An American in Paris (1951)

Passed   |    |  Drama, Musical, Romance

An American in Paris (1951) Poster

Three friends struggle to find work in Paris. Things become more complicated when two of them fall in love with the same woman.




  • Leslie Caron in An American in Paris (1951)
  • Gene Kelly in An American in Paris (1951)
  • Gene Kelly in An American in Paris (1951)
  • Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in An American in Paris (1951)
  • Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in An American in Paris (1951)
  • Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in An American in Paris (1951)

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22 February 2008 | ackstasis
| "That's quite a dress you almost have on."
There's no other way to say it: I am disappointed. After absolutely falling in love with 'Singin' in the Rain (1952)' – a film that singlehandedly ignited my newfound passion for musicals – I, perhaps unreasonably, expected to enjoy Vincente Minnelli's 'An American in Paris (1951)' just as much. Gene Kelly? Music by George Gershwin? Winner of six Oscars, including Best Picture? A clear home-run… or so I'd thought. For almost two hours I waited patiently for the film to hit its stride, but the moment never came, and I finished the film completely unsatisfied, feeling as though somehow it was my fault rather than the picture's. That there's merit in many of the film's musical numbers is undeniable, but, for some reason, all the pieces never quite came together for me, and the love story at the film's centre struck me as being rather generic and uninspired. Gene Kelly, of course, brings an incredible energy to his role as always, and his character exhibits a likable arrogance that gives way to unabashed exuberance once the music starts playing.

As is unfortunately the case in many musicals, the filmmakers seem to have dedicated all their efforts towards the extravagant musical sequences and forgotten that there is ultimately a story to be told. The romance between Jerry Mulligan and Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron) is one that we've seen many times before, and its mundaneness is amplified by the fact that nineteen-year-old Lise is neither as beautiful nor as charming as the film's characters appear to find her {though, in Caron's defence, this was the French actress' debut performance, and she may be acting in a language with which she was uncomfortable}. The awkward three-way relationship between Jerry, Lise and the charming Frenchman Hank Baurel (Georges Guétary) could easily have been played for enormous laughs, but the opportunity is abandoned after just two brief chuckles {with Oscar Levant, the passive onlooker, clumsily spluttering drink all over his shirt}. Such contempt is apparently shown for the story that entire subplots are shamelessly disregarded at the film's end – does Jerry achieve success with his exhibition? Does Adam Cook ever achieve his dream of performing at a concert?

This brings us to the musical numbers, which are thankfully the film's saving grace. Though none of the sequences begin to approach the timelessness of "Singin' in the Rain," "Make 'Em Laugh" or "Good Morning," they are obviously well-written and performed with bravura by the film's stars. My favourite number was probably Kelly's catchy rendition of "Got Rhythm" with the French street kids, which had a good beat and was fun to sing. This film's most ambitious sequence is undoubtedly a wordless, seventeen-minute ballet set to Gershwin's "An American in Paris." Costing a staggering $500,000, the extended dance number is audacious, elaborate and extravagant, effectively earning my admiration despite my inclination towards singing over dance {I typically prefer being able to sing along when I'm watching musicals, which is impossible when they are performing a ballet}. Displaying Technicolor in all its flamboyant brilliance, it's no surprise that the film won Oscars for its cinematography, set decoration and costume design. Had it possessed a decent story, 'An American in Paris' might have been a terrific musical, but, as it stands, I'll continue to regard it as a disappointment.

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