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It’s magical in Paris,
At least in film and book,
Where painters dance
And find romance
And anyone can cook.

Real Paris may be different;
But skyline stars still shine,
Where love can stir
And dreams occur;
That Paris can be mine.

MPAA rating:  All (easily a G)

I do have a soft spot for musicals, but for some reason, I’d never gotten around to watching what many consider one of the pinnacles of classic musical cinema. Luckily, it’s one of my Blindspots. An American in Paris combines some of the best aspects of the genre, particularly Gene Kelly’s dancing and George Gershwin’s music, but there’s something lacking too.

I’d only ever seen the famous dance scene that serves as the film’s centerpiece, and since that is largely symbolic, I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as a plot. Kelly plays struggling artist and American expat Jerry Mulligan, who lives contentedly in Paris while periodically displaying his paintings on the street. Much to his surprise, he attracts the attention of wealthy socialite Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), who volunteers to sponsor his talent, even if Jerry’s not sure she’s doing so solely out of the goodness of her heart. After a bit of love at first sight, he seeks to woo a young Parisian (Leslie Caron), who is torn between love and loyalty. It’s a good thing Kelly is so darn likable because his character is a bit of a jerk at times, such as how he pursues his love interest without a thought to the other woman accompanying him, but for the most part, Kelly’s natural charisma engages wonderfully with his costars.

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While the plot works well enough, the musical numbers overshadow the story connecting them, and the fact that most of the Gershwin songs were previously written and don’t have much bearing on what’s going on makes them feel a bit disjointed. They shouldn’t feel like this, but the songs are padding for an uninspired plot, even if they’re the best aspects of the film. I honestly could have skipped the storyline and simply watched the musical numbers, which would make for a great montage but not exactly a great film.

There’s still some superlative style to this Vincente Minnelli-directed lark, from the personable introduction to the three main male characters to the show-stopping pageantry of the songs. One dream sequence with Oscar Levant as Jerry’s unemployed pianist friend may be one of those filler numbers, but it employs some visual trickery that was likely very innovative at the time. And, having heard a good deal of Gershwin in Mr. Holland’s Opus, it was nice to see one of its original visual accompaniments.

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An American in Paris may be a beloved classic, but it’s nowhere near the level of Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain. The plot is a charming but average romance that completely ignores and offers no closure to the side characters, and even the grand 17-minute tap dance/ballet climax set to Gershwin’s title music ran too long and threatened to lose my interest at times. I don’t want to knock it too hard, but there are much better musicals than the Best Picture of 1951. Still, the musical scenes should easily put a smile on anyone’s face, and I can watch Gene Kelly’s effortless talent any day.

Best line: (Jerry) “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.”


Rank: List Runner-Up


© 2017 S.G. Liput
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