By Jess Lomas
February 25, 2014
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. Hey, whatever. It fits! As we near the Oscars, we’re looking back on some Best Picture winners.
Vincente Minnelli’s Best Picture winner An American in Paris is one of a handful of films that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the Hollywood Musical boom. From the late 1940s to the late 1960s studios churned out more musicals than have been made since, turning life into a Technicolor song and dance.
Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is an American expat living in post-World War II Paris trying to make his name as a painter. His neighbour across the hall is Adam (Oscar Levant), a struggling pianist who daydreams of playing sold-out concert halls. When the wealthy Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) stumbles across Jerry selling his art on the streets, she takes it upon herself to become his sponsor. At first she professes only an interest in helping him become a successful artist, but it becomes clear over time that she has fallen for Jerry despite the lack of reciprocation.
Jerry has eyes only for Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron), a petite Frenchwoman he met at a café. She initially rejects his advances but soon succumbs to his charms and the pair fall in love. The only thing stopping this happy ending is Lise’s unfortunate engagement to singer Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary), a mutual friend of Jerry and Adam’s.
There are two indisputable facts about Gene Kelly: first, that he elevated any film he was cast in (yes, even Xanadu), and second, that he is the only man to make high waisted pants look sexy (yes, really). He demonstrated both of these traits here, carrying the dance sequences and his leading lady Caron, who fails to sparkle in her debut screen performance.
The film utilises re-mixed George Gershwin numbers, including Our Love Is Here to Stay, I Got Rhythm and ‘S Wonderful to build to the film’s climax, a hypnotising 17-minute ballet choreographed by Kelly.
Minnelli was the perfect director for this film, exploring modern and avant-garde costumes and dance just as he did in The Band Wagon. The black and white ball scene is particularly inspiring but it is the final ballet that makes An American in Paris surprising and memorable.
An American in Paris is available on Quickflix.