An American in Paris (1951)

Genres - Musical  |   Sub-Genres - Musical Romance  |   Release Date - Oct 4, 1951 (USA)  |   Run Time - 115 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Vincente Minnelli's An American in Paris set a new standard for the subgenre known as the "songbook" musical. Since the dawn of sound, producers had been attracted to films built around the published output of composers as different as Johann Strauss (The Great Waltz, Waltzes From Vienna), Jerome Kern (Till the Clouds Roll By), Cole Porter (Night and Day), and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (Words and Music). Mostly, the material was strung together, sometimes hooked around a fanciful pseudo-biography of the composer in question, and audiences grinned and bore the plot elements while delighting to the music. An American in Paris was freed of any need to embrace composer George Gershwin as an onscreen figure by virtue of the 1945 screen biography Rhapsody in Blue, in which Robert Alda had portrayed the composer. Rather, Minnelli, Gene Kelly, and screenwriter Alan Jay Lerner simply used the title and the substance of the title work as a jumping-off point for a screen fantasy that happened to utilize much of the major Gershwin song catalog (indeed, the 1992 laserdisc edition, with the unmixed music tracks on the alternate soundtrack, reveals dozens of Gershwin tunes buried in the underscore). Some of the inspiration for the film's 16-minute ballet finale came from the Red Shoes ballet sequence from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1948 The Red Shoes, while the presence of Leslie Caron, although logical to the plot, originated with some studio executive's notion that the Powell-Pressburger movie had been a hit "because the girl was 'foreign'." Whatever its inspirations and imitations, An American in Paris won seven Academy Awards and box-office success. The overall film (especially the non-musical elements) hasn't worn quite so well over the years, but it was a vital piece of cinema in its time, stretching the envelope of the level of sophistication that a major studio would pursue, and ripping that envelope to shreds with the climactic ballet sequence, which became the model for still more daring sequences in such Hollywood films as Singin' in the Rain and The Band Wagon and such European imitators as Black Tights and Kelly's own dance extravaganza, Invitation to the Dance.