- An American in Paris was a product of the brilliant age of musicals brought on by MGM studios in the 1950's. It is one of the most well produced productions of the era, showcasing dance on screen in a way that had never been done before. The movie contains some of the most lavish sets and costumes which are well complimented by the vibrant Technicolor style of the 50's era. Directed by both Vincent Minnielli and Gene Kelley, these highly talented collaborators were responsible for the films brilliant choreography and direction. The majority of the dancing and singing in film, however, is outmatched by its by its fantastic ending. The film ends with a 16 minute ballet, choreographed and staged dexterously to bring the film to an awe-inspiring close.
The film stars Gene Kelley as Jerry Mulligan, a carefree and penniless American World War II Veteran. Jerry, the self proclaimed oldest child prodigy, has struggled to make a name for himself as a painter in Paris after the war. He is taken in by a lonely French Socialite, Milo Roberts. She helps Jerry with his art career, even though she seems more interested in his good looks than his art. Jerry is seemingly unaware of Milo’s true feelings towards him. He falls in love with a woman he meets at a restaurant, Lise Bouvier. She ends up loving him as well but she is already with another man, Henri, who she feel indebted to since he kept her safe during the war.
- For the most part the plot in An American in Paris, is nothing special. The plot however is only a minor detail in this grand scale music/dance production. Gene Kelley was able to convince the heads of MGM studios to back a dance focused film with elements of a ballet. He did this by bringing them a copy of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressbuger’s The Red Shoe, an good example of a ballet and cinema collaboration. Gene Kelley was convinced that he could star in a successful film that focused on dance. The climax of the film’s masterful use of dance is, of course, the 16 minute ballet that concludes the film. The number itself cost MGM $500,000 to make and it was one of the most expensive set pieces filmed at the time. This colorful and artistically inspiring ballet number brought this musical to the next level, sealing it with the status of a timeless classic.
Each of the six individualized sequences within the ballet scene are influenced by the works of famous impressionistic artists. Manet, Utrillo, Rosseau, Dufy, and Van Gogh all influenced the six impressionistic sets that Gene Kelley and Leslie Caron danced in. The unique dancing styles of Gene and Leslie are complimented by the musical styling’s of George Gershwin, who composed the original 1928 orchestral masterpiece. The scene is very romantic and gives the movie much needed depth. Without the final ballet scene, An American in Paris would not be as relevant today. In fact, the ballet sequence was almost cut because the shooting was behind schedule, but MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer stood by Arthur Freed, Vincente Minnelli and Gene Kelly in withholding the release of the movie because he felt the movie wouldn't succeed without it. It is this final scene that solidifies the film as an artistic groundbreaker, one that reflects the genius of Gene Kelley and George Gershwin.
In my opinion the ballet sequence is the most important part of the film. Gene Kelley succeeded in proving to the world that dance could be a major focus of a film. His athletic, yet graceful, style is unparallel and it is a shame that such talent isn’t sought after as much today. This movie was an important milestone for Kelley as a director, actor, dancer, and idea-man. The beautiful and carefully crafted sets, musical numbers, and costumes foreshadowed the absolute masterpiece that is Singin’ in the Rain (1952). While American in Paris does not compare to Singin’ in the Rain as a film in its entirety, the final ballet number surpasses every other dance number ever filmed in terms of value. By watching the scene you can sense the high level of hard work, precision, and detail that was put into this ballet sequence. It is truly unbeatable in terms of quality and talent.