A classic film featuring the timeless music of George and Ira Gershwin, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS has a freshness and charm rare in the musical genre, and it was the film that forever identified MGM as the studio for musicals.
Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is an ex-GI and struggling artist in postwar Paris. His friend Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) is a piano player in a nearby cafe, a sarcastic and morose individual who offers nothing but discouragement to Jerry. However, another friend, Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary), a
successful revue singer, is more encouraging. Henri informs his pal that he's going to marry a wonderful girl, an 18-year-old dancer whom he rescued from the Nazis during the war. Jerry, meanwhile, is discovered by Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), a wealthy patroness who purchases his paintings and
encourages her friends to do the same. Innocently enjoying his newfound success, Jerry visits a nightclub and meets Lise (newcomer Leslie Caron, discovered by Kelly in the Ballets des Champs Elysees), falling for her immediately. She fends off his advances but laters agrees to a date, then informs
him that she's engaged to Henri. Though they are in love, Jerry and Lise do the noble thing and decide not to meet again.
The plot was showing signs of age far earlier than 1951, but everything else about AN AMERICAN IN PARIS more than compensates: the songs are all Gershwin Brothers standards; Kelly's choreography is breathtaking; the original screenplay by playwright Alan Jay Lerner is alternately witty and
touching; and Minnelli's direction feels buoyantly assured. The 17-minute Dufy-inspired ballet (art directors Cedric Gibbons and Preston Ames, along with costume designer Irene Sharaff, also contributed brilliantly to this sequence) is the showstopper here but an underrated standout is "I'll Build
a Stairway to Paradise," performed with marvelous elan by Guetary. Although the setting is Paris, very little of the film was actually shot on location; the spectacular scenes were mostly sets built on the lot. AN AMERICAN IN PARIS received a total of seven Academy Awards, plus a special Oscar to
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