AFI Countdown Challenge #68: An American In Paris

Gene Kelly in one of those classic American song-and-dance men who, because I have seen very few musicals as part of my general cinematic experience, I have seen only twice before.  One of those times was for Inherit the Wind, a movie that doesn’t really have any singing or dancing in it aside from a stark, old timey hymn that is sung at various points throughout the movie.  The other time was an episode of The Muppet Show where guest star Kelly (no relation) spent most of the episode watching the show from the wings as he said he preferred to do before finally taking the stage for the final number.

Well, now I’ve seen An American in Paris, and I know another Kelly musical will appear before this project is through.

But I still haven’t seen anything with either Fred or Ginger.

What can we say about An American in Paris that could possibly make it stand out from other musicals?  It has a fairly simple plot involving an American, living in Paris as a painter, meeting and falling for a young French woman who is engaged to another (French) man.  And, in the end, they end up together.  It has some good music from George and Ira Gershwin, and Kelly did the movie’s choreography.  French-born actress Leslie Caron made her film debut here as the object of two men’s affections.  Director Vicente Minnelli knows his way around a camera.  It’s a charming little movie.

And it has a seventeen minute dream sequence ballet.

I did not see that coming.

In many ways, that moment, the standout moment for the film, reminded me of the recent La-La Land except Kelly and Caron dance much better than Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.  In many ways, the difference is one of tone.  La-La Land‘s final dance sequence, a giant “what if” where the separated couple imagine a world where they not only stayed together but achieved all of their professional dreams at the same time.  That movie’s dance sequence ends with the two returning to reality, one where they didn’t end up together but still achieved their professional dreams.  It’s bittersweet and elevated that whole movie for me.

An American in Paris‘ ballet sequence ends the opposite way.  Kelly’s Jerry Mulligan has the feeling that the love of his life, Lise (Caron), has left Paris forever to be married to handsome and successful French singer Henri Baurel.  Jerry’s own love life has been more or less sorted, and his own career as a painter may be finally about to take off.  All he’s missing is the girl, and the dance takes the pair through an idealized France with backdrops reminscent of famous French painting, and then it ends and…Henri drops Lise off to be with Jerry.

Between Henri giving up the woman he is engaged to, and Jerry’s sponsor Milo (yes, a woman) essentially letting Jerry off the hook for Jerry’s own romantic inclinations, there sure are a lot of very understanding spurned lovers in this movie.

If anything, the closest this movie may come to tension as Jerry and Lise edge closer to love is the fact that Henri and Jerry have a mutual friend, another American named Oscar who dreams of being a concert pianist, and he alone is aware the two men are in love with the same girl, even as both sing a duet about knowing the perfect girl, each apparently unaware the other is singing about the same girl.

Oscar looks so uncomfortable here.

Fortunately, there are no malicious people in this version of Paris (and points to the production for having the French characters speak in untranslated French when they talk to each other).  It’s a world where people sing and dance, where an expatriate American can be popular with the street kids and give them a English lesson through song, and a man and a woman can come together in a nice way.

Which, by the by, is the opposite of my feelings for the only other Caron movie I’ve seen, Gigi.  Another musical set in France, this one posits a world where young men are congratulated for causing suicide attempts from spurned lovers, young women are trained to just screw around with men for the profit of it to keep their families afloat, and old French guys sing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” in a way that struck me as just plain creepy.  The whole thing, in fact, gave me a creepy vibe.

I’m just glad An American in Paris wasn’t that movie.

You know, I don’t have much to say about this one.  Maybe I just don’t have the chops to discuss a musical in any particularly in-depth manner.  Discussing songs and dances isn’t something I feel confident enough to speak on, but one thing is certain to me:  this movie would be rather average without that 17 minute dance scene.

NEXT UP:  One of my all-time favorites, the 1962 psychological Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate.

tomk74

Defender of the faith, contributing writer, debonair man-about-town.

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