An American in Paris Review
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Paris has long been known as a place for art…for romance…and for a little bit of singing and dancing, too. And all of those elements come together in Vincente Minnelli’s classic, Oscar-winning 1951 musical, An American in Paris.

After the war ended, former GI Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) chose to stay in Paris to pursue a career as a painter. There, he finds himself surrounded by other struggling artists—like neighbor Adam Cook (Oscar Levant), an aspiring concert pianist with a less than upbeat outlook on life.

One day, as he’s out on the street, trying to sell his paintings, Jerry meets Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), an American heiress who takes an interest in both Jerry and his work. She decides to support his career, with hopes that their working relationship will become something more. But Jerry only has eyes for Lise (Leslie Caron), a pretty young French girl who—unbeknownst to Jerry—is already in a serious relationship with Adam’s friend, popular French cabaret singer Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary).

  
 
While classic musicals often bring to mind irresistibly cheery stories and vibrant, infectious musical numbers, An American in Paris isn’t exactly the norm. While it still has its share of playful musical numbers, it instills audiences with a sense of its impending doom almost from the very beginning. Though the characters are generally charming and the narration is amusingly self-deprecating, the life of these struggling artists isn’t exactly carefree and happy-go-lucky. Quite the opposite, in fact. Adam spends a whole lot of time moping and complaining. And when Jerry falls for Lise…well, you know from the start that things are heading in an unpleasant direction.

Jerry, meanwhile, isn’t always an easy character to love. Though he’s often smart and funny, he’s an incurable flirt—and it’s hard to admire him when he continues to string Milo along, even after he’s fallen head over heels for Lise (who seems so young that it’s sometimes uncomfortable). Instead of a lovable scamp, he just seems a bit, well, creepy—using one woman for her money and influence while chasing after a teenager.

Of course, the highlight of the film is its musical numbers. Though they’re sometimes surprisingly lengthy, they’re also memorable, thanks to their stunning costumes, outstanding choreography, and artistic sets (one number, for instance, takes place inside one of Jerry’s sketches). Really, these musical numbers make the perfect tribute to the art and style of Paris.

Overall, though, this beloved classic isn’t really the fun-filled, happy-go-lucky romp that you might expect from a Gene Kelly musical. If you’re in the mood for something like and easy-going and song-and-dancey, I recommend starting with another Gene Kelly classic, Singin’ in the Rain, instead.


DVD Review:
If you want to add An American in Paris to your movie library, you can pick up a copy on Blu-ray—or you can invest in the new box-set, Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Musicals. The collection contains some outstanding musicals—from 1927’s groundbreaking The Jazz Singer to 1988’s Hairspray, with other favorites like Singin’ in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Viva Las Vegas, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in between.

Meanwhile, instead of including a bunch of bare-bones discs, this set includes full releases of the films—and each one comes with its own special features. An American in Paris, for instance, includes a commentary, a (somewhat random) cartoon short, and a feature on the Paris Exposition of 1937.

Again, my only complaint with this collection is its format: DVD instead of Blu-ray. But if you’re content with DVDs, you won’t want to miss this remarkable set.

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