“There is a strange sort of reasoning in Hollywood that musicals are less worthy of Academy consideration than dramas.”
Viewing An American in Paris 69 years after its surprise win for Best Picture in 1951, is particularly heartening in our current state of global unease—medical, racial, political. The slight storyline (writer Alan J. Lerner: American painter falls in love; is wanted for more than his talent) deservedly takes a back seat to the Gershwins’ music and lyrics: notably “I Got Rhythm”, “Embraceable You,” ”S’ Wonderful”, and “I’ll Build a Stairway to Heaven,” (deftly complemented by Conrad Salinger’s original score). Our world could stand a few more songs whose often silly or pun-filled words bring a smile, whose wide-ranging melodies are hummed on the way home and whose infectious rhythms get even the most disgruntled amongst us ready to kick up their heels.
Of course, and in so many ways, this is Kelly’s film and magnificent achievement. As lead actor, the artist Jerry Mulligan—his easy-going delivery of lines are at one with the flow; his vocal contributions are OK but hardly S’ Marvellous; but his dancing—frequently solo tap, or mixed techniques duo/ensemble can only be called superb. The feature ballet towards the end of the film is worthy of the Best Picture nod all on its own. Here, director Vincente Minnelli gives full rein to the action, but also draws the best from his performers; director of photography Alfred Gliks floods the screen with angles and shots that keep the eye constantly engaged (Adrienne Fazan’s “snap, crackle, pop” editing is at one with the artistic trust).
Leslie Caron positively radiates as Lise Bouvier, displaying great acting skills in her go-way/I-love-you interactions with the smitten Mulligan (what a marvellous début to a stellar career). As Mulligan’s sponsor (and hopeful lover), Milo Roberts, Nina Foch readily oozes charm, desire and business acumen as required.
Most certainly, the icing on the musical cake comes in the wise-cracking form of Oscar Levant’s superb take on pianist Adam Cook. Unlike the “pretending to play” orchestra in the ballet sequence, Levant’s contributions are vrai on-camera musicmaking that inspire Kelly to even greater heights.
When all is said, danced and sung, this musical/film will remain a model of excellence for all others to follow (and many did…). JWR