It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
American in Paris (1951) – Musical #8
Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Nina Foch, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary, Madge Blake (uncredited)
Jerry Mulligan (Kelly) is an American living in Paris trying to make it as a painter. He often doesn’t sell his work and pals around with his unemployed concert pianist friend, Adam (Levant). One day, wealthy American Milo Roberts (Foch) takes an interest in Jerry’s work … and more. But then Jerry meets and falls in love with Lise (Caron), who happens to also be engaged to his pal (Guétary).
• First and only Hollywood film of Georges Guétary. The rest of his films were filmed abroad.
• Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer purchased the rights to George Gershwin’s musical suite “An American in Paris” on June 1, 1949. The musical suite was first performed at Carnegie Hall in 1928.
• The artwork represented in the film includes:
– Place de la Concorde by Raoul Dufy
– A floral scene inspired by Pierre Auguste Renoir.
– A Bastille Day celebration painted by Henri Rousseau
– A Moulin Rouge inspired piece by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
– Chocolat by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
• Cyd Charisse was originally set to star in the film, but had to drop out of production due to pregnancy and was replaced by Leslie Caron.
• While some of the establishing shots were filmed by a second unit in Paris, France, the rest of the film was filmed on a soundstage in Hollywood.
• The songs “Love Walked In” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You” were planned for the film, but were not used.
• Anne Sergeant and Mercedes McCambridge were both tested for the role of Milo, which eventually went to Nina Foch, according to Minnelli’s biographer.
• The role of Henri Baurel was planned as a comeback for Maurice Chevalier, but eventually the idea was dropped due to MGM’s concern of controversy, according to Minnelli’s biographer.
• The ballet spotlight of Leslie Caron while trying to describe her character.
• The “Stairway to Paradise” number
• The “American in Paris” ballet
• The Technicolor cinematography
• “Stairway to Paradise” performed by Georges Guétary
• “Our Love is Here to Stay” performed by Gene Kelly, danced by Kelly and Leslie Caron
• “Fascinating Rhythm” performed by Oscar Levant on the piano
• “I Got Rhythm” performed by Gene Kelly and the children
• “S’Wonderful” performed by Gene Kelly and Georges Guétary
• “An American in Paris Ballet” danced by Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron
My first time-viewing of AMERICAN IN PARIS lives in my head like a movie. I was 14 years old, in the eighth grade in 2003, and I was on spring break vacation. I watched the film with my parents, and loved the Gershwin-performed songs so much that I took my tape recorder, put it up to the TV and recorded the songs on a tape.
And for some reason, I didn’t watch the movie again until 2023. There’s no real reason that I waited 20 years. In truth, the memory of that first-time viewing lived so fresh in my head that I didn’t realize it had been so long.
With a title inspired by George Gershwin’s jazz orchestral piece, the entire film is outfitted with Gershwin music.
In truth, the plot is rather thin and the music and dance carry the film. In a nutshell, a painter in Paris torn between two women, and one of them is engaged to his friend (though he doesn’t know it). However, with Technicolor cinematography by Alfred Gilks, costumes by Orry-Kelly, set design by Cedric Gibbons and direction by Vincente Minnelli the whole film is a visual feast.
During the closing “American in Paris” ballet there are so many amazing shots that are based on paintings. When Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly are on the fountain with smoke and shadows, I thought, “Now THIS is cinema.”
I’d say it’s hard to pick a favorite song out of all that wonderful Gershwin music. But it’s not. My favorite musical performance from this film when I first saw it and now is Georges Guétary’s performance of “Stairway to Paradise.” When he walks up and down the stairs and they light up, it’s thrilling! Despite all the other talent in this film, Guétary’s single musical number is the one that I remember long after the film has ended.
It’s true that the American in Paris ballet at the end does perhaps bring the film to a grinding halt. But I don’t mind with this film (like I do perhaps with Anchors Aweigh). The ballet meshes with the beauty and Gershwin tribute of the rest of the film. It’s also so different than most films of the time (except perhaps THE RED SHOES) that it pushed boundaries.
It’s also incredible that this was Leslie Caron’s first film role. What a break — to star in a major MGM musical with Gene Kelly. She does a terrific job. Caron’s ballet prowess is impressive, and she is youthful and sensitive in her first role.
Pianist and actor Oscar Levant not only brings his musical skills to the film, but also dry humor. Vincente Minnelli later said that Levant was the only actor he considered for the role of Gene Kelly’s pal.
I have to give mention to Nina Foch as well. From my youthful first visit, I thought I remembered her as being an antagonist. In this revisit, I didn’t think she was. She’s just a lonely woman who unfortunately is paying someone to spend time with her. The character of Milo is also not to blame that Jerry is secretly seeing someone else on the side, who he happens to like more. Maybe the plot isn’t so paper thin after all, with these complex love triangles and emotions.
Anyhow, “An American in Paris” isn’t just a fun and lavish musical, it’s also a piece of artwork. Stunning start to finish.
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