[Theater Thursdays] PopCultHQ Presents: ‘An American in Paris’ – Love, Art, Music

This is Paris, and I’m an American who lives here. My name is Jerry Mulligan, and I’m an ex G.I. In 1945 when the army told me to find my own job, I stayed on. And I’ll tell you why: I’m a painter, and all my life that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”– Jerry Mulligan

To finish up September and the theme of Gene Kelly/Debbie Reynolds movies, this article is going to dive into another Gene Kelly cinematic masterpiece. For a last look at one of Hollywood’s greatest performing actors, it’s time to time travel back to 1951. A year that saw that many high points historically and culturally. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical smash The King and I opens on Broadway, Catcher in the Rye is first published in the United States and the LEO computer runs the first ever commercial computer program. Over in the world of movies and big stars, Gene Kelly’s latest musical film An American in Paris opened at box offices nationwide.

An American in Paris is one of those charming and fun musical stories. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, a sweet love story unfolds in the City of Lights, set against a post- WWII backdrop. With the gorgeous scenery of Paris to help bolster the story, Vincente sets out to produce a dynamic production, chock full of music, song, dance and a cast of fantastic characters (headed by Gene Kelly).

Gene plays Jerry Mulligan, an American G.I. and expatriate living in Paris and trying to eke out a living as a painter. The trouble is, his work doesn’t seem to be what people want. That is until his art catches the eye of the wealthy heiress Milo Roberts (played by Nina Foch). With her offer to jump-start him in the Parisian art scene, Jerry soon finds himself in a bind, as he falls in love with Lise Bouvier (played by Leslie Caron). Dancing and singing his way through a plot that is riff with good character acting, Jerry (Gene) ultimately chooses that which is more important then money or fame, love. He chooses love, and while this A. plot occurs, there is a minor B. plot, bolstered by Adam Cook (played by Oscar Levant) and Henri Baurel (played by Georges Guétary).

Georges (left) Gene (middle) Oscar (sitting)

Both Oscar and George’s characters are fun, well-rounded individuals. They are artists like Gene’s character. Oscar (Adam) is a concert pianist who like Gene, lives in meager means, spending his days playing his piano and enjoying life in Paris. Whereas Georges (Henri), he is a far more successful artist. Henri is a French music hall star, a man who spends his days with his friends and his nights singing before packed halls of adoring countrymen. There is a thread that binds both Jerry and Henri together. Her name is Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron).

This movie was more than just another notch in Gene’s career, it was the jumpstart of Leslie Caron’s. Starting out as a ballerina, Leslie was discovered by Gene and cast to play opposite him in the movie. This would lead to her having a successful career in film, appearing in a total of 45 movies between 1951 and 2003, starring in such titles as Lili, Gigi and Valentino. Her dancer’s background was a great contribution to her breakout role, providing a balance to Gene’s dance style and the film’s music and songs, all from the catalog of George Gershwin.

George Gershwin was and still is one of the great composers in American musical history. An accomplished pianist as well, not only does the movie take its title and cue from his 1928 orchestral piece, the whole production is chock full of his work. It’s difficult in such a case to pick out which numbers are the best, but there are three in particular that stand out.

Choice number one is a charming and energetic rendition of the Gershwin classic I Got Rhythm. Gene is entertaining a group of Paris children, singing in both French and English, all the while tap dancing his way around the little group. Gene sings his heart out while making the kids laugh at his dancing and antics, showing what a big heart the star had for bringing joy in others lives.

Choice number two is another fun song and dance routine. Gene and Georges belt out the song S’Wonderful, singing of their love for Leslie Caron. What makes it funny is the fact that both of them don’t know that the either is in love with the same woman.

The third choice is also the closing for the entire movie. A lavish 17-minute ballet set to the titular music. It’s a massive production, costing half a million dollars to produce. Gene is dancing his through the streets of Paris, running into Leslie and the both of them dancing and falling in love to a gorgeous orchestral arrangement. There is not much else to say about this closer, other then that it’s enchanting to watch and completely engages the audience.

September has been a fun month, going back to great Hollywood musical movies starring two great leading stars. Both Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds lived up to their reputation as talented performers, singers and dancers. Not a single movie they made that included song and dance is dull. If there is ever a day when anyone feels like there is nothing to watch, pick out one of the choices from this month’s review selection. They are guaranteed to provide entertainment and lots of smiles galore. An American in Paris is for sure a hit in every way possible. If there was ever a Gene Kelly movie that will bring laughs and enchant viewers with its songs and dances, it’s this one. So take a break this week, check out the local library or one’s home movie collection and enjoy a little trip back to Paris, a city of love, light, art and music.