The Movie Waffler Minnelli May - An American In Paris (1951) | The Movie Waffler

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Minnelli May - An American In Paris (1951)


Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Nina Foch, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary
Struggling expat American painter Kelly falls for up and coming French dancer Caron, the girlfriend of his friend Guétary.

In an age when references to Mars are dropped from movie titles and Greedo shoots first it's hard to believe there was a time when Hollywood didn't fear it's audience. At the time this was made, cinemagoers were led by Hollywood, today it's quite the opposite. Take the central character Jerry Mulligan as played by Kelly. On paper he's quite unlikable, one of those movie characters you would despise if you encountered in real life. He's basically a wastrel, living off the goodwill of his friends while attempting to bed their girlfriends. His treatment of "older" woman Foch, his sole benefactor and supporter of his art, is quite cruel. (I say "older" as Foch was actually ten years younger than her male lead at the time.) But in the movies we are so often seduced by the bad guy and Kelly oozes badass charisma. Despite him being a bit of a dick we can't help root for him in his attempts to make Caron a little less wide eyed and innocent.
As is to be expected the movie is full of bright and breezy dance numbers but there's a darkness in it's heart. Levant's character is so gloomily pensive it's hard not to imagine him found hanged in his dingy Parisian apartment soon after the events of the movie. Likewise Foch, a rich American who finds she has plenty of money but few friends. Even the innocent and toothy Caron seems on the cusp of going all "Betty Blue" on Kelly. Strangely for an American film, the most likable character is a Frenchman, Guetary, the only character who really seems at ease with life.
The music and lyrics are famously by the Gershwin brothers (though not composed specifically for the movie) and include such memorable standards as "Our Love is Here to Stay", "I Got Rhythm" and "S'Wonderful". The lyric free closing number is a stunning mix of twentieth century American show tune and late nineteenth century  Russian ballet.
If a modern director wanted to end his film with a dialogue free twenty minutes the producers would have a fit. In 1951 audiences sensibilities hadn't been ruined by TV yet and so this was quite acceptable. The plot is put aside for a hypnotically lit and wildly choreographed production, full of surrealistic imagery and kinetic camerawork. This was the first color film to win an Oscar since "Gone With The Wind", and what color! It's hard to believe this wasn't photographed by the same DP responsible for "The Band Wagon", but in the studio system technicians were talented enough to be interchangeable. A director of Minnelli's vision could adapt any cinematographer to his vision.
Kelly wanted this to be actually filmed in Paris but thankfully Minnelli got his way and shot it completely on the backlot. Had it been shot on location I don't think it would be half the movie as the director's magic realism sensibility would have been compromised. It's not so easy to stage complex dance numbers in the cramped streets of a European city.
If you want an accomplished yet fun feast of film-making with a melancholy undertow this is well worth your time. S'wonderful!
9/10