Director Vincente Minnelli returns to this blog! I’ve seen five of his films, one I’ve reviewed here (Father’s Little Dividend) and only two I’ve enjoyed (Dividend and The Long, Long Trailer). I don’t seem to connect with his musicals as all of the musicals of his I’ve seen (Gigi, The Band Wagon and this) were too long and tedious for me. Oddly enough An American in Paris is listed on Premiere’s list of the twenty most overrated films of all time and I really have to say that’s true in this case. I honestly don’t get what makes this movie so special? Stars Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron are beautiful dancers but when they actually have to act romantic I felt no chemistry. The rest of the acting is equally blase and while the location is amazing it’s not used to full effect (probably due to not being filmed on location). An American in Paris is the go-to film if you need an example of an overblown musical. Sorry if I broke a lot of hearts.
Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is a painter living in Paris. One day his art is discovered by a lonely heiress (Nina Foch) who falls in love with him. Complications arise when Jerry falls for the beautiful Lise (Leslie Caron) who happens to be dating a wealthy playboy (Georges Guetary).
What can be said about Minnelli’s musicals is his ability to imbue the plot with a sense of quirk. Throughout the introduction of the film you see how eccentric each of the characters are, giving them an added layer of individuality. When you first meet Jerry his apartment is small leaving him to have items that provide three or four uses. His turn to his pantry which includes a table that turns into something else is an effective bit of humor and stage business as Kelly looks so casual setting things up.
Kelly is the heart of the film and the main reason to watch. I don’t care for this movie but I’ll give Kelly another credit leading him to my Hall of Fame because I enjoyed him. His dancing is astonishing but what do you expect from a Gene Kelly movie? He plays a myriad of different personalities, all with aplomb, from lovesick to smart aleck. The best moment has to be his performance of “I Got Rhythm” with a group of children. Sure none of the children sound remotely French but it’s an adorable and well-rehearsed number. I’ve included it for you above. Jerry’s love triangle is a bit ill-defined as I’m not sure how exactly we’re supposed to see Milo, the heiress trying to finance Jerry. Are we meant to sympathize with her for being lonely, or see her as a daffy socialite trying to manipulate Jerry? I felt for her and thought Milo started out well-written. She dresses Jerry down when he assumes she wants a boy toy and I loved how she hit him where it hurt, explaining she’s not trying to hurt his “male initiative.” It’s a small segment of the movie but their relationship really highlights the unfair dichotomy in prostitution featuring males vs. females (males are “kept men” while ladies are hookers).
One can always tell a Minnelli movie by his use of color that goes from beautiful to garish in certain scenes but with an eye toward beauty no matter what. The opening scenes of An American in Paris are simply breathtaking. The colors pop on the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysee even if it’s plain white. The white has a glow effect to it and while I was using a Blu-Ray player the disc was a standard DVD and a regular television so I’m sure it all looks a million times better with a superior home theater. Oh scenes like Lise’s introduction also have loud color schemes that overwhelm you with their brightness.
Let’s talk about star Leslie Caron. I’ve seen her previously in Gigi and thought she was sweet but here she seemed to have very little personality outside of being pulled between two men; one she loves and one she feels indebted to. The relationship with Kelly was weird considering she looked significantly younger than him, same with her relationship with Henri (Guetary). I think the main issue I had was how infantilized she is next to the men. Her opening dance scene has her playing both angel and slut based on how the men see her. She mentions that she stays with Henri because he saved her during the war as a child whereas her relationship with Kelly only seems based on the fact the movie tells them to be together. I’ve included her introductory dance above which is a stunning dance sequence, and was controversial at the time for Caron’s lascivious work with the chair. She proves she can dance any style and has moves I’ve never seen a dancer do. Caron is comparable to Vera-Ellen for me but look at the scene and how she’s depicted by how the men describe her.
As for the other two men they’re pretty forgettable. Guetary is a poor man’s Maurice Chevalier, simply playing the Lothario Frenchman with a heart of gold although he had me singing “Stairway to Paradise” for the last three days. Oscar Levant is the weak link of the group and it’s mentioned on IMDB he only took the role as a favor to George Gershwin. Levant said he say himself as a pianist and not an actor and that really shows. He says all his lines stilted as he tries to remember them. He’s not acting but trying to get through the scenes. He also comes off poorly dubbed and while I can’t prove it I swear it sounded like Thurl Ravenscroft dubbed his voice. Either him or Bane because the voice gets freakishly loud.
The story is formulaic and works out for the best. Minnelli tries to give this film the voice-overs he’s generally known for but here it doesn’t work. It starts with Jerry narrating than shifts to Adam (Levant) narrating. Apparently Minnelli realized it wasn’t aiding the film because it disappears after the opening and doesn’t return. It’s also never explained why it takes so long for Jerry to realize Lise is with someone else. She’s secretive, doesn’t want to be seen out with him during the night, and always leaves in a hurry and yet Jerry thinks that’s normal.
An American in Paris has dazzling dance sequences, not just the two I’ve included but the ending ballet is spectacular and should be seen. The story is the problem, falling under the weight of the city and the dancing. I’m not a Minnelli fan and I wasn’t surprised by not liking this but the man can direct dance sequences.
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