An American in Paris (1951)
I was thinking back this past week to see if I could come up with a list of my favorite musicals. It's a genre that is usually overlooked and mocked in modern day cinema but many of the classics had toe-tapping numbers in them, for entertainment's sake only. The characters will burst into song or clumsily work their serenades into the act of tuning a piano or giving advice to younger more inexperienced people (I'm looking at you Bing Crosby). But the modern take on musicals is much more appealing, the songs add onto the story and the plot—see "Chicago", "Sweeney Todd" and "Les Misérables". I think that there is one musical from the era of spectacle, where dancing is for dancing's sake and singing is for singing's sake, that I actually this is great—"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". To those wondering, yes, I am putting it above "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music" and "My Fair Lady" and even "An American in Paris".
The need for music numbers appeared to be so great that many drama pieces randomly throw in a song—exemplified by "The Great Ziegfeld", a powerful drama that corrupted itself with its songs.
"An American in Paris" is right in the middle of the era of spectacle and it's no wonder to see Gene Kelly as the main man, Jerry Mulligan. Jerry is a painter who like most of the people in his profession, is a little short on money. He lives in Paris and claims that it is the most beautiful city in the world and that all his inspirations come from this foreign city...you see, he is the title character.
Then there's Adam Cook, a concert pianist who is also broke and lives in Paris for the allure of the city.
Lastly, there is a man named Henri Baurel who is the only man in this story that has any money, so naturally he has the girl.
On a chance meeting, the wealthy Milo Roberts takes a liking to Jerry and she invites him to come to her house and suggests that she become his sponsor.
In a short amount of time and many tap dancing songs later, Jerry meets the attractive Lise (Leslie Caron) and, like most movies, falls instantly in love with her. He harasses her and forces her to dance with him because, let's face it, that's the way to win any girl's heart. She rejects him but is smitten at the same time, no one says "no" to Gene Kelly.
"An American in Paris" is a show-off movie. It has a star cast, each one of whom is incredibly talented and each one gets the time to shine, even if it makes no sense and doesn't add to the plot. For instance Adam Cook, who is played by Oscar Levant, doses off and daydreams about a concert piece that he presumably wrote. We see him pounding, quite impressively, away at the piano and suddenly he's the conductor as well and then he's the violinists...it's all very cute and clever, but it does nothing but hold the movie from going anywhere for five minutes. There's also the "Singing in the Rain" random dream sequence dance that takes up well over ten minutes. This scene also seems to be a harbinger of "Inception"—yes, I see it everywhere.
For the dance numbers Gene Kelly is always in tap shoes and Leslie Caron is always en pointe...my ankles were hurting just watching the movie.
The humor is remarkably crass for a movie made in '51. Some of the songs lyrics include the delightfully censored "You're full of blah blah". There are hints at someone giving money in return for sexual favors and a woman is playing the best of two men...not the most family friendly musical but still fun.
While "An American in Paris" is mindless in its numbers and platonic in its "passionate" love scenes, you still have to admire the classiness of Gene Kelly and behold the spectacle that the film really is.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones