Film and Food

Movies reviews with matching food – eat, watch, enjoy

Best Picture – An American in Paris (1951)

Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron & Oscar Levant

Rating 8/10

If you are a dancer, a musical nutter, a musician or artist of any description, this film is for you! It is part musical (of course), part dance film, part bohemian Paris love story. Simply breathtaking.

This is a simple story. Jerry Mulligan (Kelly) is an artist living in a cramped top floor apartment in Paris. His neighbour is concert pianist wannabe and fellow American, Adam Cook (Oscar Levant). Cook is friends with famous French singer Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary). Unbeknownst to both men, Baurel is engaged to Mulligan’s girlfriend. And then, there is the rich sponsor, Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) who has the hots for Mulligan, or is it just his ‘talent’? There are the classic songs: “I Got Rhythm”, “S’Wonderful'” and “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise”; and dancing to get your toes tapping. And who better to show us how it’s done than dance-freak and superstar, Gene Kelly?

This film is surprisingly modern. The dance scenes would not be out of place in any contemporary dance company. For the non-dancer, these can appear a little weird and over-the-top but really they are intriguing. The giant sets and the incredible costumes draw you into these dream-like sequences and you don’t want to wake up. Ultimately the storyline appears incidental to the magnificence of these scenes, they simply engulf the whole film.

Oscar Levant is exceptional as Adam Cook. Levant was a character and a stunning pianist and composer. I just cannot gush enough over his musical abilities. There are no words. The scene where he is conducting himself in the concert band (possibly a tribute to Buster Keaton) is unbelievable. I now understand why they call piano playing “tickling the ivories” because that’s what he did… effortlessly.

I don’t have to tell you about Gene Kelly. He was simply the best dancer that ever lived. He was so dynamic and combined a beautiful singing voice with impeccable acting. The one downer about the film was the performance by Leslie Caron as Lise Bouvier. Obviously she was hired for her dancing ability over her acting prowess. Was it her character or her lack of ooomph on camera? Next to Kelly she just looked weak!

This film is a funny one. It was based on a Gershwin piece, An American in Paris and seems to focus on showcasing talents  rather than delivering a powerful story. Which, actually, is ok because the performances were sensational. If you approach it  as an unconventional film, a piece of art, you’ll love it. This is simply a bohemian film, about bohemians, for bohemians and a smidgen for the main stream. Enjoy it for what it is and let me know how it affects you!

An American in Paris Trivia:

  • Budget – $2,723,903 ($500,000 of this was spent on the ballet!)
  • Ah ha! Apparently Leslie Caron had suffered malnutrition in World War Two and was exhausted by the tough filming schedule that she was expected to keep to, so she worked every second day… still, she seemed tired to me!
  • The wonderful Oscar Levant, yep! a friend of Gershwin. As a pianist he makes a pretty fine actor!
  • The film was shot on 44 sets in California. Only two scenes were filmed in Paris. Gene was not happy. He wanted to shoot the entire film on location.
  • Vincente Minnelli and Gene Kelly shared the director’s role due to Minnelli’s divorcing Judy Garland.
  • The last 20 minutes and 25 seconds of the film, no words are uttered.

We leave the dancing world for another type of show… the circus. So grab some popcorn and enjoy The Greatest Show on Earth starring Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde and Charlton Heston.

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