|An American in Paris|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Vincente Minnelli|
|Produced by||Arthur Freed|
|Written by||Alan Jay Lerner|
|Edited by||Adrienne Fazan|
|Distributed by||Loew's Inc.|
|Box office||$7 million|
An American in Paris is a 1951 American musical comedy film inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition An American in Paris by George Gershwin. Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary, and Nina Foch, the film is set in Paris, and was directed by Vincente Minnelli from a script by Alan Jay Lerner. The music is by George Gershwin, with lyrics by his brother Ira, with additional music by Saul Chaplin, the music director.
The story of the film is interspersed with dance numbers choreographed by Gene Kelly and set to Gershwin's music. MGM executive Arthur Freed bought the Gershwin musical catalog from George's brother Ira in the late 1940s, since George died in 1937. Some of the tunes in this catalog were included in the movie, such as "I Got Rhythm" and "Love Is Here to Stay". Other songs in the movie include "I'll Build A Stairway to Paradise" and "'S Wonderful". The climax of the film is "The American in Paris" ballet, a 17-minute dance featuring Kelly and Caron set to Gershwin's An American in Paris. The ballet sequence cost almost half a million dollars to shoot. It was filmed on 44 sets in MGM's back lot.
An American in Paris was an enormous success, garnering eight Academy Award nominations and winning six, as well as earning other industry honors. In 1993, it was selected for preservation by the United States Library of Congress in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is ranked #9 among AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals.
American World War II veteran Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is an exuberant expatriate in Paris trying to make a reputation as a painter. His friend and neighbor, Adam Cook (Oscar Levant), is a struggling concert pianist and longtime associate of a French singer, Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary). At the ground-floor bar, Henri tells Adam about his cultured girlfriend, Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron). Jerry joins them later, before going out to sell his art.
A lonely society woman and heiress, Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), finds Jerry displaying his paintings in Montmartre and takes an interest in him and his art. She brings him to her apartment to pay for his works, and invites him to a dinner party she is throwing later that night. After singing with French children on the way home ("I Got Rhythm"), Jerry goes up to Milo's apartment. He quickly finds out the "party" is actually a one-on-one date, and tells Milo he has no interest in being a paid escort. When he attempts to leave after giving her money back, she insists she is only interested in his art.
They go to a crowded bar, and Milo offers to sponsor an art show for Jerry as a friendly gesture. Some of Milo's friends arrive, and while sitting with them, Jerry sees Lise seated with friends at the next table, and is instantly smitten. He ignores Milo and her acquaintances, and instead pretends to know Lise already and dances with her. She is standoffish and gives Jerry a wrong phone number, but is innocently corrected by someone at her table. Milo is upset by Jerry's behaviour and suddenly decides to go home. On their way home she tells Jerry he was very rude cavorting with a girl he does not know while in her presence; tired of Milo, Jerry gets out of the car and bids her farewell.
The next day, Jerry calls Lise at her work, but she tells him to never call her again. Jerry and Milo meet at a cafe, and she informs him a collector is interested in his paintings and she arranged a showing later that day. Before going to the showing, he goes to the parfumerie where Lise works and she consents to a late dinner with him. She does not want to be seen eating with him in public, but they share a romantic song and dance on the banks of the Seine River in the shadows of Notre Dame. However, she quickly rushes off to meet Henri after his performance ("I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise"), where Henri tells her he has been asked to go on a tour of America and asks her to marry him.
Later, Adam humorously daydreams he is performing Gershwin's Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra for a gala audience in a concert hall. As the scene progresses, Adam is also revealed to be the conductor, other members of the orchestra, and even an enthusiastic audience member applauding himself at the end.
Milo gets Jerry an art studio and tells him she has planned an exhibition of his work in three months. He initially refuses the studio because he does not have the money for it, but eventually accepts it under the condition he pay Milo back when his art proceeds allow him. Roughly a month later and after much courting, Lise abruptly runs off when she and Jerry arrive by taxi at his apartment. When Jerry complains to Adam, Adam is shocked to realize both Henri and Jerry are involved with the same woman. Henri and Jerry discuss the woman they each love ("'S Wonderful"), unaware she is the same woman.
That night, Jerry and Lise reunite in the same place on the banks of the Seine close to Notre Dame. She informs him she is marrying Henri the next day and going to America. Lise feels a sense of duty to Henri, to whom she feels indebted for keeping her safe during World War II. She and Jerry proclaim their love for each other.
Feeling slighted, Jerry invites Milo to the art students' masked ball and kisses her. At the raucous party, with everyone in black-and-white costumes, they meet Henri and Lise, and Jerry finally tells Milo about his feelings for Lise. Henri overhears Jerry and Lise saying goodbye to each other, and realizes the truth. As Henri and Lise drive away, Jerry daydreams about being with Lise all over Paris to the tune of the George Gershwin composition An American in Paris. His reverie is broken by a car horn, the sound of Henri bringing Lise back to him. They embrace as the Gershwin composition (and the film) ends.
Hayden Rorke, best known for playing Dr. Alfred Bellows on the TV series I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970), has an uncredited part as a friend of Milo. Noel Neill, who had already portrayed Lois Lane in the two Columbia Pictures forties Superman serials, and would later do so again on the TV series The Adventures of Superman, has a small role as an American art student who tries to criticize Jerry's paintings. Jazz musician Benny Carter plays the leader of a jazz ensemble performing in the club where Milo first takes Jerry.
Madge Blake, best known for playing Bruce Wayne's aunt Harriet Cooper on the TV series Batman (1966-1968), has an uncredited part as a customer in the perfume shop in which Lise works. Judy Landon, better known for her appearance in Kelly's next musical Singin' in the Rain (and as the wife of Brian Keith), and Sue Casey appear as dancers in the "Stairway to Paradise" sequence.
The 17 minute ballet sequence, with sets and costumes referencing French painters including Raoul Dufy, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Maurice Utrillo, Henri Rousseau, and Toulouse-Lautrec, is the climax of the film, and cost the studio approximately $450,000 to produce. Some of the backdrops for this sequence measured 300 feet wide and 40 feet high. Production on the film was halted on September 15, 1950. Minnelli left to direct another film, Father's Little Dividend. Upon completion of that film in late October, he returned to film the ballet sequence.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave a mostly positive review largely on the strength of the closing dance number which he called "one of the finest ever put upon the screen", as well as Leslie Caron's performance, writing that the film "takes on its own glow of magic when Miss Caron is on the screen. When she isn't, it bumps along slowly as a patched-up, conventional music show."Variety called the film "one of the most imaginative musical confections turned out by Hollywood in years ... Kelly is the picture's top star and rates every inch of his billing. His diversified dancing is great as ever and his thesping is standout."Harrison's Reports deemed it "an excellent entertainment, a delight to the eye and ear, presented in a way that will give all types of audiences extreme pleasure".Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called it "the best musical movie I've ever seen", praising its "spirit of crisp originality and sophistication rarely found in a screen musical".John McCarten of The New Yorker called it "a thoroughly pleasant musical film ... Never too tightly confined by its slender story, 'An American in Paris' skips from love in the moonlight to handsome ballets with the greatest of ease, and Mr. Kelly is always ready, willing, and able to execute a tap dance."The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "merely a good musical, far more attractive than most, but considerably less than the material seemed to promise. This is due in part to unimaginative use of the Paris settings--a very obvious tourist's view--and to the rather curious way in which the story, after building up interest in Jerry's painting and in his one-man show, simply shelves the whole issue."
Reviewing the film in 2011, James Berardinelli wrote that it "falls into the category of a weak Oscar winner. The movie is enjoyable enough to watch, but it represents a poor choice as the standard-bearer of the 1951 roster ... It's a fine, fun film with a lot of great songs and dancing but there's nothing about this production that causes it to stand out when compared to one of dozens of musicals from the era."
According to MGM records, the film earned $3,750,000 in the U.S. and Canada and $3,231,000 in other countries during its initial theatrical release. This resulted in the studio making a $1,346,000 profit.
Kelly received an Academy Honorary Award that year for "his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film". It was his only Oscar.
In 1993, An American in Paris was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
American Film Institute recognition
AFI also honored star Kelly as #15 of the top 25 American male screen legends.
A stage version of the musical was adapted by Ken Ludwig, and began previews at the Alley Theatre (Houston) on April 29, 2008, officially opening on May 18 and running through June 22. The production, directed by Alley artistic director Gregory Boyd with choreography by Randy Skinner, starred Harry Groener and Kerry O'Malley. The musical had many of the film's original songs, and also incorporated other Gershwin songs, such as "They All Laughed", "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off", and "Love Walked In".
In 2014, a stage adaptation premiered in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet, with Robert Fairchild as Jerry Mulligan and Leanne Cope as Lise Bouvier (here renamed Lise Dassin and turned into an aspiring ballet dancer). The production, which ran from November to January 2015, was directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, written by Craig Lucas and designed by Bob Crowley. The musical then transferred to Broadway, with previews at Palace Theatre beginning on March 13, 2015, before officially opening there on April 12.