, we're looking at someone with a fierce sense of devotion and the means to create a perfect world for his intended... only to find out that she never really loved him like she said she did. I have little doubt that when his act finally *did* tour the States, it was a huge disaster, because it's difficult to sing something about a stairway to Paradise through a layer of bitter cynicism.
It's interesting that we have these parallel relationships, both set up along the same dynamics of one person totally in love and happy to lay out anything his/her partner wants, no matter the cost -- and that in both cases, the wealthy one, despite the integrity of his/her feelings, get dumped for a somewhat duplicious, deceitful little affair. Maybe, in some alternate MGM universe, these two unfortunate people found each other and got their own happy ending. I sure hope so.
I saw "An American in Paris" on its first release when I was still at school and fell in love with it straightaway. I went back to see it again the next day and have lost count of the number of times I have seen it since, both in the cinema and on TV. It makes fantastic use of some of the best music and songs by the greatest popular composer of the twentieth century (George Gershwin) and features the greatest male (Gene Kelly) and female (Leslie Caron) dancers in Hollywood history. The supporting cast of Oscar Levant (as quirky as ever), Georges Guetary (why didn't he make more movies ?) and Nina Foch (brilliant in an unsympathetic role) are at the top of their form. The closing ballet, superbly choreographed to the title music, makes excellent use of the sights and sounds of Paris and of the images of impressionist and post-impressionist artists. All the Gershwin songs are beautifully staged, but the most memorable are "It's Very Clear" (Caron and Kelly on the banks of the Seine) and "I Got Rhythm" (the kids of Paris joining Gene Kelly in "Une Chanson Americaine"). If you love Paris, see this movie. If you've never been to Paris in your life, see it. But see it !
I felt it necessary to respond to the comments posted on the front page
of this film's page because some of it was slightly misinformative.
Originally I posted quotes from the original poster, but I wasn't sure if it was proper given that this is the "comments" index and not a message board (though we used to use 'em that way back before IMDb added the film message boards) so I will edit this to make it unnecessary.
Well, first of all you may not be aware of this, but Gene Kelly first became famous for playing "Pal Joey" on Broadway in the original production. When Vincente Minnelli decided to make a Gershwin "panorama" film, he wanted Kelly's character to be more sophisticated than the "goody two shoes" roles he had been playing in most his films (with the exception of "For Me and My Gal"). Alan Jay Lerner was instructed to construct a new story set in Paris based on the story of "Pal Joey". This gave Kelly a chance to play his famous role from Broadway even though Warners had outbid MGM for the rights to "Pal Joey." In my opinion, the WB film "Pal Joey" is a wreck, though Sinatra was suitable for the role, but other problems sunk the film (script changes and poor direction. ===================================================
You complain that Kelly's pictures are not well done, even citing your art education to prove the point. But you miss the fact that Kelly's bad art was clearly designed to be bad, and it is necessary for the story/characters. The pictures are so bad, the audience knows that Kelly isn't ready for an exhibition. Even he knows it, though Milo has sort of sugared him up to the point where he almost believes her. But it's important that the audience not be sitting there saying "but, he's a great artist, if he only had the chance!". You want the audience to be fully aware of his deficiencies.
Then you complain that he sabotages his interest in the show; again you are not understanding the structure of the story. He refuses because he doesn't want to feel like a gigolo, and because he knows he's not really ready for the exhibition. His enthusiasm for the exhibition is certainly not as great as "Joey's" enthusiasm to "start a nightclub". But it serves the same function in the plot. Remember, it's essential in "Pal Joey" (the play) that Joey gives up his nightclub after he realizes that he doesn't deserve it. Same with the art show. If Kelly's paintings were actually good, it would undermine this whole point. ===================================================
Then you complain that Caron and Kelly have no "chemistry". I guess it's in the eye of the beholder. I agree, the chemistry between them is not as strong as it should be, but for me it was fine. Compare it to even worse "forced" romances like the one between Cary Grant and Sophia Loren in "The Pride and the Passion". ====================================================
When you say that the big dance finale has nothing to do with anything else in this film, it just shows that you haven't dug beneath the surface of the film into its symbolism. Many elements in the dance sequence relate to the story and characters, and through the dance the plot is resolved through images and symbolism. It's about finding love, enjoying love, then losing love (he looks around and his love is gone). The movements of the symphony are constructed so that part of each dance scene mirrors a separate phase of Parisian Art and also a separate phase of their relationships. If you didn't' see that, it's not the movie's fault. It's certainly not a "load of crap". ==================================================
Okay, so the plot is on shaky ground. Yeah, all right, so there are some
randomly inserted song and/or dance sequences (for example: Adam's concert
and Henri's stage act). And Leslie Caron can't really, um, you know...
But somehow, 'An American In Paris' manages to come through it all as a polished, first-rate musical--largely on the basis of Gene Kelly's incredible dancing talent and choreography, and the truckloads of charm he seems to be importing into each scene with Caron. (He needs to, because she seems to have a... problem with emoting.)
The most accomplished and technically awe-inspiring number in this musical is obviously the 16-minute ballet towards the end of the film. It's stunningly filmed, and Kelly and Caron dance beautifully. But my favourite number would have to be Kelly's character singing 'I Got Rhythm' with a bunch of French school-children, then breaking into an array of American dances. It just goes to prove how you don't need special effects when you've got some real *talent*.
Not on the 'classics' level with 'Singin' In The Rain', but pretty high up there nonetheless. Worth the watch!
Timeless musical gem, with Gene Kelly in top form, stylish direction by Vincente Minnelli, and wonderful musical numbers. It is great entertainment from start to finish, one of those films that people watch with a smile and say "they don't make 'em like they used to!" But they never did quite make them like this. The climactic 25 minute musical sequence without any dialogue is among the most beautiful in film history. Movie magic, clearly derived from the heart and soul of everyone involved. A must see!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(various spoilers follow)
Gene Kelly. Not Georges Guetary, who is sometimes criticized for being too young and un-French. Not Leslie Caron, who is sometimes criticized for her very green performance. Not even Oscar Levant, who more often than not annoys the dickens out of me.
No, it would definitely be Gene Kelly. There's something about his screen persona that's too ambitious and focused for him to be convincing as a penniless artist in Paris, content to put off facing the critics indefinitely, frolicking with little kids and old ladies and painting in the streets. That's what made him so effective in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and other movies where he played ambitious, focused characters. Jerry Mulligan is in some ways a cousin to Tommy Albright in BRIGADOON, another Lerner story with Kelly miscast as an American at loose ends who falls in love with a picturesque European place and an innocent female who embodies its virtues.
Except that Jerry isn't as likeable as even poor dazed Tommy. That's another galling thing about this film. Jerry is sometimes a cad to Milo, and even worse to Lise. When he first sees the latter at a club, he pulls a dirty trick to get her to dance with him. When she sits down again he pulls an even dirtier trick to get her phone number. When he calls her the next day she hangs up on him, which he takes as a cue to drop in at her workplace. And throughout all this it's obvious she wants NOTHING to do with him. When she starts laughing at his jokes in the perfume shop, it's about as believable as Milo's interest in his paintings. Sure he's good-looking and playful, but why should that sway her when she's got Henri, who seems like a gentleman to boot?
Admittedly it comes off so distasteful partly because of the actress. If a role like Lise was played by, say, Judy Garland, she would shower Jerry with indignant insults and glares. If she was played by Cyd Charisse, one would admire his guts. But when she's played by first-timer Leslie Caron she looks and acts like a shy, vulnerable teenager, and as a result Jerry just seems like a creep. And why DID they choose these other actors (though personally I'd rather they'd solved things by changing the lead) when the whole story hinges on the romance of these two young poor sweethearts disentangling themselves from their loveless commitments to older rich people? Not only is Gene Kelly a few years above Guetary and Foch, he's old enough to be Caron's father.
In short I think it all would have been improved by casting some young comedic-relief type dancer as Jerry, the kind that usually turned up in musical supporting roles...e.g. Ray MacDonald in GOOD NEWS or Bobby Van in SMALL TOWN GIRL. Maybe not them necessarily but someone LIKE them. Someone who could have chased Lise and made it seem harmlessly playful; someone who would have appeared genuinely happy living in that Chaplinesque hole-in-the-wall; someone whose humor and naivete would have contrasted better with Oscar Levant's sarcastic grumpiness. It probably also would have made the ballet seem less ponderous. And it might have provided a voice that could sing Gershwin better.
All this may give the impression that I don't like Gene Kelly. I do like him. He was terrific in most of his films, just not this one (well, and a few others). I don't despise AAIP itself, either; it has good points, like the art direction. And Leslie Caron, who despite her inexperience is rather charming, and really does look like she just stepped out of a painting. Georges Guetary does a fine job and his "Stairway to Paradise" is my favorite number in the movie. Nina Foch is beautiful and touching and should have ended up with SOMEBODY. But not Jerry Mulligan. I wouldn't wish that on her.
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