Tuesday 11 September 2012

Movie Review: An American In Paris (1951)

A dreamy musical romance, An American In Paris is a celebration of George Gershwin's music. The film works well as a joyous fairy tale, but it leaves many dangling threads.

Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is a struggling American painter living in Paris. His friend Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) is an equally struggling pianist. Adam is friends with the suave Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary), a successful entertainer, and Henri confesses to Adam that he is newly in love with young dancer Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron).

Rich socialite Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) takes an interest in Jerry's artwork and offers to sponsor him, although she may be more interested in Jerry than his pedestrian paintings. At a swanky restaurant with Milo, Jerry spots Lise and falls in love at first sight, much to Milo's disappointment. As Milo pursues Jerry and Jerry pursues Lise, Adam becomes aware that both his two friends are madly in love with the same girl.

The story of An American In Paris is a thin wire to hang a lot of song and dance numbers on, and by the time the credits roll a couple of characters are forgotten, their emotional investments trampled under the weight of elaborate musical set-pieces. Sacrificing plot for spectacle is expected in musicals, but as written by Alan Jay Lerner, An American In Paris attaches a lot of unwarranted drama to its various narratives.

The romance between Jerry and Lise, complete with Shakespearean by-the-river-at-night interludes, is handled with exaggerated earnestness, while Milo's pursuit of Jerry wavers uncomfortably between serious support for an artist and an awkward toy-boy grab. The predictable rush to the happily-ever-after climax leaves unclaimed baggage strewn all over the place in favour of a long, imaginary dance sequence.

The rest of An American In Paris hits all the right notes, a mix of romance, humour and unlikely coincidences against the backdrop of a post-war Paris where life is fun again. Kelly is light-footed and sympathetic as Jerry, Levant gets the best lines and typical sardonic jabs while dazzling on the piano, and Leslie Caron, in her big screen debut, is convincing as both the love interest and dance partner.

Director Vincente Minnelli makes good use of a stylish Paris as recreated on the MGM studio lot, and the movie's spirit captures both the ramshackle world of struggling artists and the more glitzy aspects of high Parisian society. With George Gershwin's music the inspiration for the entire film, Kelly's choreography and Ira Gershwin's lyrics bring the lively instrumental score to energetic life.

An American In Paris will always mangle some parts of the local language, but is absorbing to watch all the same.

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