Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in An American in Paris (1951)


(director: Vincente Minnelli; screenwriters: Alan Jay Lerner/story by Alan Jay Lerner; cinematographer: Alfred Gilks/John Alton (ballet photography); editor: Adrienne Fazan; music: Saul Chaplin/George and Ira Gershwin; cast: Gene Kelly (Jerry Mulligan), Leslie Caron (Lise Bouvier), Oscar Levant (Adam Cook), Georges Guetary (Henri Baurel), Nina Foch (Milo Roberts), Hayden Rorke (Tommy Baldwin); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Freed; MGM; 1951)


“The dazzling French fried musical is Hollywood’s homage to Paris’s joie de vivre.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Vincente Minnelli (“The Band Wagon”/”Gigi”) stylishly directs this somewhat overpraised but still engagingly sweet musical romance, which won an Oscar for Best Picture. It also won five other Oscars for Best Story and Screenplay, Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Musical Score, and Best Color Costume Design. Gene Kelly provides the star power, and does some energetic song and dance numbers. The 19-year-old lissome Leslie Caron sparkles with her pert personality and winsome acting, in her film debut. It’s a thin plot line written by Alan Jay Lerner and based on his story. The music of George and Ira Gershwin is good for the ears, while John Alton is called upon to lens the final 17-minute ballet sequence and helps make that colorful number the memorable showstopper. The ballet centers around the dancing of Caron and Kelly, and has them enter into a number of great French paintings (Dufy, Renoir, Utrillo, Rousseau, Van Gogh, Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec). The dazzling French fried musical is Hollywood’s homage to Paris’s joie de vivre; it was filmed in the studio’s California back lot.

Cocky and somewhat jerky American ex-G.I. Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is a struggling painter living on the Left Bank in Paris after World War II, who thrives on his bohemian lifestyle. Jerry digs the neighborhood and especially the children, doing a song and dance number with them “I Got Rhythm.” Before going to Montmarte to sell his paintings to tourists he meets in the local café his cynical wisecracking American friend Adam Cook (Oscar Levant), an unemployed concert pianist here on a scholarship. Adam introduces Jerry to dapper popular music hall French singer Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary, the French actor’s only performance in an American film). In Montmarte, the wealthy American heiress Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) discovers him and becomes Jerry’s patroness. They go nightclubbing in a cheap jazz hangout of his choice, where he becomes attracted to the pretty Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron). Jerry doesn’t realize that the perfumery clerk is seeing the much older middle-aged Henri, who became her guardian when her parents, fighting for the resistance, were killed during the war. Jerry’s attentions shown to Lise bring about a jealous outburst from the older Milo. The next day, Milo apologizes and introduces Jerry to a well-known art dealer. Afterwards Jerry crashes the perfumery and gets Lise to go out with him that evening for a walk along the Seine, where the couple secretly fall in love. Realizing it’s 11:00, Lise leaves Jerry promising to meet him on Saturday and rushes to the theater to catch Henri’s singing. He’s just been offered a chance to tour America in a show arranged by American impresario John MacDowd and asks Lise to accompany him, and also asks her to marry him. A few weeks go by, and Jerry tells Lise about his love for her. She tells him she agreed to marry Henry. Jerry reacts with jealousy and begins to get romantic with Milo. But while they are dancing at the art student’s costume ball, Jerry confesses to Milo he loves Lise. Henry and Lise are also at the ball. When Jerry talks in private with Lise, Henri overhears them say they are in love with each other but she will keep her promise to marry tomorrow. In the end, Henri lets Lise go to Jerry.

You can’t argue with the style and such wonderful musical numbers as “‘S Wonderful,” and “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Other highlights include Guetary’s rendition of “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise”; Oscar Levant’s conducting and performing Gershwin’s “Concerto in F,” and Kelly and Caron’s pas-de-deux on the river-bank. It’s such an elegant musical–splashed stylishly with a rainbow of colors, that you can almost forgive the feeble narrative and acting.