An American in Paris (review)

Paris After the War

A friend of mine used to say that New York City in the 90s was like Paris after the war: no men of marriageable age to be found, just kids and geezers. Either she was wrong about the City of Light, or An American in Paris is a total fantasy. I’m inclined to believe the latter.

Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) stayed on in Paris after the war ended. He paints in his tiny, Rube Goldberg apartment on the Left Bank, studying art and selling paintings in the street to survive. He’s got interesting, creative, talented friends: Adam Cook (Oscar Levant), a concert pianist, and Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary), a singer. At least two of the three of them aren’t gay (as is usually the problem in NYC) — Jerry and Henri are both in love with perfume shopgirl Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron), who just happens to be able to dance up a storm.

Which is a good thing, because An American in Paris is chock full of marvelous tunes by George and Ira Gershwin and lots of silly, splendid dancing. Jerry and Lise float on air as they cavort on the banks of the Seine. Jerry tap dances on Adam’s piano, the two of them singing a duet. Jerry and Henri croon “’S Wonderful,” and it is. Gene Kelly’s magical dancing alone is enough to bring tears to your eyes.

Oh, there’s a halfhearted attempt at plot. Rich American heiress Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) — there’s the fantasy tip-off: heiresses are like fairy godmothers — buys two of Jerry’s paintings off the street and tries to adopt him. She wants to hook him up with dealers and critics, and she wants something else, too. Her attempts to seduce him are hardly subtle. “That’s quite a dress you almost have on,” he says to her, rather nervously — he’s not sure if he wants to be her pet artist. Can she compete with lovely, innocent Lise? Take a guess.

As if there was any doubt that An American in Paris was nothing but an excuse for some fabulous singing and dancing, the film wraps up with a spectacular 18-minute ballet sequence. It’s got only the vaguest connection to plot or character, but it’s a gorgeous piece of filmmaking.

Oscars Best Motion Picture 1951
AFI 100 (1998 list): #68

unforgettable movie moment:
Jerry sings “I Got Rhythm” with a slew of adorable French urchins, dancing all the way.

previous Best Picture:
1950: All About Eve
next Best Picture:
1952: The Greatest Show on Earth

previous AFI 100 film:
67: The Manchurian Candidate
next AFI 100 film:
69: Shane

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Pictures

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