An American in Paris(1951)

An American in ParisAn-american-in-Paris-poster
Directed by Vicente Minelli
Written by Alan Jay Lerner
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant
#246 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

In time the Rockies may tumble, Gibraltar may crumble/ They’re only made of clay/ But our love is here to stay — “Love Is Here to Stay”, lyrics by Ira Gershwin

A couple of previous viewings had me thinking that An American in Paris had not held up well.  Then I caught it yesterday and it had regained all its magic for me.

Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is an ex-GI who is starting out as a painter in Paris.  He’s still having a problem selling his work even on the sidewalk.  In his building lives Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) a struggling composer and concert pianist.  Adam has written some songs for his friend Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary), a famous music hall composter.  Henri reveals early on that he has fallen in love with his ward Lise (Leslie Caron).


Milo Roberts, an American sophisticate, stops by to admire Jerry’s paintings and soon starts admiring Jerry himself.  She promises to promote him and get him an exhibition but it is clear she expects more from him that gratitude.  But this is not to be.  Jerry falls more or less in love at first sight with Lise when he sees her dining with friends at a restaurant.

Soon Jerry and Lise are arranging rendevous.  But when Henri asks Lise to marry him her gratitude for his help during the war threatens to override her love for Jerry.

An American in Paris - Still #3

This viewing moved the film back from “flawed” to the practically perfect category. I will admit that the concluding ballet kind of stops the film it its tracks, but it is so splendid in conception and execution that I cut it a lot of  slack.  It’s enough for me just to soak in the beautiful colors, Paris, and the glorious George Gershwin score.  Kelly does some pretty fantastic dancing as well.

An American in Paris won Oscars in the following categories:  Best Picture; Best Writing, Story and Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  It was nominated for Best Director and Best Film Editing.


11 thoughts on “An American in Paris(1951)

    • I’ve seen this movie many time and was sort of in your camp. I amazed at my reaction on this viewing. It was not Singin’ in the Rain but close.

  1. It is interesting how our reception of a film can change. I wonder if seeing it in its temporal context changed your viewing. The ballet always has been an issue for me though it succeeds technically and conceptually.

    • You may be right. I might not have seen enough mediocre musicals before to properly appreciate this one. I’ve been thinking about the ballet. I know the Gershwin estate required MGM to use the American in Paris suite (??) in its entirety in order to use the title. I was wondering if it could have been fit in some other way. I’m thinking not, especially since they apparently needed to have Oscar Levant play that long piano piece as well. This time I just enjoyed the impressionist sets and costumes.

      • I didn’t know (or forgot) about the requirement from the Gershwins. Fully appreciating the tribute to the Impressionists requires outside knowledge which most moviegoers would not have had at the time. I’ve always wondered if the ballet worked simply through color and mood alone. Or, were there a lot of patrons heading for more pop corn?

        • At least the audience reaction didn’t seem to hurt the film at the box office. Now I’m trying to figure out where I heard that into about the Gershwin Estate and the suite. It may have been in a DVD extra. The IMDb trivia doesn’t exactly say that only that they couldn’t use the title without using the music and they had to use only Gershwin music in the film. On the other hand, the trivia says that the ballet was conceived midway though filming.

          • I suspect there is more than one version of this story. According to Hugh Frodin, author of THE WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT: Hollywood’s Greatest Musicals, Arthur Freed and Ira Gershwin used to play pool together on Saturday nights. One night in 1949, Freed said he would like to use the title “An American in Paris” and use it, uncut, as a ballet at the end of the picture. Ira add, “Of course, you’ll use ALL Gershwin music.” If you aren’t familiar with Frodin’s book, it’s wonderful. Used copies are available at various prices.

  2. Hmmm I tried to find a 1951 link but ti didn’t have a comments page that I could see, a link led here so here it will have to be.

    I remember a little while back I flagged a Robert Mitchum movie that appeared to have escaped you….this may be another….note I have NOT seen it, am just going on the IMDB score & first few very positive comments, also on a Flickers in Time site search that didn’t find it – “His Kind of Woman” (with Jane Russell)

    Apologies if I’m telling you old news…I have the sinking feeling that I’ve seen this referred to somewhere, hope it wasn’t here and I’ve missed it.

    • I think we were discussing this when you turned me on to the other Mitchum-Russell film, which I had not seen. I rather liked His Kind of Woman but did not review it here for some reason.

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