AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, 1958
Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary, Nina Foch, The American In Paris Ballet
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.
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Some musicals are more less known than others. After all, they can’t all be Rent. This one in particular received critical praise and was honored with six Academy Awards, but somehow gets lost in the shadow of Singin' in the Rain, Sound of Music, or Grease. Though it might not be as popular as the aforementioned musicals, it's still remembered fondly. An American in Paris (1951) features another brilliant display of talent by Gene Kelly and introduces newcomer Leslie Caron, in her first movie role.
It gets down to the root of musical theater, ironically, seeing as it’s one of the few musicals made as a movie before being made into a play. Its ‘Paris’ sets are clearly back drops in a Hollywood sound stage. Its costumes are simple and stereotypical. For instance, to show that Gene Kelly is in Paris, he sports a horizontally striped long sleeve shirt and beret. The plot is sparse and the characterization is even more minimal, but somehow it’s all ok. Its theatrical feeling works with the film and it doesn‘t try to be anything it‘s not.
The best picture winner, directed by Vincente Minnelli, stars Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan, an aspiring painter who has recently arrived in Paris. However, the luxurious life of an artist in the most romantic city in the world continues to be a fantasy for Mulligan and he remains a poor, starving artist instead. One day his luck changes when an older, wealthy woman, Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), offers to purchase some of his paintings. When Mulligan arrives at Roberts’ apartment, he believes she thinks he is a male gigolo and he becomes infuriated, threatening to take his paintings back. She clears up the misunderstanding, though still obviously having feelings for him. She becomes a mentor of sorts to the naïve Mulligan.
While out to dance one night with Roberts, Mulligan meets a young girl (but not too young) named Lise (Leslie Caron) and tries desperately to get a date with her. She refuses, leaving him devastated. He won’t give up though in the days that follow and continues pursuing her until she finally gives in. Though, she soon reveals that she’s engaged to someone else, breaking Mulligan’s heart. They all find themselves at a masked dress up party where everyone’s true feelings come out. The story ends with a strange 18 minute long dance sequence, flying through various sets and costumes. Apparently, it’s supposed to artistically show how Mulligan and Lise really feel about each other but comes off as a talent show for Kelly.
It’s hard to be too critical of this film because you can look at it two ways, from a critical film perspective or as a talent showcase. There are many areas of the movie that are just plain cheesy. It seems to get away with a lot of things that wouldn’t work today, but we must remember to place the film in historical context. It was acceptable to film movies that take place in exotic locations on Hollywood back lots and not to put much effort in trying to fool the audience otherwise. Movie fans during this era seemed to be more forgiving of these flaws and film makers seemed less touchy about stepping on the toes of cultural differences.
An American in Paris features some less popular tunes by George Gershwin, originally composed in 1928, the most recognizable probably being ‘I Got Rhythm.’ The film’s story was actually written around the songs. Like Singin’ in the Rain, which would come out a year later, Gene Kelly puts on a brilliant dance performance. You really don’t see dance talent of this magnitude anymore. Kelly could do every kind of dance and expertly, at that. "Dancing with the Stars" couldn’t stand a chance against him. Even though this film lacks in modern standard ‘film’ quality, Kelly’s dancing makes for some great entertainment.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS