- Directed by Vincente Minnelli
- October 4, 1951 (New York City) / January 11, 1952 (US)
- Inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition An American in Paris by George Gershwin
While three friends struggle to find work in Paris things get complicated when two of them fall for the same woman. Oops!
I’m not big on musicals in general. My introduction to musicals were the ones where everybody in the town and surrounding 20 miles showed up and then dispersed in these unnecessarily large production numbers. Those strain my ability to suspend disbelief. I just can’t get into that so I went into this with a little bit of hesitation. Needless to say they keep the extras to a minimum which helped me to not only get through An American in Paris but enjoy it as well.
This is a fun and breezy musical starring the legendary Gene Kelly as American expat artist Jerry Mulligan who is living in Paris. The man is a dance legend. What we get on screen looks so effortless and natural. I guess that is why he is one of the greats. His Jerry Mulligan is a charming (and apparent) womanizer. This was the ‘50s and you could get close to that but not all the way there. And since he was the main character he was framed as not that bad really.
His friend and neighbor Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) is a struggling concert pianist and friends with Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary) who is dating Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron). What evolves is a love triangle with Jerry falling for Lise without the knowledge of Henri. You could get away with this in the ‘50s but not an overt womanizer. Hmmmm…
The music in An American in Paris is great. We have such songs as “Embraceable You,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Tra-la-la (This Time It’s Really Love),” and “Love Is Here to Stay.” All greats and ones, speaking anecdotally, that I have heard elsewhere long before ever watching this. They quite literally put a song in your heart.
There is a voiceover narration done by the characters as they are brought into the story and it as much fleshes things out as it is humorous. It breaks the fourth wall by addressing directly the audience and occasionally directing the camera. It is an element that has been used before and since but works especially well here. It also serves to quickly and easily establish the tone of the movie.
A special treat for me are the appearances of actors that have become a part of pop culture. All familiar faces to people of a certain age. Hayden Rorke (Dr. Alfred Bellows on I Dream of Jeannie). Noel Neill (Lois Lane in the two Columbia Pictures ‘40s Superman serials and AGAIN on the TV series The Adventures of Superman). Jazz musician Benny Carter plays a leader of a jazz ensemble. Madge Blake (Aunt Harriet on the TV series Batman and Margaret Mondello on Leave It to Beaver). Just a nice treat.
There is just enough depth to all the character to make them entertaining. They are likable people. You care about them, but they are not terrible examples of humanity. Even our chief womanizer Jerry isn’t truly a bad guy. To use a modern term he’s just having his fun when the right person comes along and realizes that it’s time to stop having fun and get serious.
An unintended appealing aspect to this movie is the glimpses of a world long gone. Pictures of Paris and the vehicles and the clothes. It is as close to time travel as we can get. And mercifully these real-world shots blend seamlessly with the rest of the film done largely on sets. The Hollywood fakery is not obvious.
The colors of the movie are bright and vivid. From that it gets an energy and a vitality that newer musicals lack. It makes you feel happy and makes the happy songs even happier. Dare I say this is basically a long form music video? I’m an American and I dare because that is what we do!
The main goal of An American in Paris is to entertain and bring joy to the viewer. It doesn’t seek to subvert viewer expectations or have a deep message other than go after love. It’s something Hollywood doesn’t make very much anymore and that element makes this refreshing. You’re left feeling good and hopeful when the credits start.
An American in Paris is one of the great old-school musicals. It’s fun and breezy. Kelly gives it a magic that only he could. It’s a crowd pleaser that you will visit again to get those good feelings back. If you’re looking to have a song in your heart and a smile on your face you can’t go wrong here!