I’m singin’ in the…Paris. Actually, Singin’ In The Rain was the next year and would win zero Oscars, while this film would take home six including Best Picture (over, e.g., A Streetcar Named Desire). And yet, An American In Paris is really a dance movie with a whopping 17 minute climactic dance number. That’s right: 15% of the movie is one dance number. It is the ultimate Golden Age of Hollywood dance musical.
Suffice to say, if you’re not a dance fan, this is not the movie for you.
The plot is as lightweight as can be: Gene Kelly plays a painter living in Paris, spontaneously breaking out into song and dance with minor prompting from struggling pianist Oscar Levant and their mutual French friend (Georges Guétary), the two Americans (playing much younger men, presumably) are struggling to get by. Kelly’s fortune looks to be on the rise when he finds a benefactor in Nina Foch, who is a dowager preying on handsome young artists.
Her primary crime—besides being only ten years younger than Gene Kelly instead of twenty—is not being Leslie Caron, with whom Kelly falls in love-at-first-sight. Quoth the Flower: “She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen…” Well, I don’t know about that, but she’s certainly love and good enough a dancer that we didn’t miss Cyd Charisse. Her acting is primarily emotive and motion-based—a good thing since she didn’t really know English—and very effective for all that.
Kelly and Caron have a sub rosa affair, the latter hiding her feelings from Georges, whom she has committed to marry due to his saving her during the war. (Guétary was actually younger than Kelly but, as I said, Kelly’s supposed to be playing a young man probably ten or more years younger than is actual 38.) Kelly’s more upfront with Foch about not feeling for her, but he’s still in dubious moral standing.
The plot is paused for Oscar Levant imagining he’s a successful concert pianist and Guétary’s show number, and it all comes to a head about 90 minutes in. Then we have the lead-up to the finale.
It’s thin and most modern estimations place it well below SitR but again, I think the key here is the dancing. If you’re into the dancing, there’s not going to be much like it. If not, you’ll probably find it pleasant, but not as engaging as many other musicals, six Oscars or no.