AMERICAN IN PARIS, AN - DVD review

...the musical numbers have enough life for two pictures.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

From the late 1940s to the mid 1950s Gene Kelly was on a roll. There wasn't a bigger song-and-dance man in Hollywood than he was, and he could do no wrong. Think about it: "The Pirate" (1948), "On the Town" (1949), "Summer Stock" (1950), "An American in Paris" (1951), "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), "Brigadoon" (1954), "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955), and many more.

"An American in Paris" starred not only Kelly but Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, and Nina Foch; Vincente Minnelli ("The Pirate," "Father of the Bride," "The Band Wagon," "Brigadoon," "Kismet," "Gigi") directed; Arthur Freed ("Meet Me in St. Louis," "The Pirate," "Easter Parade," "On the Town," "Annie Get Your Gun," "Singin' in the Rain," "The Band Wagon," "Brigadoon," "Silk Stockings," "Gigi") produced; Alan Jay Lerner ("The Band Wagon," "Brigadoon," "My Fair Lady," "Gigi," "Camelot," "Paint Your Wagon," "On a Clear Day") wrote the story and screenplay; and the filmmakers used the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin, with additional uncredited tunes by Saul Chaplin.

Is it any wonder the film won six Oscars for Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Music, and Best Writing? For anyone who likes big, lavish, MGM musicals, this is one of the best.

Kelly wanted MGM to film "An American in Paris" in Paris, as the studio would do to wonderful effect a few years later with "Gigi." But in this case, MGM balked and filmed the movie on the lot. It doesn't slow it down much. It is, after all, Kelly's singing and dancing that count here.

Oh, and, yes, the movie does have a plot. Not that it needs one with Kelly's unbounded energy and athletic gamboling on display. Unfortunately, the plot seems almost like an afterthought, since it's not terribly imaginative or engaging. Kelly plays a struggling American artist, Jerry Mulligan, living in Paris, a GI who stuck around after World War II to paint. He lives alone in a small apartment on an impossibly quaint Parisian street, the kind of street that if Kelly had had his way and the studio filmed in Paris, they never would have found. It's a Paris street on the MGM back lot.

Oscar Levant plays Mulligan's best friend, Adam Cook, an equally struggling artist, a composer and concert pianist, who occupies a nearby apartment. He is mainly in the film to add some cynical comic relief. Leslie Caron in her screen debut plays Lise Bouvier, a young, nineteen-year-old Parisian perfume-shop clerk engaged to a popular French music-hall star, Henri "Hank" Baurel (Georges Guetary). Mulligan falls for Lise upon first seeing her, but he doesn't know she's engaged. The final major character is Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), a rich American living in Paris, who takes a fancy to Mulligan and literally tries to buy him, setting him up in his own studio, arranging an exhibition of his works, etc. Even though Mulligan doesn't fancy the idea of being a "kept" man, he goes along with it for a spell.

So, there's the plot: Jerry and Lise fall in love but each has someone else hanging on them. It's not much of a romantic story we haven't heard and seen before, and its development and resolution are hardly important except to string the Gershwin songs together.

Luckily, the music and Kelly's dancing save the day. There's "An American in Paris," "Irresistible You," "I Got Rhythm," "Out Love Is Here to Stay," "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," "'S Wonderful," Levant's daydream sequence to the Concerto in F, and Kelly's daydream finale ballet, making the movie a Gershwin-lover's delight.

The colors, the costumes, the choreography (by Kelly, of course), and the music are terrific and make "An American in Paris" an attractive proposition in everything but story and character.

Video:
The Warners video engineers reproduce the movie's original 1.37.1 (at 1.33.1) Academy ratio picture in brilliant colors and reasonably good standard definition. The copy is pretty clean, too, with a normal amount of print grain but no glaring spots, scratches, lines, specks, or flecks. The hues are deep, rich, and sparkling, set off by strong black levels. While some scenes looks a tad rough, most of the film looks sparkling.

Audio:
The Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural audio doesn't come up nearly as well as the video. It's a little thin at the bottom and edgy at the top, but displays a smooth, natural midrange. There's a bit of background noise, not much, yet noticeable. Although there is a limited frequency and dynamic response most of the time, they open up in the finale, with good clarity and impact.

Extras:
Disc one of this Two-Disc Special Edition contains the feature film, plus a few bonus items of interest. There is what the keep case describes as a "Concerto of a Commentary," hosted by Gene Kelly's widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, and featuring the recollections of star Gene Kelly, director Vincent Minnelli, producer Arthur Freed, screenwriter Alan Jay Lerner, music director Johnny Green, composer-songwriter Saul Chaplin, art director Preston Ames, costume designer Irene Sharaff, and new observations by actresses Leslie Caron and Nina Foch. After that is a vintage "FitzPatrick Traveltalks" short feature, "Paris on Parade," about eight minutes; a classic Tex Avery cartoon, "Symphony in Slang," and a theatrical trailer. In addition, we find twenty-seven scene selections; English and French spoken languages; French, Japanese, and Thai subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

On disc two there are more and longer bonus items. First, there is an "American Masters Career Profile: Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer," twenty-three chapters and eighty-four minutes long. After that, there is a the new documentary "'S Wonderful: The Making of An American in Paris," forty-two minutes and featuring interviews with Leslie Caron and Nina Foch. Finally, there are seven audio-only outtakes totaling about fourteen minutes; three radio interviews with Johnny Green, Gene Kelly, and Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, also about fourteen minutes; and a two-minute song outtake, "Love Walked In," with sound and picture. A slim-line keep case encloses the two discs, and a matching slipcover finishes the job.

Parting Thoughts:
Depending on how much you like singing and dancing, "An American in Paris" will either delight you or bore you. I found myself entertained by the music and bored by the rest, so I will be forever grateful for the "Next" button on my remote control. Fortunately, the musical numbers have enough life for two pictures because the romance sits as flat as day-old Coke. Darned good thing Gerwshin and Kelly are so good.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
5
Extras
10
Film Value
7