In 1952, MGM's musical masterpiece Singin' In The Rain suffered some by coming in the immediate wake of An American In Paris, a Best Picture-winning prestige effort that at the time was considered the height of Hollywood musical sophistication. Over the past few decades, though, the tide has turned. Singin' In The Rain has become a cudgel with which to beat the bloated, somewhat pretentious An American In Paris, such that now it's the Oscar-winner which may be underrated. Much of what's bothersome about An American In Paris can be attributed to its ambition, along with a well-meaning but obnoxious reactionary streak. This is a movie that honors its hero, a mediocre representational painter played by Gene Kelly, for standing against the tide of airy-fairy art-world abstraction. And yet MGM's crack creative team—led by director Vincente Minnelli—went a little arty themselves, abandoning conventional narrative after 90-odd minutes to resolve the movie's central love triangle with an allusive 18-minute ballet. An American In Paris is muddled as an artistic statement, yet unsatisfying as conventional Hollywood product.
Still, how many other Hollywood products of the era were driven by such a multivalent meditation on aesthetics? And how many featured songs as timelessly winning as George and Ira Gershwin's bouncy pop numbers, or found a place in the cast for curmudgeonly Gershwin pal Oscar Levant? As for that ballet, it remains a thing of wonder, replicating the styles of half a dozen French masters in a collision of color, movement, and elegant lines. The ballet drives home An American In Paris' more important message: that Europe is ripe for rediscovery in the wake of two world wars. The ballet also makes the best use of the movie's female lead, Leslie Caron—herself a war waif—who elsewhere in the film is too stiff and slight to make much of an impression as the object of Kelly's desire. When Caron dances, she's worth fighting for. And though the real-life Kelly's lifelong championing of dance as an athletic, manly pursuit may have often caused him to overcompensate and downplay delicacy, An American In Paris can be surprisingly graceful, in spite of itself.
Key features: Several original and archival featurettes, and a remarkable commentary track that edits together the recorded reminiscences of Kelly, Minnelli, Caron, and others.