Up until the 1960’s, American cinema made a lot of films and of those films quite a few of them were musicals. Some stars only made musicals as that was what audiences wanted or they were typecast into the roles, but for whatever the reason there was always a chance of seeing your favourite actor or actress singing and dancing at some point during the year. Musicals were popular due to their light heartedness and the pure enjoyment factor they delivered. There was no horror, no spies, no murders; nothing to make an audience melancholy or morose. In 1951, MGM released what is considered one of the best, if not the best musical of all time in An American in Paris.
Starring Gene Kelly in the lead role as Jerry Mulligan, An American in Paris was his most personal role as he invested so much of himself in it; to make it as big and bold as it could be while also staying true to the heart of it all which was a simple love story. During this period of time, Gene Kelly was at the height of his creative process and he had never been more famous giving us not only this film but the brilliant Singin’ in the Rain. Set in Paris, but filmed on a back lot, Kelly plays a painter trying to make ends meet. He lives in the same building as his friend Adam, played by Oscar Levant who is also somewhat of a starving artist. One day a woman named Milo played by Nina Foch sees his work and more specifically him and decides to sponsor him hoping he will feel indebted towards her, to do whatever she asks including and hoping to fall in love. Little does she know Kelly has already met Leslie Caron, the girl of his dreams which only leads to conflict between his personal and professional life. A simple enough narrative but told with such style and panache it deserves the accolades it has received over the years.
The film boasts a number of great songs that have all gone on to be famous standards by George and Ira Gershwin, not to mention the beautiful score as well. I Got Rhythm is probably the best song simply because it was the most fun. Utilizing all the charm, charisma and swagger that Kelly can muster along with a dozen or more children, it makes one smile every time. Our Love is Here to Stay is a lovely song and very romantic as he sings it to Caron. S’Wonderful is always good no matter who sings it, this time by Kelly as well as Georges Guétary. The final dance scene, which was famous for being over fifteen minutes long and costing a lot of money, is considered the best of its kind. A bold statement that has been made by many over the years as there have been many people who could vie for the title from Cagney to Astaire. But the An American in Paris finale tops them all in pure technical flare, sophistication and beauty.
Musical numbers aside, the acting was superb on all fronts as well. Kelly of course was all energy and passion, putting in more to this film than the usual hundred percent. Oscar Levant was faultless as his sarcastic yet witty house-mate as was Nina Foch as the aging benefactor who wanted him more than all her money. Leslie Caron, a virtual newcomer proved herself worthy of standing among her peers and Kelly, who supposedly chose her for the role, did right in doing so. She pours as much finesse in her role as Kelly does his, and watching them onscreen together is magical.
An American in Paris is a great film all around, from the production to the direction and everything in between. If there is a Gene Kelly film you must see, and there are many to choose from, you cannot go wrong by spending a couple of hours with this one.
4.5 out of 5