American in Paris, An (1951)

“What gets me is, I don’t know anything about her.”

American in Paris Poster

Synopsis:
An aspiring painter (Gene Kelly) in post-WWII Paris, living in the same building as his piano-playing buddy (Oscar Levant), is discovered by a beautiful patroness (Nina Foch) who hopes Kelly will become her new lover; meanwhile, Kelly falls in love with a shopgirl (Leslie Caron) he spies in a restaurant, not realizing that she’s engaged to the man (Georges Guétary) who kept her safe during the war.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, it’s too bad that the “potentially interesting storyline” for this “lavish M-G-M musical” is “given short shrift by Alan Jay Lerner”, who fails to exploit what should be the “intriguing relationships” between the four romantic leads. He argues that “instead of a steamy, complicated love affair between Kelly and Caron… their romance is movie-musical predictable” and “too proper”, and he notes that “Caron’s character, who no doubt had an interesting past, is very artificial”. He accurately points out that while “it’s nice to see her dance” (she’s given a clever introduction in a colorful montage early in the film), she “doesn’t yet look like a romantic lead”; he quips that “they hadn’t figured out her makeup, I suppose”, which isn’t all that far off the mark, given that she’s not nearly as attractive as she appears in her later films.

Peary further posits that “Minnelli’s elegant balletic style of dancing is too tame for [Kelly]” — though he concedes that Kelly is finally allowed to “let loose in the extravagant 20-minute musical finale” which features “several striking ballet interludes”; he notes that with its “imaginative use of color, costumes, and sets to create scenes in the styles of French artists … it is [indeed] one of the best production numbers in cinema history”. He argues that “the other, shorter song-and-dance numbers shouldn’t suffer so badly in comparison” — but I don’t quite agree with this sentiment; I’m fond of Kelly performing “I Got Rhythm” with a group of street kids, as well as his joy-filled tap dance routine to “Tra-la-la (This Time It’s Really Love)” in his friend Jerry’s apartment.

The primary problem with An American in Paris is its insufficiently developed storyline. Kelly’s crush on Caron is so paper-thin (especially given, as noted above, that she’s not particularly stunning — and he doesn’t see her opening dance sequence, as we do) that we simply can’t understand his instant obsession; meanwhile, Levant’s character is little more than a standard comedic foil, and Guetary is essentially a one-dimensional sap. What we’re left to enjoy are the stunningly vibrant Technicolor sound stage sets, fun costumes (particularly during the black-and-white ball), the Gershwin brothers’ incomparable score, and world-class dance routines — but without a suitable narrative to back all this up, An American in Paris comes up sadly short. It’s certainly worth at least a one-time look, but hasn’t endured as one of the best MGM musicals.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Caron’s impressive dancing in her cinematic “introduction”
    American in Paris Caron Opening
  • Kelly performing “I Got Rhythm”
    American in Paris I Got Rhythm
  • Vibrant Technicolor cinematography
    American in Paris Caron Technicolor
  • Impressive sets and costumes
    American in Paris Costumes
  • The justifiably lauded ballet finale
    American in Paris Finale2
    American in Paris Finale

Must See?
Yes, once, as an Oscar-winning (if flawed) classic.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

One Response to “American in Paris, An (1951)”

  1. A once-must, for its place in cinema history. But I am not really a fan. This is what I just posted in the facebook ’40-’50s in film group (which kind of covers my feelings on this film):

    [This is a contrary opinion – considering it’s a Best Picture winner and all. I love the last 15+ minutes of this movie. The ‘American in Paris Ballet’ is truly a spectacular extravaganza that’s lovely, and a marvel to watch. …Unfortunately,. there’s a whole (other) movie that comes before we get to that. I should qualify: Early on, there’s a charming sequence in which Leslie Caron’s character is introduced in multi-faceted fashion as she is described for us. And midway, Oscar Levant is given a refreshing sequence in which he not only plays Gershwin music beautifully but also brings comic relief: the vision of him as all members of an orchestra plus the conductor. …BUT…Alan Jay Lerner’s story and dialogue are horrendous! Because of that, every time I watch this movie, I start falling asleep. It happened this time too, but I managed to pull myself together enough to finish the film. Maybe some people like a simple story. OK. But does it have to include that lengthy, boring sub-plot of wealthy Nina Foch foaming at the mouth as she slavishly orchestrates getting into Gene Kelly’s pants?! Mon dieu!!!]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.