#68 An American in Paris (1951)
An American in Paris is the first musical I’ve encountered for the purposes of this cinematic experiment, and is one of only seven that feature in the AFI 100 (1998). As musicals tend to be, it’s full of a lot of lovely singing and dancing and smiling. And that’s about it.
I’ll come out and say it: I just don’t get dance. I’ve watched enough So You Think You Can Dance with my wife to understand that lots of people can be moved to tears by a dance routine. And of course I can respect the technical skill, physical prowess, and artistry that it requires. I understand that it’s entertaining to watch. I understand that it’s fun. But I just don’t really get it. Not in the way that the judges on that show do, when they start blubbering and sobbing when some teenager dances to Mad World or My Immortal. So understand that’s where I’m coming from.
(Also, I’ve seen tons of musicals in my day and I’d say that I tend to enjoy most of them. Because most musicals have more than their fair share of campy, corny moments, I usually find plenty to be entertained by.)
Gene Kelly is a former GI that stays on in Paris after the war because he is an aspiring artist. The film seems to suggest that Paris immediately returned to its baguettes and costume parties after its occupation. Kelly is a painter, although we don’t see him do much painting. He mainly dances on top of pianos and hands out bubble gum to Parisian school children. He has an American buddy (Oscar Levant) who is a down on his luck pianist. Levant is meant to be the funny one, I think, but instead comes across as an awkward, unappealing amalgamation of Groucho Marx and Frank Sinatra. Then there’s Georges Guetary who plays an up and coming French singer, who is romantically involved with Leslie Caron, who works in a perfume shop. Kelly begins to pursue Caron, who is caught between the two men. Will Kelly find true love? Will Caron choose the one guy or the other guy? I think you know who she’ll choose. But really: who cares?
The fact is the story sucks. What matters is that Vincente Minnelli directed it, so it looks great. Gene Kelly choreographed the dancing, so if you like dancing you’ll like what you see here. And the songs are all by George and Ira Gershwin, so the songs are superb American classics.
One thing I’ve noticed with Gene Kelly musicals (On The Town comes to mind) is that he often seems to lose the girl with about half and hour left in the film’s run-time, then slips into a waking dream in which a massive dance number breaks out (usually including the entire cast, or at least the key characters) and it goes on and on and on and on and on. When it finally ends, he snaps out of it and lo! the girl is jumping out of a taxi cab and rushing to his arms. Happens all the time, I guess.