Friday, 14 August 2009

An American in Paris

1951 - Dir: Vincente Minelli
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 27th December, 2003

You could take just about any movie storyline, set it to George Gershwin's music and end up with a film that sounds and feels like a big success. That's what Gershwin's music does for a movie. The tragically short-lived composer (only 39 when he died) did as good a job as anyone ever has of bridging `serious' and popular music - remarkably able to sound majestic and jazzy at the same time. And what better place to show this off than in a Hollywood musical starring Gene Kelly? It's a winning combination, and when you toss in the deft direction of Vincente Minnelli, the charming screen debut of Leslie Caron and a capable supporting cast, the result is elevated from a merely successful movie to a truly memorable classic.
Gershwin had been dead for 14 years when the film was made - the tone poem upon which the score is based was written in 1928 but it is undoubtedly the key to the movie's enduring appeal.The Gershwin score may be the big star of the show, but Gene Kelly's performance is certainly the glue that holds it together. Kelly's remarkable ability to be both strong and subtle on the dance floor works to great effect here. Caron, who was added to the cast at the last minute, when Cyd Charisse found herself pregnant and unable to play the role, is sweet and appealing. She was a dancer at the Paris Opera when Kelly spotted her and, despite opposition from the studio, persuaded the Director to take the huge risk of casting a totally inexperienced unknown in a major role. The gamble paid off, the movie was a huge success and Caron, at 19, found herself feted as one of Hollywood's biggest stars.
The main body of the picture was shot in six weeks... but then the ballet finale took two months to perfect. This tour of Paris through the eyes of that country's greatest painters is one of the cinema's greatest spectacles. Gene Kelly choreographed it himself and demanded an astounding $400,000 for doing so. MGM, not renowned for its generosity to performers, must have reckoned they were on to a winner and gave Kelly and Minelli a free hand.
'An American in Paris' garnered six other Oscars, including an honorary award to Gene Kelly 'in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director, and dancer, and specially for his brilliant achievement in the art of choreography on film.'
Fascinating facts:
Maurice Chevalier was offered the part played by Georges Guetary but turned it down because he didn't get the girl in the last reel. The Newsvendor is played by the appropriately named Marie-Antoinette Andrews.

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