Skip to main content

Back home everyone said I didn't have any talent. They might be saying the same thing over here but it sounds better in French.


An American in Paris
(1951)

Vincente Minnelli’s musical won the Best Picture Oscar in 1952 but you’d be hard-pressed to explain just what made the film so deserving. Likely, it was a response to the ever-expanding artistic aspirations of star Gene Kelly, resulting in an extended 17-minute dance sequence at the climax.

Of which, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Minnelli was channelling Michael Powell (except without the visual precision or narrative grasp); fittingly, Kelly screened The Red Shoes to MGM to convince them to make the film. The final sequence is by some distance the most impressive one here, but it is all spectacle and insufficient content. Elsewhere, the moves are as accomplished as you’d expect from Kelly, but the complete routines aren't nearly as winning. And while the Gershwin songs are generally agreeable, they are not, aside from the title song, the most memorable work of George and Ira.

Kelly plays Jerry Mulligan, a WWII veteran settled in Paris as an unsuccessful but typically-cheerful-Kelly-type artist. His associates include Adam, a concert pianist (Oscar Levant), and Henri, a successful singer (Georges Guetary). Fortunes change when he meets wealthy heiress Milo (Nina Foch) who assumes his patronage but has amorous intentions in mind. Jerry, however, is smitten with young French girl Lise (Leslie Caron) whom, unbeknownst to him, Henri is romancing.

So it’s a solid enough set-up, but one that rarely comes alive. The sound stage version of Paris is impressive but claustrophobic (Kelly wanted to film on location). There’s too much cutesy business with Kelly goofing off in front of annoyingly American-French kids. Crucially, there is zero chemistry between Kelly and Caron. In fact, the latter makes little impression at all aside from her teeth. Lise is insipid and bland, and if it weren’t for her dance skills you’d be clueless as to why Caron got the role (Cyd Charisse was cast but dropped out due to pregnancy). There’s something entirely unconvincing about the way  Jerry is instantly smitten and, further, this is made slightly unsettling by the Kelly clearly being twice as old as Caron.

The result is an unbalanced film. You don’t believe in the love story, so the supporting plot threads have to do the trick. Levant is amusing in the best buddy role; he gets much of the smarter dialogue and, in particular, has an amusing “performance” dream where he plays every part on stage and also makes up the entire audience.

Crucially, in terms of the film's greater failure, the performers who spark off each other are the ones destined to remain apart. Jerry is essentially manoeuvred into the position of Milo’s gigolo (the film is far too demure to ever say this explicitly), and we’re clearly not supposed to care about this rich, privileged gal too much; the last we see of her, rejected, is exiting stage right to look for champagne. But Foch (by far the most talented actor in the cast and, though 12 years younger than him, every bit Kelly’s equal) makes her so sympathetic and likeable that you end up concluding that Jerry’s an idiot to ignore someone so alluringly feisty and who is loaded (there are a number of films where the leading man wanders off with the least interesting woman in the cast; at the front of the pack are a couple of Andie McDowell starrers, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Green Card).

If An American in Paris can’t live up to the hype of being showered with Oscars, that’s nothing new. It does remain a strong indication of the direction Kelly (who directed some of the scenes here) was heading in; the following year’s Singin’ in the Rain would prove artistically and commercially satisfying and more than justify it’s reputation over the passing years.

***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

A drunken, sodden, pill-popping cat lady.

The Woman in the Window (2021) (SPOILERS) Disney clearly felt The Woman in the Window was so dumpster-bound that they let Netflix snatch it up… where it doesn’t scrub up too badly compared to their standard fare. It seems Tony Gilroy – who must really be making himself unpopular in the filmmaking fraternity, as producers’ favourite fix-it guy - was brought in to write reshoots after Joe Wright’s initial cut went down like a bag of cold, or confused, sick in test screenings. It’s questionable how much he changed, unless Tracy Letts’ adaptation of AJ Finn’s 2018 novel diverged significantly from the source material. Because, as these things go, the final movie sticks fairly closely to the novel’s plot.

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

To our glorious defeat.

The Mouse that Roared (1959) (SPOILERS) I’d quite forgotten Peter Sellers essayed multiple roles in a movie satirising the nuclear option prior to Dr. Strangelove . Possibly because, while its premise is memorable, The Mouse that Roared isn’t, very. I was never that impressed, much preferring the sequel that landed (or took off) four years later – sans Sellers – and this revisit confirms that take. The movie appears to pride itself on faux- Passport to Pimlico Ealing eccentricity, but forgets to bring the requisite laughs with that, or the indelible characters. It isn’t objectionable, just faintly dull.