#89) An American in Paris (1951)


#89) An American in Paris (1951)

OR “Song & France”

Directed by Vincente Minnelli

Written by Alan Jay Lerner

Class of 1993

The Plot: Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is a former GI now living in Paris as a struggling painter. He falls for lovely young French woman Lise (Leslie Caron) who it turns out is dating his mutual friend, performer Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary). At the same time heiress Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) takes interest in Jerry’s art, and possibly a whole lot more. But all of this is just the wall from which to hang some classic Gershwin tunes and some of the best dance numbers captured on film.

Why It Matters: I get the feeling whoever had to do the “American in Paris” NFR write-up didn’t like the film. They call the plot “thinnish”, point out that George Guétary didn’t become the film’s break-out star, and highlight the two numbers that Gene Kelly isn’t in. Was no one else in the office that day?

But Does It Really?: By comparison my thoughts are practically gushing. It may fall apart under scrutiny, but “An American in Paris” is one of the most romantic, feel-good musicals ever made. I dare you to not grin from ear to ear while watching it. This is the film in which Gene Kelly finally broke through as a true artist, and everything around him from the songs to the set help amplify that artistry. If forced to choose I’d still say “Singin’ in the Rain” is the quintessential Gene Kelly film, but “An American in Paris” is a worthy close second.

Everybody Gets One: Of the credited cast, Georges Guétary is the only actor with one film on the Registry. Among the uncredited masses is Noel “Lois Lane” Neill**.

Wow, That’s Dated: A quick shout-out to Hopalong Cassidy, plus some very obvious Chroma key outlining during any scene in a car.

Seriously, Oscars?: “An American in Paris” won six Oscars, including a surprise win for Best Picture (most people were backing either “A Streetcar Named Desire” or “A Place in the Sun”). Despite not being nominated for Best Actor, Gene Kelly did take home an honorary Oscar for his contributions as a choreographer. It was Kelly’s only Oscar during his 50-year showbiz career.

Other notes

  • This was Leslie Caron’s first film. Like her character, Leslie was 19 when she filmed this. Gene Kelly was literally twice her age during filming.
  • Hope you enjoyed those establishing shots, because that’s all you’re seeing of the real Paris for the next two hours!
  • Five minutes in and we get three different narrators, a device we never see or hear again. What gives?
  • A bed that hangs from the ceiling. That’s what I need!
  • Yes, modern girls were definitely still doing The Charleston in 1951.
  • Among the great things about this film is that many of the scenes (musical or otherwise) are presented in just a handful of continuous takes. It gives the whole film a wonderful energy about it.
  • By many accounts he was a taskmaster and not the nicest person, but on screen Gene Kelly is effortlessly charming. And he’s great with kids, that’s always a plus.
  • Having never seen this film before, I was not expecting it to be so funny. Kudos to Alan Jay Lerner, and special kudos to actor Oscar Levant, who hits most of those lines out of the park.
  • Always great to see Dr. Bellows in a movie.
  • Oh I really like Nina Foch in this film. It’s a character we don’t get in a musical too often and she nails it. I wish she could’ve gotten an Oscar nomination.
  • Ah yes, that classic movie romance where he’s aggressive and a borderline stalker but she’s okay with it because it’s…charming?
  • How come the only thing Adam can compose are Gershwin songs?
  • Nice split-screen work during Adam’s dream number. Very “Parent Trap”.
  • Ooh, a joke about Hitler only six years after the war. Quite ballsy.
  • The lead-up to “’S Wonderful” is brilliant. There are three different narratives happening in the same shot, and two of them continue into the song. Perfect.
  • So if my math is right, Lise was 8 to 13 years old when she stayed with Henri during the war. And now they’re engaged. …Okay then.
  • Seeing Gene Kelly in those tight pants I suddenly understand why every woman I’ve ever met wants to climb him like a tree.
  • That ending ballet is great and all, but isn’t it just a rip-off of the ending of “La La Land”?


  • Boy, when Gene Kelly does an encore…
  • Many of the artists involved in “An American in Paris” would continue their collaboration throughout the ‘50s musicals that comprise MGM’s “Freed Unit”. This era hit its peak with 1958’s similarly veined “Gigi”.
  • “Love Is Here To Stay” went from second-tier Gershwin to American standard thanks to this film.
  • We get a “new” Gershwin musical every decade or so, so it was only a matter of time before “An American in Paris” made its way to Broadway. Thankfully, it’s a perfect match.

Listen to This: The best Gershwin composition not in this film, George’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was first recorded in 1924. George played piano with Paul Whiteman as conductor. The recording was among the first 50 in the NRR’s inaugural class of 2002.

** 2017 Update: Speaking of, Ms. Neill has a cameo in new NFR entry “Superman”.

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