Metro has another sock boxoffice winner in “An American in Paris.” Film is one of the most imaginative musical confections turned out by Hollywood in years, spotlighting Gene Kelly, Oscar Levant, Nina Foch, and a pair of bright newcomers (Leslie Caron and Georges Guetary) against a cavalcade of George and Ira Gershwin’s music. While it may not achieve quite the record runs racked up this season by M-G’s “Great Caruso” and “Show Boat,” it will tag right behind them to help widen that new exhibitor smile even more.
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. But he reveals new talents in this one with his choreography. There’s a lengthy ballet to the film’s title song for the finale, which is a masterpiece of design, lighting, costumes and color photography. It’s a unique blending of classical and modern dance with vaude-style tapping, which will undoubtedly trailblaze new terp techniques for Hollywood musicals. British-made “Red Shoes” and “Tales of Hoffman,” of course, have initiated American art house patrons to such work but this one will hit the mass audience–and it’s going to hold ’em completely entranced.
In Miss Caron and Guetary Metro has two potential starring possibilities who underscore that studio’s new stress on new faces. Miss Caron is a beauteous, lissome number with an attractively pert personality and plenty of s.a. She scores neatly with her thesping, particularly in the appealing love scenes with Kelly, and displays standout dancing ability. Guetary is better known in Europe for his legit and nitery work, although he co-starred on Broadway last year with Nanette Fabray in “Arms and the Man,” and demonstrates a socko musicomedy tenor and okay acting talents. He’s cast neatly as the older man whom Caron almost marries out of gratitude, and it’s a surefire role for his intro to films. (Metro, incidentally, offered the role originally to Maurice Chevalier but the latter mixed it–which is a good break for Guetary.)
Story and screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner is a sprightly yarn about an American GI (Kelly) who stayed on in Paris after the war to further his art study. While Gershwin wrote his “American in Paris” suite on the basis of his own experiences in that city, the film is not a biopic of him and thus is in no way reminiscent of Warners’ 1947 “Rhapsody in Blue,” which starred Robert Alda as the composer. In fact, “Rhapsody” is the only major Gershwin number not played in the film. Levant, in “American,” plays an impoverished American concert pianist, but only by the farthest stretch of the imagination could he be thought of in terms of Gershwin. While he naturally scores with his pianistics, especially “Concerto in F,” he has a straight comedy role.
Film picks up Kelly as the happy-go-lucky Yank, who’s the fave of the nabe in his poor Montmarte quarters. Miss Foch, as a wealthy American playgal, “discovers” his art talents and takes him on as her protégé to add him to her retinue of lovers. Kelly accepts the idea warily but then meets and falls for Miss Caron. She’s a poor gal who is getting ready to marry Guetary, a musichall star, because he saved her from the Nazis during the war. At the colorful Beaux Arts ball, she tells Kelly about her impending wedding, which sets the scene for the big ballet (a depiction in Kelly’s mind, told in terms of famous French paintings, of his doleful situation.) Guetary, however, naturally discovers the true situation and bows out of the scene for a happy ending. Story is heightened by some fine characterizations by each member of the cast and Lerner’s hep dialog and situations.
Gershwin’s music gets boffo treatment throughout. While some 10 songs get special handling, true Gershwin fans will recognize strains of most of his other tunes in the background score. With the ballet finale, as well as the picture’s innate color, providing top production values, producer Arthur Freed has wisely included only one other major production number–Guetary’s rendition of “Stairway to Paradise” on a musical stage, complete with the femme line and lush sets and costuming. But the other tunes are each excellently projected.
Standout is Kelly’s song-and-dance on “I Got Rhythm,” in which he’s joined by a wonderfully animated group of French moppets; “Embraceable You,” which serves to introduce Miss Caron’s terp talents in highly imaginative style; “By Strauss,” an engaging song-and-dance by Kelly, Guetary and Levant; “Tra-La-La,” done by Kelly and Levant; “Swonderful,” which again projects Kelly and Guetary for top results, and “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” appealingly danced by Kelly and Miss Caron. And then, of course, there’s Levant’s fine solo on the “Concerto” and the terrif “American in Paris” ballet.
Full credit goes to director Vincente Minnelli for his meritorious pacing of the story and the sharp way he resins his cast. Production credits lined up by Freed contribute as much to the film’s overall quality as any other factor. Alfred Gilk’s Technicolor camera supervision is tops, and the ballet, specially lensed by John Alton and costumed by Irene Sharaff, is a masterpiece. Musical direction by Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin, the art work, sets, other costumes by Orry-Kelly and Walter Plunkett and all else involved contribute to make this a great boxoffice film.
1951: Best Picture, Story & Screenplay, Color Cinematography, Color Art Direction, Score for a Musical Picture, Color Costume Design.
Nominations: Director, Editing