Rixflix A to Z: An American In Paris (1951)

Directors: Vincente Minnelli & Gene Kelly (ballet & various sequences - uncred.) // MGM; 1:53; Color
Crew Notables: George Gershwin (music), Ira Gershwin (lyrics), Alan Jay Lerner (AAW - story & screenplay), John Alton (AAW - ballet photography), Alfred Gilks (AAW - cinematography)
Cast Notables: Gene Kelly (Jerry Mulligan), Leslie Caron (Lise Bouvier), Oscar Levant (Adam Cook), Georges Guétary (Henri Baurel), Nina Foch (Milo Roberts), Madge Blake (Edna Mae Bestram - uncred.), Noel Neill (American art student - uncred.), Anna Q. Nilsson (Kay Jansen - uncred.)
Cinema 4 Rating: 8

It would seem to obvious to gush on about how this movie stands tall as one of the great achievements of the movie musical genre, so I won't. The lushly gorgeous and exquisitely designed 17-minute ballet that closes the film and the perfect melding of disparate Gershwin pieces into a smoothly rolling entertainment are in themselves enough to secure such a place for American, and it scored huge at the Oscars the following year, so its place in American film history is secure and well-documented. It's far from my favorite Gene Kelly film, or even my fourth, even if he is his usual dynamic self -- the joy of watching Kelly is to watch a man constantly thinking (and dancing) his way to that next rung on the ladder. Sometimes it seems as though each film for him were a huge puzzle, and that it will not satisfy him to solve that puzzle by simple logic (read: obvious dance steps) alone, so he takes a harder and more circuitous route to its conclusion each time. If only the plot were more deserving of such attention, but perhaps its lightness and obviousness free him (and his engaging co-stars, especially piano virtuoso Levant) up to concentrate on what's most important here: the music and the dancing.

But something has bothered me about the movie since I first saw it as a teenager: Kelly's character, Mulligan, an ex-G.I. with a budding painting career in post-war Paris, becomes infatuated with elfin nymphet Lise (Leslie Caron), who is engaged, unbeknownst to Mulligan, to one of his friends. Meanwhile, he is getting an unexpected boost in his career through the financial aid of a cool blonde benefactor named Milo, played by Nina Foch, who has more than just an art show on her mind. He, of course, won't give Milo the time of day romance-wise, setting off on the normal course of ultimate heartbreak that befalls all such star-crossed young lovers.

My problem with all of this lovey-dovey nonsense is the fact that I find Nina Foch both far more engaging as a romantic target, and also more attractive. Caron is more "my type" -- I prefer brunettes -- and the cool blonde stereotype has never been my glass of soda, well, except for in my real-life persona, where Jen rules my heart in a major way. And Caron has that "too many teeth" thing going against her -- a smile far too wide (and her eyes, too) and a bit of an overbite. It's not that I don't find her attractive -- she is very pretty, and even more so in Gigi a handful of years later, where I do adore her -- but here, my unfulfilled fantasies of being a "kept man" prevent me from ever truly buying into the Mulligan-Lise romance, and every time that Kelly's character spurns Foch's, I just want to yell at the screen.

Hmmm, perhaps I should take up painting...

1952 Academy Awards - 6 wins (Picture, Screenplay, Music Score, Costume Design, Cinematography, Art Direction-Set Decoration) and 2 other nominations (Director and Film Editing)


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