American in Paris, An (1951)
Release Date: November 11th, 1951 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Vincente Minnelli Actors: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetary, Nina Foch
n American In Paris” is a simple love story at heart, gloriously embellished with lavish sets, majestic dance sequences, comedic interludes, and grandiose music. It’s one of the most enjoyable of all late-‘40s/early-‘50s musicals, featuring the striking talents of Gene Kelly and newcomer Leslie Caron, along with the voice of Georges Guetary and the piano skills of Oscar Levant. Poignant romance is illustrated through elaborate song-and-dance choreography that tops nearly everything that came before it; and, although considered an upset, the film went on to win the Best Picture Oscar for 1951. Even more incredulous is that the following year “Singin’ in the Rain” debuted and failed to receive any major nominations. Unexpectedly, the success of “An American in Paris” specifically overshadowed “Rain’s” premiere – though the last laugh would belong to the 1952 masterpiece, which is now widely considered the greatest musical of all time.
In Paris in 1945, ex-G.I. Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) stays abroad to live out his dream of becoming an accomplished painter. But the reality is that he’s regularly broke due to rarely selling his work (and his apartment consists of entirely collapsible furniture). Nevertheless, he knows every neighborly face on the block and can always find time to rejoice. His good friend and concert pianist Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) frequently joins him in the nearby café for some hearty song and dance, while Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary), a well-to-do nightclub singer, also stops by on occasion to partake in the festivities.
While Adam wiles away the days envisioning monumental recitals, Henri prepares for a trip to New York with his fiancée, Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron, introduced with an impressive collage of risqué ballet numbers). And though Jerry is soon spotted by a wealthy sponsor (Nina Foch), who is interested in more than just promoting his artwork and setting up his first exhibition, the happy-go-lucky artist becomes infatuated with a young shop girl he noticed at a restaurant. The catch is that the girl is the very same Lise engaged to Henri!
There are no clear-cut villains in this lighthearted musical, but with the establishment of an occasionally hilarious and oftentimes tear-jerking love triangle, someone has to lose out. The problem is that each of the main characters is an innocent protagonist – ultimately causing Lise to appear like the malefactor, gaily enticing two men simultaneously. Further adding to the promotion of too many leads is an opening narration alternated by three separate viewpoints, which is inventive yet disorienting.
But the story is primarily utilized to transition from one George Gershwin song to the next, allowing for the intermittently disconcerting romance to drift to the background. While few musical orchestrations are positively unforgettable, the dance routines are bold and spectacular. The highlight is the finale, an atmospheric and colorful showstopper that makes use of enormous sets built to represent various French impressionist painters, demonstrating an entire movie’s worth of symbolized seduction. Beautifully choreographed by Kelly himself, all of the agile footwork is ambitious and powerful and, ironically, only surpassed by his efforts the following year.
– Mike Massie