Obnoxious Gene Kelly, who plays the “young” American painter in “too real and too beautiful” Paris, is always something of a chore to endure, and his Oscar-winning choreography is spotty; but I like An American in Paris, Vincente Minnelli’s first Oscar-winning best picture. Its splendid romance and sprightly, artificial Paris glow. And the Gershwin music: ’S wonderful.
Despite Alan Jay Lerner’s winning the Oscar for best story and screenplay, many routinely disparage the film for its story, which some find minimal, others find too conventional, and still others find both minimal and too conventional. “’S Wonderful” is sung as a duet between Kelly’s Jerry Mulligan and Georges Guétary’s Henri Baurel—two men who do not know that the two different girls they’re singing about as loving them are in fact the same girl, Leslie Caron’s Lise Bouvier. I submit that any script that brings us to such a moment is brilliant. But, admittedly, Minnelli and Oscar Levant, whose Adam sits between them at a café and does know that his two pals are in love with the same girl, trump Lerner with comic genius as Adam/Levant nervously mixes up his cigarette-smoking and coffee-drinking.
I do not like everything about An American in Paris. The fact that their sex is kept off-screen doesn’t cleanse of tawdriness Jerry’s relationship with a rich patron, who is callously dropped from the film to make way for the sweeping Jerry-Lise romantic come-together.
Guétary’s singing of “(I’ll Build a) Stairway to Paradise” is one high point, and Kelly and Caron’s charming dance in the park and vivid dream-ballet are two other high points. Yet another borrows from Buster Keaton’s “The Play House” (1921), showcasing concert pianist Adam/Levant in multiple roles in his dream: performer, conductor, other orchestra members, audience.
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