The 1952 Oscar Best Picture Winner, An American in Paris, marks another example of how my quest of watching all the Oscar Best Picture winners has broaded my knowledge of cinema. Prior to watching this film, I had never seen Gene Kelly in action before. Actor, singer and extremely accomplished dancer, Gene Kelly is a cinematic icon, gracing films with all three talents at once. I found the film to be entertaining and fun to watch but I don’t think it should have been an Oscar Best Picture Winner.
Set in Paris, the film focuses on three friends who are trying to make it there using their specific talents.
• The Painter: The main character of the film, Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is a World War II veteran trying to make a living with his art in Paris, selling his paintings as a vendor on the street. Eventually attracting the attention of the wealthy heiress Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) who soon proves that her attention is directed more at Mulligan himself than his art. Jerry however falls in love with Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron). After the two fall for each other, Lise reveals that she is dating and to be married to Henri Baurei.
• The Singer: Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary) is a well known French singer and the most successfully of the three artists. Throughout the film it becomes clear that Henri is moving to America to further pursue his career and he plans to marry Lise and bring her with him. While Lise is in love with Jerry, she feels as if she owes Henri for protecting her during the war. For most of the film Henri and Jerry do not know they are fighting for the same girl. In fact, the only reason they know each other at all is because of Adam Cook.
• The Pianist: Adam Cook (Oscar Levant) really only has one real purpose in the film, to be a middle man between Henri and Jerry. Cook is the spark that ignites the fire of the plot and adds a slapstick humor to a number of scenes in the film. Adam also shows off his piano skills during the many musical numbers the three men have together during the course of the film.
While the film involved a love triangle, I would call it more comedy then drama. Drama seems to be too intense of the world for the lighthearted film. Inspired by George Gershwin’s 1928 composition of the same name, the film is steeped in music, including many musical numbers. They ranged from the three main characters singing and dancing to songs played by Adam to Jerry and Lise romantically dancing in the street. The musicals scene were very well done, as was the entire film, I just didn’t feel as if it was an Oscar Winning Film.
The film focused on the musical numbers more than it did the plot. The plot was fairly basic, a love triangle with almost no conflict. For over half the film Jerry and Henri don’t even realize they are fighting over the same girl. It takes even longer for Jerry to realize that he may lose Luse. The plot does not develop much and neither do the characters. The only relationship that is really developed is between Jerry and Luse and even then all they do is fall in love. There is nothing complex to their relationship save for the one speed bump that is Henri.
Overall the film won six Oscars, some of which I though it did deserve. Easily earning Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction and Best Music, I thought that it could also be argued that the film deserved its Best Cinematography Oscar Win. As far as it winning Best Picture and Best Writing, I do not think I agree with that. Beating out Decision Before Dawn, A Place in the Sun, “Quo Vadis?” and A Streetcar Named Desire for Best Picture, I would have cast my vote for both A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire before I would vote for An American in Paris. There was not enough depth to the story or acting. Gene Kelly and the other two main characters were charming but charm can only get a film so far. I give this film a 5 out of 10. It is fun to watch but not worthy of a Best Picture statue.