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An American in Paris

#362 - An American in Paris
Vincente Minnelli, 1951

In post-WWII Paris, an American ex-GI competes with one of his friends for the attention of a French ballet dancer.

I think that the presence or absence of Gene Kelly is a major deciding factor in how much I'm likely to enjoy a musical from Hollywood's Golden Age, and I was looking forward to An American in Paris because not only did it feature Kelly but it was also apparently good enough to win Best Picture. True to form, there is that sort of quality that keeps the film reasonably entertaining throughout its running time, but it's still prone to a lot of the usual flaws that make Golden Age musicals in general a bit of a tough sell. Much like the other Kelly films I've seen, it uses its loose romantic plot as a launching pad for all sorts of song-and-dance numbers. The last Kelly film I saw was On the Town another similarly lightweight affair and it's not hard to see how Kelly and co. recycle certain concepts and methods of execution - the sequence introducing the dancer in question (Leslie Caron) does so with a documentary-like section full of vibrant-looking sets and ballet moves, which it also did with Vera-Ellen's character in On the Town, as well as Kelly's tendency towards using characters' dreams and imaginations in order to justify some fancy-looking sequences. Hey, if it ain't broke...

Unfortunately, despite the talent on display An American in Paris doesn't quite live up to its award-winning reputation or to the other Kelly films I've seen so far. The songs don't stand out on their own merits, which I guess I can tolerate given how Kelly's always been much more of a dancer than a singer and the dance routines are decent enough to compensate. The visuals are also a major point in the film's favour, especially with the eye-catching set designs and cinematography. The plot's focus on the convoluted romantic lives of its main characters is sporadically interesting but often feels like a means to an end. It's about par for the course as far as classic Hollywood musicals go and is definitely worth appreciating on that particular level, but it doesn't do enough to transcend its ultimately basic focus on spectacle (though it is good spectacle).