Saturday Night Cinema: An American in Paris

 Inspired by the late George Gershwin’s impressionistic musical suite of the same name, the picture is one of the finest musicals Hollywood has ever produced.

Technicolorful result is smart, dazzling, genuinely gay and romantic, and as hard to resist as its George Gershwin score. 

Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema is inspired by Bastille Day in France, the site of the monstrous jihad attack one year ago. Considering the horror of daily life in France – doctors routinely beaten, sex attacks, vicious antisemitism, and on and on…. “An American in Paris” directed by American genius Vincent Minnelli who loved Paris. Minelli received an Oscar nomination as Best Director for An American in Paris (1951) and later won the Best Director Oscar for Gigi (1958). He was awarded France’s highest civilian honor, Commandeur of the Legion of Honor, only weeks before his death in 1986.

Directed by Minnelli, starring the brilliant Gene Kelly and music composed America’s greatest composer, George Gershwin.

This one is not online for free. It’s $2.99. Watch it – it is a France that is no more.

 

An American in Paris is a 1951 American musical film inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition An American in Paris by George Gershwin. Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary, and Nina Foch, 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 dance numbers choreographed by Gene Kelly and set to Gershwin’s music. Songs and music include “I Got Rhythm”, “I’ll Build A Stairway to Paradise”, “ ’S Wonderful”, and “Love is Here to Stay”. The climax of the film is “The American in Paris” ballet, a 17-minute dance featuring Kelly and Caron set to Gershwin’s An American in Paris. The ballet alone cost almost half a million dollars.

TIME Magazine: An American In Paris (MGM) is a grand show—a brilliant combination of Hollywood’s opulence and technical wizardry with the kind of taste and creativeness that most high-budgeted musicals notoriously lack. The Technicolorful result is smart, dazzling, genuinely gay and romantic, and as hard to resist as its George Gershwin score. 

NY Times review:

An American in Paris,’ Arrival of Music Hall, Has Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in Leads

Published: October 5, 1951

Count a bewitching French lassie by the name of Leslie Caron and a whoop-de-do ballet number one of the finest ever put upon the screen, as the most commendable enchantments of the big, lavish musical film that Metro obligingly delivered to the Music Hall yesterday. “An American in Paris,” which is the title of the picture, likewise the ballet, is spangled with pleasant little patches of amusement and George Gershwin tunes. It also is blessed with Gene Kelly, dancing and singing his way through a minor romantic complication in the usual gaudy Hollywood gay Paree. But it is the wondrously youthful Miss Caron and that grandly pictorial ballet that place the marks of distinction upon this lush Technicolored escapade.

Alongside this crisp and elfin youngster who plays the Parisian girl with whom the ebullient American of Mr. Kelly falls in love, the other extravagant characters of the romance seem standard and stale, and even the story seems wrinkled in the light of her freshness and charm. Mr. Kelly may skip about gaily, casting the favor of his smiles and the boon of the author’s witticisms upon the whole of the Paris populace. Nina Foch may cut a svelte figure as a lady who wants to buy his love by buying his straight art-student paintings. And Oscar Levant may mutter wryly as a pal. But the picture takes on its glow of magic when Miss Caron is on the screen. When she isn’t, it bumps along slowly as a patched-up, conventional musical show.

Why this should be is fairly obvious. Miss Caron is not a beauteous thing, in the sense of classic features, but she has a sweet face and a most delightful smile. Furthermore, she has winsomeness, expression and youthful dignity—and she can dance like a gossamer wood-sprite on the edge of a petal at dawn.

When she and Mr. Kelly first meet in a Paris cafe, the previous routine of “bon jours” and “voilas” and “mais ouis” is forgotten. Candor and charm invade the picture under Vincente Minnelli’s helpful wand. And when they dance on a quai along the river, in hush of a Paris night, to “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” the romance opens and unrepressed magic evolves. Then, in the final, bursting ballet, which is done to a brilliant score of Gershwin music orchestrated with his “American in Paris” suite, the little dancer and Mr. Kelly achieve a genuine emotional splurge. It is Mr. Kelly’s ballet, but Miss Caron delivers the warmth and glow.

And a ballet it is, beyond question—a truly cinematic ballet—with dancers describing vivid patterns against changing colors, designs, costumes and scenes. The whole story of a poignant romance within a fanciful panorama of Paree is conceived and performed with taste and talent. It is the uncontested high point of the film.

Beside it such musical conniptions as Mr. Kelly and Mr. Levant giving out with “Tra-La-La,” or Mr. Kelly doing a dance to “I Got Rhythm” with a bunch of kids, or Mr. Levant performing all the key jobs in a large symphonic rendition of Concerto in F are purely coincidental. And Georges Guetary’s careful oozing of Gallic charm in “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” and “‘S Wonderful” could well be done without. As a matter of fact, some of these numbers leave the uncomfortable impression that they were contrived just to fill out empty spaces in Alan Jay Lerner’s glib but very thin script.

However, all things are forgiven when Miss Caron is on the screen. When she is on with Mr. Kelly and they are dancing, it is superb.

On the stage at the Music Hall, in the “Autumn Album” revue, are Tony Starman, Dick Stewart, Les Diagoras, Olga Suarez, the Glee Club, Corps de Ballet and Rockettes.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, screen play and story by Alan Jay Lorner; directed by Vincente Minnelli; produced by Arthur Freed for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. At the Radio City Music Hall.
Jerry Mulligan . . . . . Gene Kelly
Lise Bourvier . . . . . Leslie Caron
Adam Cook . . . . . Oscar Levant
Henri Baurel . . . . . Georges Guetary
Milo Roberts . . . . . Nina Foch
Georges Mattieu . . . . . Bugene Borden
Mathilde Mattieu . . . . . Martha Bamattre
Old Woman Dancer . . . . . Mary Young

Academy Awards

Wins

Academy Award for Best Picture: Arthur Freed, producer
Academy Award for Best Art – Set Decoration, Color: E. Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons, F. Keogh Gleason, and Edwin B. Willis
Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color: John Alton and Alfred Gilks
Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Color: Orry-Kelly, Walter Plunkett, and Irene Sharaff
Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture: Saul Chaplin and Johnny Green
Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay: Alan Jay Lerner

Nominations

Academy Award for Best Director: Vincente Minnelli
Academy Award for Best Film Editing: Adrienne Fazan

Golden Globes

Wins

Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Nominations

Golden Globe Award for Best Director – Motion Picture: Vincente Minnelli
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy: Gene Kelly

Others

Kelly received an Academy Honorary Award that year for “his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.” It was his only Oscar.

The film was entered into the 1952 Cannes Film Festival.

In 1993, An American in Paris was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

American Film Institute recognition

1998: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies – #68
2002: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions – #39
2004: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs – #32
“I Got Rhythm”
2006: AFI’s Greatest Movie Musicals – #9

AFI also honored star Kelly as #15 of the top 25 American male screen legends.