Vincente Minnelli’s An American in Paris (1951) won six other Oscars, including Best Picture, but today it seems a bit underrated. For one thing, it was not as “serious” as its fellow award contender A Streetcar Named Desire, and for another thing, it’s generally, unfavorably compared to Singin’ in the Rain, which came out the following year and received no Oscar nominations. Then, not long after, the trend for musicals switched from light, airy little fantasies, to big, overblown, expensive behemoths. But I love An American in Paris for all that it is; it’s pleasant and transporting, as any good musical should be.
Gene Kelly plays the title American, Jerry, a struggling painter, who lives in the City of Lights near a struggling piano player (Oscar Levant). Jerry meets a benefactor (Nina Foch), but falls in love with an adorable French girl, Lise (Leslie Caron). Unfortunately, Lise is already involved with a French singer, Henri (Georges Guétary). The cheerful George and Ira Gershwin songs include “I Got Rhythm” and “’S Wonderful.” The movie ends with one of Minnelli’s specialties, a glorious 17-minute ballet with no dialogue, representing a fantasy of Jerry’s feelings about Lise; it was a daring piece of experimental filmmaking inserted into a mainstream Hollywood entertainment. But for the holiday, there’s also the amazing black-and-white New Year’s ball, which must be seen to be enjoyed.