An American in Paris (1951)
Jerry Mulligan, a struggling American painter in Paris, is "discovered" by an influential heiress with an interest in more than Jerry's art. Jerry in turn falls for Lise, a young French girl already engaged to a cabaret singer. Jerry jokes, sings and dances with his best friend, an acerbic would-be concert pianist, while romantic complications abound.
An American in Paris (1951) is one of the greatest, most elegant, and most celebrated of MGM's 50's musicals, with Gershwin lyrics and musical score (lyrics by Ira and music by composer George from some of their compositions of the 20s and 30s), lavish sets and costumes, tremendous Technicolor cinematography, and a romantic love story set to music and dance. Gene Kelly served as the film's principal star, singer, athletically-exuberant dancer and energetic choreographer - he even directed the sequence surrounding "Embraceable You." The entire film glorifies the joie de vivre of Paris, but it was shot on MGM's sound stages in California, except for a few opening, establishing shots of the scenic city. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most optimistic American films of the post-war period - with Paris at its center.
The film brought eight Academy Award nominations and won six of them - none of which were for acting: Best Picture (Arthur Freed, producer), Best Story and Screenplay (Alan Jay Lerner), Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Musical Score, and Best Color Costume Design. Its nominations for director (Vincente Minnelli) and Film Editing were unrewarded. Gene Kelly received an Honorary Award from the Academy the same year, presumably for his contributions to this film - it was presented "in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film." Nineteen year-old Leslie Caron made her film debut as the young Parisian mademoiselle
An American in Paris - and Gigi (1958), were among Minnelli's most successful films, and two rare nuggets of gold among MGM's Golden Age of Musicals. [The Arthur Freed unit at MGM Studios was well known for its production of other wonderful films: Singin' in the Rain (1952) that re-invented the musical in the 1950s, and Minnelli's own Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Pirate (1948) and The Bandwagon (1953), among others.] It was one of the few musicals ever voted Best Picture in Oscar history, and one of only a few Best Picture winners with no acting nominations.
It is an integrated musical, meaning that the songs and dances blend perfectly with the story. As in many musicals, the plot of this film is not its most important element. One of the film's highlights is its impressive finale - an ambitious, colorful, imaginative, 13 minute avante-garde "dream ballet" costing a half million dollars to produce. The pretentious sequence, featuring an Impressionistic period daydream in the style of various painters, is one of the longest uninterrupted dance sequences of any Hollywood film, and features the music of George Gershwin. [The success of the balletic themes in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's British film The Red Shoes (1948) inspired Minnelli to follow suit - he had experimented with shorter ballet sequences in his earlier films Yolanda and the Thief (1945) and Ziegfeld Follies (1946).]