“Back home everyone said I didn’t have any talent. They might be saying the same thing over here but it sounds better in French”
Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 musical An American is Paris is widely regarded as a high point of Gene Kelly’s illustrious career, one that includes such great films as On The Town, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort and Singin’ in the Rain. Whilst Minnelli’s film never quite reaches the same standard as these great musicals, it’s still a thoroughly entertaining and worthwhile entry into the genre.
An American in Paris follows Jerry Mulligan, an American war veteran working as a painter in 1950’s Paris who falls in love with a young French girl. Unbeknownst to him, she is already dating a singer and their relationship is surely doomed from the start; or is it?
The nature of traditional musicals suggests that a comprehensive narrative is often secondary to the singing and dancing, and this film is certainly no different. The story of Mulligan’s entry into the art world is barely developed and is only mentioned when the plot needs to progress, like when the two romantic leads and their rivals need to be in the same room together – an art exhibition – to conclude the film. It is this that separates An American in Paris from the aforementioned great musicals; they all have satisfying stories, something that this film sorely misses.
What the film lacks in plot, however, it more than makes up for in theatricality. Gene Kelly was a great movie star, and his natural exuberance for musical cinema makes An American in Paris a thoroughly entertaining film. The dance sequences are wonderfully choreographed and performed – especially the concluding seventeen minute ballet, heavily influenced by Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes – and the notion of romance is perfectly communicated through dance; particularly Kelly and Leslie Caron dancing to “Our Love is Here to Stay” under a Parisian bridge.
For the most part, this wonderful visual storytelling makes up for the film’s poorly handled narrative, yet, as with all musicals, it’s not the plot that matters. The singing and dancing on show here is of the highest order, and An American in Paris is a much better film because of it.