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Film: An American in Paris

A classic 1951 musical romantic comedy starring Gene Kelly just one year before he went on to perform in Singin' in the Rain, and directed by the legendary Vincente Minnelli, with a story and screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner. Taking place in a (very idealized) post-World War II Paris, An American In Paris tells the tale of an expatriate named Jerry Mulligan (Kelly), as he attempts to scrape a living as an artist in the Left Bank. While doing so, he falls in love with Lise, but she loves his friend, Henri, one of the most successful musicians in Paris.

The plot is nothing to write home about, since it's mostly a pretext to hang George Gershwin's music on. Luckily, the film is buoyed by an excellent cast and capable director. One quirk of the movie is its lack of Parisian locations, opting instead for hyper-stylized, colorful scenery that evokes Impressionist paintings. It is best remembered for its climax: a 16-minute, psychedelic ballet inside the main protagonist's psyche.


This movie provides examples of:

  • Award Bait Song
  • Big Fancy House: Milo's apartment. Jerry looks around as though he's wandered into the wrong Fred Astaire movie by mistake.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Adam is allergic to work and subsists himself entirely on scholarships, making him (by his own admission) "the world's oldest child prodigy". Nevertheless, a peek into his dream world betrays his concert hall ambitions.
  • Dream Ballet / Disney Acid Sequence:
    • Henri's glowing description of his girlfriend, Lise, plays out in a series of ballet routines. Each time Adam asks what she's like, Henri comes up with a comically-different answer.
    • Towards the end of the movie, Jerry has seemingly just lost Lise to his friend, Henri, his best friend, and the two are flying off to America to get married. The camera cuts to reveal two pieces of paper, containing a sketch of the Arc de Triomphe, which land side-by-side, almost as if it was never ripped in half. Then, it dissolves to a really trippy sequence where Jerry is transported into a strange realm that resembles a series of famous French paintings.note 
  • Deadpan Snarker: Adam Cook.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Jerry
  • Double Take: Jerry's reaction to seeing Winston Churchill painting alone by the river. The "British Bulldog" was an amateur painter in real life.
  • Dream Sequence: There is one scene where Oscar Levant's character, Adam, is just sitting in his apartment, all by himself, staring off into space. Then, unexpectedly, the scene then cuts to him performing in a grand concert hall. Both the band AND the audience is composed entirely of himself.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Jerry and Lise lament their thwarted love to each other, unaware that a stony-faced Henri is listening in.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: In the final dream sequence, Jerry keeps running after Lise, but she always slips away from him. At one point, she turns into flowers whilst wrapped in his arms.
  • Flower Motifs: In this case, a rose.
  • Freudian Trio Adam's a chain-smoking cynic, Henri's drunk on life, and Jerry is an uneasy mix of the two.
  • Friend to All Children: Jerry adores kids, but he hates college students. "They're always making profound observations they've overheard."
  • Gay Paree
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Inverted with Henri, who can't tolerate jazz and prefers the old-school, sentimental stuff.
  • Hollywood Old: Georges Guétary, who was actually younger than Gene Kelly at the time. They greyed up the actor's hair so it wouldn't be as obvious.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Milo Roberts, the American heiress who expressed interest in Jerry's paintings. Jerry, convinced that Milo wanted nothing more than a gigolo, wants none of it, but Milo convinces him to let her be his patron. She ends up falling hard for Jerry, but her feelings aren't reciprocated.
  • Hypocritical Humor: During Adam's voice-over, he mentions having to support himself (le gasp!) for a brief stretch, but stopped because "I was beginning to like it, and I didn't want to become a slave to the habit." (He says with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.)
  • Idle Rich: Milo
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: The last scene of the movie, Henri realizes that Lise truly loves Jerry and gallantly steps aside so Lise and Jerry can be together.
  • I'm Standing Right Here: Subverted. While serving drinks at a party, Adam engages Milo in conversation and makes a backhanded remark about Jerry's "sponsor". Unamused, Milo reveals her identity, to which Adam retorts, "I know who you are."
  • Insignia Ripoff Ritual: Jerry tears a sketch in half, quietly declaring that he and Paris are done; it's just going to remind him of Lise from now on. This sketch becomes the setting for the ballet.
  • Joisey: "Perth Amboy, New Jersey!"
  • Lady in Red: Jerry is constantly being hounded by 'Furies' in the ballet sequence. It's your guess as to what they represent. This is a Shout-Out to Agnes De Mille's choreography in Oklahoma!, which featured the same ladies in red hunting Curly.
  • Love Triangle: Henri, oblivious to this, offers straight-faced advice to Jerry on how to woo their girl. "S' Wonderful" ends hilariously with both male leads on opposite of the street, singing, "That she should care for ME!"
  • May-December Romance: Both Jerry and Henri are vying for the affections of Lise, who is 19.
  • Not Listening to Me, Are You?: Adam's vain attempts to halt Jerry and Henri's intersecting chat about Lise. "Did I ever tell you about the time I gave a command performance for Hitler?"
  • Opposites Attract Revenge: Upon being jilted, Jerry comes knocking on Milo's door again.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Adam is a deadpan version of this trope, which makes it funnier.
  • Portal Picture: Jerry is seemingly drawn into a black & white sketch for the final dance number.
  • Pretty in Mink: Milo, with a fur muff, a white mink cape, and a wrap of black and white fox.
  • Rule of Symbolism: All those people at the fancy ball, and no one managed to buy a costume that isn't black & white. Even Adam is wearing monochromatic cowboy gear. This is to set up Jerry's entry into the dream world, which is exploding with color.
  • Self-Duplication: Adam's fantasy sequence. It starts off with Adam, alone in his apartment, staring at the ceiling. Then the scene dissolves into a rather bizarre moment where Adam is on a dark stage, all by himself, performing what we believe to be his own music. Then the camera pulls back to reveal the other members of the band-all Adam, performing each individual instrument in perfect harmony. Then the conductor, flawlessly driving the band's actions, is yet another Adam. All the Adams continue to play, reaching a crescendo and thusly concluding the piece to thunderous applause. The scene gets weirder as it reveals that all the audience members, every single one of them, are Adam. It promptly fades to black, without incident, and gets back to the plot as though nothing has happened. Here it is.
  • Sliding Scale of Fourth Wall Hardness: The A Simple Girl scene, where Henri is describing what Lise is like to Adam, falls on the Completely Solid Fourth Wall area. No acknowledgment of the audience, but every time Henri changes his mind about Lise, everything, from the music, to the environment, to even Lise's costume and the way she dances in order to reflect his viewpoint. This Is Reality is definitely in full effect.
  • Spit Take: Adam when he learns the name of Jerry's crush. When Henri and Jerry start swapping love tales of the same girl, Adam really starts to hit the sauce.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Jerry, arguably. He even shows up at Lise's place of work, despite her repeatedly telling him to buzz off. On the opposite end, we have Milo, who is trying her damnedest to make Jerry love her.
  • Starving Artist: Jerry's loft puts Elwood Blues to shame. Every piece of furniture is a fold-away.
  • Title Drop: "This is Paris. And I'm an American who lives here."
  • Trrrilling Rrrs: "But mark my words, dear lady, this word will soon rrrrrring with the name of Mulligan. Picasso will be known as the forerunner of Mulligan. This tree will be famous for being painted by Mulligan."
  • Wife Husbandry: Henri knew Lise as a child, and served as her guardian after her parents were killed in World War II.

    Creator/Metro-Goldwyn-MayerAnchors Aweigh
Sunset BoulevardAcademy AwardA Streetcar Named Desire
The Manchurian CandidateAFI's 100 Years... 100 MoviesShane
Yankee Doodle DandyNational Film RegistryTex Avery MGM Cartoons
American IdiotThe MusicalAmerican Psycho
The African QueenFilms of the 1950sHoratio Hornblower

alternative title(s): An American In Paris
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