24. An American in Paris (1952)

Title: An American in Paris

Release Date: 11 November, 1951

Oscar Ceremony: 20 March, 1952

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant


Nominees: Decision Before Dawn, A Place in the Sun, Quo Vadis, A Streetcar Named Desire


“Civilization has a natural resistance to improving itself.” – Jerry Mulligan

Brace yourselves for a happy-go-lucky viewing experience in glorious technicolor! An American in Paris doesn’t exactly tell the most intellectual story, but it offers some great eye candy, especially for those who like dance. The movie takes full advantage of the fact that it’s in colour (except for this one scene where they go to a costume party and everyone is dressed in black and white – oh, the irony) and it definitely would not have been nearly as successful without it.

Pictured above is the character of Lise, played by French actress and dancer Leslie Caron. It’s interesting because in this particular film, Caron is not your typical Hollywood beauty and the haircut they gave her really doesn’t help either. At least it’s a good thing she’s able to hypnotize the audience with her beautiful moves and her charming accent. After all, it’s good to show people that you don’t have to look like a model to be successful and loved, right? As for her co-star Gene Kelly, all I can say is that he has an infectious smile. No matter what he does or says, I can’t help but smile with him. He also happens to be a terrific entertainer, but you probably already know that (what with Singing in the Rain and all).

The film begins by introducing us to three men. First there’s a WW2 veteran and painter named Jerry Mulligan; he’s the American in Paris who is now trying to make a living from his art. Then there’s his neighbour and friend Adam Cook, who’s a concert pianist (which he states is a pretentious way of saying he’s unemployed at the moment). Finally, there’s a French singer named Henri Baurel, who eventually becomes a major obstacle to Jerry. It turns out that the woman Henri keeps raving about to his friends is also the girl that Jerry ends up falling head over heals for, except that Jerry has no idea. We get to enjoy a few cute dance numbers and friendly interactions as we wait for everything to unravel.

Oh and in the meantime, there’s a woman named Milo Roberts who is extremely generous to Jerry and basically commissions his work and gives him the opportunity he’s always dreamed of. She obviously likes him, and while he’s not ill-willed he pretty much just ends up taking advantage of her and she somehow just accepts it. She’s terrific, while Lise takes quite some time to warm up to him. I’m #TeamMilo.

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Overall, I thought the movie had its ups and downs. It went through so much trouble introducing us to the three men in the beginning, when in the end one of them was rather useless to the story and the other didn’t really need an introduction. Gene Kelly’s character also had a few powerful lines about the status of art and the life of an artist, but in the end the movie pretty much just ended up being a typical boy-meets-girl narrative. The presence of art ended up serving a mere aesthetic purpose more than anything else. Personally I didn’t mind. I’m a sucker for aesthetics and entertaining colourful numbers. There’s an especially grand one at the end, which I thought made the entire thing worth watching. My problem was that the story ran inconsistently and I didn’t care much for where it was going; in other words, I was detached from the plot and its characters. There were even a few musical numbers that I thought dragged on too much.

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In late 2016, another wildly popular musical was released, and just like An American in Paris, it has a good shot of winning the Oscar race this year. That’s right, I’m talking about none other than La La Land. I couldn’t help but notice many parallels between the two films. It’s a common known fact that La La Land is somewhat of an homage to old Hollywood musicals, and so far I think it has done its job splendidly and without coming across as a mere duplicate. I recently came across the poster for the Broadway version of An American in Paris… take a look:

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Hmmm, where have I seen this before? Oh, that’s right:

1

Paris, Los Angeles… potayto potahto. This is good stuff. Although it’s not as focused on outlandish dance numbers, I personally preferred La La Land because it was more relatable and hit closer to home. Not to mention the beautiful music I haven’t been able to get out of my head for the past month and a half. I’ve also adored Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling since the first time I saw them in movies, so I’m impervious to any criticism regarding their talent. Nonetheless, this post is about An American in Paris, so let’s not go off on that tangent. The point is, it looks like dreamlike artsy musicals are making a solid comeback. I, along with many others I’m sure, hope they’re here to stay.

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