Tuesdays with Oscar: An American in Paris (1951)


by Jerry Dean Roberts

Best Picture; Best Writing; Story and Screenplay (Alan Jay Lerner); Best Cinematography, Color (Alfred Gilks and John Alton); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Cedric Gibbons, E. Preston Ames, Edwin B. Willis and F. Koegh Gleason); Best Costume Design (Orry-Kelly, Walter Plunkett and Irene Sharaff); Best Musical, Scoring of a Motion Picture (Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin)
Best Director (Vincent Minnelli); Best Film Editing (Adrienne Fazan)

Musicals are no strangers to The Academy Awards, but in weighting the quality, you can’t give them points for diversity.  Two musicals, An American in Paris and Gigi won the Oscar for Best Picture in the decade of the 1950s and were so similar that they might have played on a double bill.  Both were directed by Vincent Minnelli.  Both were produced by MGM.  Both were shot in Technicolor.  Both were romances that took place in Paris.  And both starred Leslie Caron.

So, given their similarities, how can I choose one over the other?  Well, it’s a degree to which the romance is set in place.  Both films have Caron coaxed into a romance with their leading men, but I think An American in Paris allows her a bit more agency in her romance with Gene Kelly.  Gigi, in great part, manipulated her right into the arms of Louis Jordan and his overriding indifference killed any potential sparks that they had together.  Plus, American in Paris has that gorgeous 20 minute dance sequence that solidifies the two lovers as they come together.

As far as those dance sequences go, by the way, I must tell you that I’m a huge fan of Gene Kelly.  He was as much an athlete as he was a dancer.  He could use the entire set as his canvas and his musical numbers never seemed rehearsed – they always seemed to be spur of the moment.  That clashes, I’m afraid, with Minnelli’s more balletic sense of style.  Other than a sweet dance number that he has with a group of street kids, there is something restrained here.  Kelly seems uncomfortable when he’s locked down to the formality that a director like Minnelli was use to.  Oh, Gene Kelly could do it.  But I’m a fan of watching him cut loose.

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