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An American in Paris

A movie directed by Vincente Minnelli

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Still some nice moments, but a film best kept treasured in memory

  • Feb 21, 2011
  • by
When I first saw An American in Paris years ago I thought it was wonderful. I agreed with all the rave reviews. Now...well, let's say I don't think it has aged well.
For me, more than any other factor, it's Gershwin's music that gives the film the charm and spontaneity it retains. Even so, the music has to fight against Minnelli's and Kelly's desire to establish that the film is "artistically significant" and that Jerry Mulligan is a heckuva guy. The result, looking at the film sixty or so years later, is to be caught a little off guard at how pretentious it feels.
Prominent in the credits are the words "And Presenting The American In Paris Ballet." How much more subtle and trusting of the audience if they'd let us discover the ballet for ourselves. That air of "look at what we're doing; aren't we great?" creeps in far too often. "I Got Rhythm," for instance, is in my opinion a number which reeks of being precious...all those little French tykes and Mulligan's grinning byplay with them comes across now as a calculated effort to provide a wow number for Kelly. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing except for the Kelly persona of a man who flips a switch for charm and looks like he flips the switch off as soon as a number is in the can. However, when Minnelli and Kelly are willing to take a step back and trust the audience, the results can be high quality. "Love Is Here to Stay" is sung and danced quietly. The number becomes a moment of feeling without a hint of pretension.
I suppose nowadays most of us come to the movie looking forward mainly to An American in Paris ballet. The ballet is over-stuffed with Minnelli’s brand of ripe lushness, which in some of his movies, such as The Pirate, can be stultifying. It works here in grand style because it’s based on the look of Dufy, Toulouse-Lautrec and all the other dead painters. Add Gershwin and it works. I'm not one who thinks Kelly was an outstanding choreographer. I think he was a first-class dancer but not the person or the choreographer he thought he was and wanted to be seen as. It's the spectacle of the ballet that is still worth watching. The one place where Kelly's choreography and talent as a dancer meet perfectly is in the Toulouse-Lautrec sequence. Here's Kelly in a tight apache outfit taking a pose, then strutting with his butt out, shaking his shoulders, staring at the camera. It's a great moment and I wish the rest of the dance numbers measured up to it.
For the rest of it, I think Caron is unformed but a likable gamin. Levant is tiresome. I'm never sure whether to smile at him or call 911. His Concerto in F sequence seems to be just more of Minnelli and Kelly wanting to make sure we all know the movie is high quality stuff. George Guetary may be a charming, lightweight talent, but he's good-natured and good company. His "Stairway to Paradise" number is a highlight. And although Nina Foch plays a man-eater, she's one of the best things about the movie. She was a fine and under-rated actress.
An American in Paris still has a number of things to enjoy, but I think it's at its best in our memory. 

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February 21, 2011
Nice review but I would give the film a +3. I agree that Oscar Levant is a bore but the opening scene with Gene Kelly in his tiny apartment is priceless. I also agree with you that the film has not aged as well as some others from this period but I love Gene Kelly and George Gershwin tunes so this is a film I still watch about once a year. Leslie Caron is OK but was never one of my favorites.
More An American in Paris reviews
review by . December 16, 2008
It's easy to understand why this was voted
The winner of a phenomenal 6 Academy Awards "An American In Paris" is clearly one of the great musicals of all-time.  Gene Kelly plays a an ex-GI and struggling artist named Jerry Mulligan who is barely surviving in a tiny upstairs room in post World War II  Paris.  He has fallen head over heels for a lowly shopgirl named Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron) but unfortunately for Jerry the object of his affection is aleady spoken for.    …
review by . February 12, 2008
This movie is more than a classic, it is a masterpiece. The dancing numbers are phenomenal, Gene Kelly is an amazing dancer and the number one reason to watch this movie. Yes, the relationships seem fickle and not fitting, but who cares?! This musical is absolutely excellent. The movie includes an 17ish minute ballet choreography featuring Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly. One of my favorite performances in this movie is by Nina Foch, who plays the rich heiress who is sponsoring Kelly's character (a …
review by . July 20, 2003
posted in Movie Hype
This is one of my favorite film musicals, together with Singin' in the Rain and Chicago. It received and richly deserved six Academy Awards in 1951, including one for best film. When you think about it, there are so many musicals which also offer delightful entertainment such as Meet Me in St. Louis, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Wizard of Oz, Show Boat, West Side Story, Cabaret, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Carousel, All That Jazz, and The King and I. It has been 50 years since An …
About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #32
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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About this movie


An American in Paris is a 1951 MGM musical film inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition by George Gershwin. Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, and Oscar Levant, the film is set in Paris, and was directed by Vincente Minnelli from a script by Alan Jay Lerner. The music is by George Gershwin, with lyrics by his brother Ira, with additional music by Saul Chaplin, the music director.

The story of the film is interspersed with show-stopping dance numbers choreographed by Gene Kelly and set to popular Gershwin tunes. Songs and music include "I Got Rhythm," "I'll Build A Stairway to Paradise," "'S Wonderful," and "Our Love is Here to Stay". The climax is "The American in Paris" ballet, an 18 minute dance featuring Kelly and Caron set to Gershwin's An American in Paris. The ballet alone cost more than half a million dollars, a staggering sum at the time.

A GI (Gene Kelly) stays in Paris after the war to become an artist, and has to choose between the patronage of a rich American woman (Nina Foch) and a French gamine (Leslie Caron) engaged to an older man. The plot is mostly an excuse for director Vincente Minnelli to pool his own extraordinary talent with those of choreographer-dancer-actor Kelly and the artists behind the screenplay, art direction, cinematography, and score, creating a rapturous musical not quite like anything else in cinema. The final section of the film comprises a 17-minute dance sequence that ...

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Director: Vincente Minnelli
Genre: Music, Musical
Release Date: January 1, 1951
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Screen Writer: Alan Jay Lerner
DVD Release Date: June 6, 2000
Runtime: 1hr 53min
Studio: Warner Home Video
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