A few weeks ago, we reviewed On the Town, which we found delightful, entertaining and very, very modern. So when another Gene Kelly vehicle appeared on the 1001 movies list–and one that won the Oscar for Best Picture, to boot–I expected to be blown away.
An American in Paris is definitely a good film. It is light and entertaining and colorful and, to a very good degree, fun. This is a film I’d recommend to pretty much anyone, and remember it beat the profound A Streetcar Named Desire to the Oscar that year… so I’m guessing other liked it, too. Also, the talent level in this film… off the charts.
As good as On the Town? In my opinion, not quite.
There are a couple of things which hold it back from achieving that high bar in my mind. The first is the music.
I’ve already said that On the Town felt spectacularly modern compared to its contemporaries. One thing that didn’t feel particularly groundbreaking was the music. It felt familiar in style, confortable and highly catchy… but nothing new (I’m talking about the style, the lyrics, in several places were quite daring for Hollywood).
An American in Paris changes all that. It takes the full-bore jazzy Gershwin route which, though definitely more modern doesn’t significantly add to the enjoyment. In fact, I personally preferred the musical style of the earlier film. It’s certainly not a failed experiment… but perhaps taking a musical audience out of its comfort zone is not the way to get them into the movie. Having said that, any film with chunks of Rhapsody in Blue in it is a win in my book.
The story itself isn’t quite as full-bore fun as On the Town‘s. This one has a little more emotional conflict and a little less lunacy. If given a choice, I will always go with lunacy.
The dancing, as you can imagine, was top-notch, with Leslie Caron playing a classical foil to Gene Kelly’s signature style (waves to Leslie, in case she’s reading this). Unfortunately, the signature dance routine at the end does go on a little long… and the sequence where the main romantic interest is introduced is lifted almost directly from On the Town.
But enough with the nit-picking. This one was enjoyable, and the musical element made it a light-hearted piece that still holds the interest today. Maybe if you watch just one Gene Kelly musical, the one to see is On the Town, but this one is also worth watching.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. Prose, of course, doesn’t have a musical score, but it does have rhythm, particularly in the shorter forms. Those who enjoy the cadence of a good collection should probably check out his book Love and Death, which you can check out here.