Vincente Minnelli, US, 1951, 113 mins
Cast: Gene Kelly , Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant
Review by Francesca Neagle
“Back home, everyone said I didn’t have any talent. They might be saying the same thing over here, but it sounds better in French. I live upstairs. No, no, no, not there. One flight up. Voila…
“An American in Paris ” is beautifully elegant, witty, and stars an athletically-exuberant Gene Kelly as its protagonist. Digital restoration was invented for films like this six Oscar-winning Fifties musical, with its Technicolor cinematography, lavish sets and costumes, and classic Gershwin score
Set against the idealised backdrop of glorious turn-of-the-century Paris (though filmed entirely in Hollywood!), the story revolves around Jerry Mulligan (Kelly), a struggling artist who is discovered by American socialite heiress Milo (Nina Foch), who admires Jerry for rather more than just his art. The tension arises when Jerry falls for Lise (Caron), a young Parisian shop-girl who unbeknownst to him is engaged to cabaret singer Georges (Eugene Borden), who protected her during the war. Their mutual friend Adam ( Levant ) becomes aware they are in love with the same girl, and watches the romantic tangle unravel. A love story set to music and dance, the actual storyline is somewhat secondary to the choreography and songs, which portray the Parisian “joie de vivre” almost as a character of its own. The concluding impressive, dialogue-free, experimental seventeen-minute dance number, with sets inspired by Renoir, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, played no small part in launching French ballet dancer Caron’s movie career: a real-life romantic Hollywood sub-plot in itself.
“An American in Paris ” remains one of the most optimistic US films of the post-war period, combining as it does the timeless allure of French culture with a modern nostalgic craving for optimism. Even recently, Woody Allen’s “ Midnight in Paris ” (2011) has drawn on similar themes: the search for authenticity, in both love and in art, and the influence of the beauty of the French capital on American intellectualism. As a masterpiece of Fifties cinema, few would dare to criticise it, and seeing it on the big screen is a big treat. In fact, “S Wonderful”.