Top 100 Movie Review: No. 044 – An American in Paris (1951)

Ranked 044 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017).  Watched movie during May 2020.

Cast: Gene Kelly (Jerry Mulligan), Leslie Caron (Lise Bouvier), Oscar Levant (Adam Cook), Georges Guétary (Henri Baurel), Nina Foch (Milo Roberts)
Director:  Vincente Minnelli
My rating: 6.5 / 10

American World War II veteran Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is living in Paris trying to be a painter. His friend and neighbor, Adam Cook (Oscar Levant), is a struggling concert pianist and associate of a famous French singer, Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary). At bar, Henri tells Adam about his cultured girlfriend, Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron). Jerry joins them later, before going out to try an sell his art.

A lonely society woman and heiress, Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), finds Jerry displaying his paintings and takes an interest in him and his art. She brings him to her apartment to pay for his works, and invites him to a dinner party she is throwing later that night. After singing with French children on the way home Jerry goes up to Milo’s apartment. He quickly finds out the “party” is actually a one-on-one date, and tells Milo he has no interest in being a paid escort. When he attempts to leave after giving her money back, she insists she is only interested in his art.

They go to a crowded bar, and Milo offers to sponsor an art show for Jerry as a friendly gesture. Some of Milo’s friends arrive, and while sitting with them, Jerry sees Lise for the first time seated with friends at the next table, and is smitten. He ignores Milo and her acquaintances, and instead strikes up a conversation with a disintereted Lise. She is standoffish and gives Jerry a wrong phone number, but is innocently corrected by companion at her table.

Milo is upset by Jerry’s behaviour and suddenly decides to go home. On their way home she tells Jerry he was very rude cavorting with a girl he does not know while in her presence; tired of Milo, Jerry gets out of the car and bids her farewell.

The next day, Jerry calls Lise at her work, but she tells him to never call her again. Jerry and Milo meet at a cafe, and she informs him a collector is interested in his paintings and she arranged a showing later that day. Before going to the showing, he goes to the parfumerie where Lise works and she consents to a late dinner with him. She does not want to be seen eating with him in public, but they share a romantic song and dance on the banks of the Seine River in the shadows of Notre Dame. However, she quickly rushes off to meet Henri after his performance where Henri tells her he has been asked to go on a tour of America and asks her to marry him.

Later, Adam humorously daydreams he is performing Gershwin’s Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra for a gala audience in a concert hall. As the scene progresses, Adam is also revealed to be the conductor, other members of the orchestra, and even an enthusiastic audience member applauding himself at the end.

Milo gets Jerry an art studio and tells him she has planned an exhibition of his work in three months. He initially refuses the studio because he does not have the money for it, but eventually accepts it under the condition he pay Milo back when his art proceeds allow him. After much courting, Lise abruptly runs off when she and Jerry arrive by taxi at his apartment. When Jerry complains to Adam, Adam is shocked to realize both Henri and Jerry are involved with the same woman. Henri and Jerry discuss the woman they each love (“‘S Wonderful”), unaware she is the same woman.

That night, Jerry and Lise reunite in the same place on the banks of the Seine close to Notre Dame. She informs him she is marrying Henri the next day and going to America. Lise feels a sense of duty to Henri, to whom she feels indebted for keeping her safe during World War II. She and Jerry proclaim their love for each other.

Feeling slighted, Jerry invites Milo to the art students’ masked ball and kisses her. At the raucous party, with everyone in black-and-white costumes, they meet Henri and Lise, and Jerry finally tells Milo about his feelings for Lise. Henri overhears Jerry and Lise saying goodbye to each other, and realises the truth. As Henri and Lise drive away, Jerry daydreams about being with Lise all over Paris. His reverie is broken by a car horn, the sound of Henri who has realised Lise doesn’t really love him. Lisa run up to Jerry and they embrace as the movie ends.

What’s to Like
A strong musical with a story that connects with the songs. The cinematography, the art direction, and set design.

What’s not to Like
Being so close to the end of World War 2 which they reference but Paris seems fully recovered like the world near occurred which takes you out of the movie.  If they wanted the great architecture of Paris it should have been set a longer time after the WW2.  The contrived circumstances that see two main characters who know each other not realising they are seeing the same woman.

While the songs in the movie and the dancing are technically very good I still struggled to really connect with the story.  Two of the three main male characters are Americans in Paris instead of locals, the city shows no signs of World War 2 despite that event being mentioned several times, and lastly the suspension of belief on two character who have coffee together regularly not realising they are seeing the same women is just a little too hard to believe.

Still an okay movie and anyone who likes musicals would likely love this movie. 

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture – winner
  • Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (Alan Jay Lerner) – winner
  • Best Cinematography, Colour – winner
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Colour – winner
  • Best Costume Design, Colour – winner
  • Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture – winner
  • Best Director (Vincente Minnelli) – nominee
  • Best Film Editing (Adrienne Fazan) – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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