Vincent Minelli’s technicolour musical inspired by the single piece of Gershwin music opened out into a full score.
Dance legend Gene Kelly plays his patented Irish-American lunk and Pal Joey character, grumpy painter Jerry Mulligan. Discovered by wealthy Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), who becomes Jerry’s patroness in more ways than one, drifter Jerry romances French waif Lise Bouvier (18-year old Leslie Caron) the fiancé of friend Henri (Georges Guetary), a popular nightclub performer.
Kelly’s succession of blue-collar Joes was always at odds with Kelly the dance artist pushing the boundaries in popular musicals. Quite unlike the earlier era of Fred Astaire, Kelly mixed energetic tap routines, progressive modern dance and fantasy sequences of pure ballet with the stock elements of fifties musicals.
So we have two interlocking love triangles punctuated by musical numbers. Teenage Leslie Caron (a screen presence I never cared for, but now a fantastic interviewee), holds her own on screen, while cool blonde Nina Foch is criminally underused. Also featured are French tenor Georges Guetary, “the New Chevalier” who didn’t make it, and token clown Oscar Levant (whose turn as one-man concert orchestra is the comic highlight of the movie).
The thin plot looks odd now with two older men chasing the teenage Caron, but is held together by recycled vintage George Gershwin tunes, including I Got Rhythm, ‘S Wonderful, and Our Love Is Here to Stay. Guetary guests with a version of Stairway to Paradise and in a surreal dream sequence, Oscar Levant’s conducts a whole orchestra of himself performing Gershwin’s Concerto in F.
The masterful closing 17-minute American in Paris ballet, in settings of famous French artworks, is intense, inventive, manic, moody and at times dark. Of course, we get the appropriate ending.
Even if you don’t like musicals, Kelly, or Caron, next to Singin’ in the Rain and The Pirate, this is the one to watch. RC
An American in Paris
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Writer: Alan Jay Lerner
Running time: 1 hr. 55 min.
Genre: Romance, Musical
Cast: Gene Kelly, Georges Guetary, Leslie Caron, Nina Foch, Oscar Levant
Related: Review: Bel Ami