Best Picture Review: “An American in Paris” (1951)

An American in Paris (1951)
An American in Paris (1951)

Tuesday night was St. Patrick’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than a night at home watching 1951’s Best Picture winner, “An American in Paris” on our new 42″ HDTV!  Okay, we did get a little Irish as we drank some Guiness (Lauren’s favorite) and Harp (my new favorite) during the movie.

I had read prior to watching the movie that An American in Paris was a lavish musical with lots of dance numbers, including an 18-minute grand finale dance that was among the most expensive ever produced for a movie.  That right there gave me flashes of The Great Ziegfeld, which also incorporated mind-numbingly long dance numbers.  Perhaps it was because I went in with such low expectations, but in the end, I was pleasantly surprised by An American in Paris.

The movie stars entertainment legend Gene Kelly as Jerry, the American living in Paris as an underachieving painter.  My negativity was erased nearly immediately when the movie began with Kelly doing a fun little morning wakeup routine in his tiny apartment, kicking doors open and flipping tables over and raising his bed into his ceiling to make room for breakfast, all very nonchalantly.  We are then introduced to Jerry’s friends and supporting characters: Henri, a singer, and Adam, a struggling concert pianist.

The story is pretty basic—Jerry is a struggling painter who finally catches his big break when a lovely single woman named Milo buys some of his artwork and goes so far as to sponsor him for an exhibition.  She also is quite smitten with Jerry.  On a date with Milo, Jerry spots another woman, Lise, who he instantly falls in love with.  Only problem is Lise is engaged to his friend Henri, and the two are soon leaving for America.  A variety of song-and-dance routines take place, and in the end (spoiler!) Jerry gets Lise and everyone is happy.

The movie had a few good things going for it.  First of all, it was in color, the first we’d seen since Gone With the Wind in 1939.  Actually I don’t think this movie could have worked in black and white with some of the odd scenes where drawings transformed to real-life, or at least life-size, sets.  Secondly, Gene Kelly was very good at dancing, especially tap dancing.  Reminiscent of Bing Crosby in 1944’s Going My Way, he had neighborhood kids following him around, amused by his entertaining dances, begging for American gum.  Lastly, the movie succeeded because it was truly bizarre.  Some of the sets, songs, dialogue, costumes, and storylines were absurdly off-the-wall.  Enough so to keep my interest throughout.

An American in Paris was directed by Vincente Minnelli, the husband of Judy Garland, who directed one of my favorite old movies, Meet Me in St. Louis.  I guess Minnelli had a knack for the musicals.

Overall I wound up liking the movie, and would likely rank it somewhere in the upper half of the list.  I don’t think Lauren thought quite as highly of it.  I need to get her overall rankings sometime!

Next up, 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth.  I’ve already seen the first half twice, but now I need to finish it!

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