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#68 - An American in Paris

Vicente Minnelli directs this 1951 musical classic, starring Gene Kelly as American expat painter Jerry Mulligan, who falls in love with young French ingenue Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron). Nina Foch, Oscar Levant and a boatload of Gershwin tunes co-star.

We've been watching a lot of Gene Kelly lately. This isn't really surprising if you know Samantha at all, who more or less claims Kelly as her favorite classic movie star -- you know, from the era when movie stars were actually talented. This has been helped along by a Christmas gift from her brother Ben. But even if you're not a big Gene Kelly fan, this film is more than worth seeing.

First of all, let's get this out of the way: yes, there's a 17 minute ballet segment near the end that features no dialogue whatsoever. And yes, if you don't dig superb dancing, beautiful sets based on the works of prominent French painters and Gershwin music, you'll probably be bored. We thought we would be and we weren't. It's awesome.

The segment is emblematic of why this film is on the list. Gene Kelly's career with MGM was on the rise at a stratospheric pace, to peak with Singin' in the Rain the following year. Partially because of Kelly's influence, MGM was willing to take bigger chances on the size and scope of the movie musical, and this film is evidence that it was a good bet. The musical numbers, the sets, the large cast -- no expenses were spared. And it works. The film is a joy to watch -- a riot of color and energy.

The plot is forgettable, but you're not here for the plot -- you're here for everything else, and mostly that's Kelly. I know we're a bit biased, but I'm hard pressed to think of anyone in the current day and age that has the range of talent that he did. Between choreography, dancing, singing, acting, writing and directing, he was a showman to the hilt. Caron, trained as a dancer before making her film debut in the film, provides Kelly with a dancer partner more than up to the task. The Gershwin soundtrack is also worth the price of admission, and indeed ties the film together thematically better than the plot does structurally.

If you're going to watch one Gene Kelly film... well, watch Singin' in the Rain. But if you're going to watch two, watch this one as well.

(See this post if you're confused why I'm reviewing movies.)


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