Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

An American in Paris


Leslie Caron got her very tardy and long-deserved star on Hollywood Boulevard today (12/8/09), so we were inspired to watch her debut film again. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it, but it’s a bunch. In many respects it could qualify as the best Hollywood musical ever made. But so could Singin’ in the Rain. I sometimes argue with myself as to which is best. An American in Paris suffers a little from a pedestrian plot and a few dance numbers that aren’t particularly distinguished, but it has all those glorious Gershwin songs. Singin’ in the Rain is unquestionably better in plot, with a great sense of humor and some wicked satire, and every dance number is outstanding. The supporting cast of Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor with Gene Kelly is terrific. And the centerpiece number of “The Broadway Melody” is a knockout. So I would have to say that Singin’ in the Rain is the most consistently excellent musical of all time.

But then there’s the “American in Paris” ballet, which trumps everything. It simply explodes the sensorium, 18 minutes of brilliant motion and color and light, performed on 44 huge sets that it took six weeks to build and paint. The ballet alone cost the studio $500,000, which was real money in those days. The costumes, the flowers, the swirling mirrors, the fog, the incredible use of light to bathe Kelly and Caron in the fountain, and most of all, the stroke of genius to base the dance sets on the works of the French impressionists—Dufy, Utrillo, Manet, Rousseau, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Van Gogh … it all overwhelms me every time I see it.

Bottom line: I’ve decided that the greatest musical ever made is whichever one of these two films I’ve just seen, so right now An American in Paris is the champ. Ask me again after I’ve seen Singin’ in the Rain for the 10th time.

Interesting facts: They wanted Maurice Chevalier for the part of the French singer, but he was doing something else. Just as well; I think he’s vastly overrated. And Gene Kelly wanted Cyd Charisse, which would have been damn interesting, but she was pregnant and couldn’t do it. Lee suggested that Leslie Caron should have sent Cyd a real nice baby gift.