An American in Paris (1951)

113 or 115 mins | Musical, Romance | 11 November 1951

Director:

Vincente Minnelli

Writer:

Alan Jay Lerner

Producer:

Arthur Freed

Cinematographer:

Alfred Gilks

Editor:

Adrienne Fazan

Production Designers:

Cedric Gibbons, Preston Ames

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

Following the cast list in the opening credits, a title card reads: "And presenting The American in Paris Ballet." After the opening credits, the three principal male characters are introduced through successive voice-over narrations that are heard while the camera pans through the Parisian neighborhood in which "Jerry Mulligan" lives: First, Gene Kelly explains who Jerry is and why he is in Paris; then Oscar Levant, as "Adam Cook," introduces himself, followed by Georges Guetary, as "Henri Baurel," who talks about himself.
       Contemporary news items, reviews and studio records in files on the film in the M-G-M Collection and the Arthur Freed Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library reveal the following information about An American in Paris : M-G-M announced that it had acquired the film rights to late composer George Gershwin's musical suite "An American in Paris" on 1 Jun 1949. The suite had its premiere on 13 Dec 1928 at Carnegie Hall in New York. At that time, the studio also contracted with Gershwin's brother and lyricist Ira for rights to use their songs. Additionally the studio hired Ira Gershwin to write new lyrics for "certain unpublished George Gershwin music." The first script for the film was submitted by Alan Jay Lerner on 12 Jun 1950. While several revisions were made over the next few months, the completed film was very much the same as the first script.
       According to a 5 Jul 1950 HR news item, artist Saul Steinberg met with producer Arthur Freed, possibly to discuss the film, possibly to create the paintings for Jerry, but he was not hired for the production and Jerry's paintings were ... More Less

Following the cast list in the opening credits, a title card reads: "And presenting The American in Paris Ballet." After the opening credits, the three principal male characters are introduced through successive voice-over narrations that are heard while the camera pans through the Parisian neighborhood in which "Jerry Mulligan" lives: First, Gene Kelly explains who Jerry is and why he is in Paris; then Oscar Levant, as "Adam Cook," introduces himself, followed by Georges Guetary, as "Henri Baurel," who talks about himself.
       Contemporary news items, reviews and studio records in files on the film in the M-G-M Collection and the Arthur Freed Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library reveal the following information about An American in Paris : M-G-M announced that it had acquired the film rights to late composer George Gershwin's musical suite "An American in Paris" on 1 Jun 1949. The suite had its premiere on 13 Dec 1928 at Carnegie Hall in New York. At that time, the studio also contracted with Gershwin's brother and lyricist Ira for rights to use their songs. Additionally the studio hired Ira Gershwin to write new lyrics for "certain unpublished George Gershwin music." The first script for the film was submitted by Alan Jay Lerner on 12 Jun 1950. While several revisions were made over the next few months, the completed film was very much the same as the first script.
       According to a 5 Jul 1950 HR news item, artist Saul Steinberg met with producer Arthur Freed, possibly to discuss the film, possibly to create the paintings for Jerry, but he was not hired for the production and Jerry's paintings were created by artist Gene Grant. Memos in the M-G-M files reveal that Kelly had requested copies of two films to use as background for An American in Paris , the French film L'Orange ete and a 1934 French cartoon entitled La joie de vivre , which featured extensive dancing.
       In a 4 Oct 1949 letter in the Arthur Freed Collection, Maurice Chevalier's representative, agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar, wrote to Freed, mentioning that Chevalier was being considered for a role in the film. At that time, Chevalier had not made a film in the U.S. since 1934 (see entry for Folies Bergere in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). Although there were no additional mentions of Chevalier in the Freed or M-G-M files, modern sources have speculated variously that M-G-M may have been concerned over lingering ill sentiment toward Chevalier after charges of collaboration had been made against him following World War II or that Chevalier may have declined to be involved in the picture because he did not want to portray an older man.
       Tests were made for actresses Sarah Churchill for the role of "Milo Roberts" and actor Carl Brisson for Henri. Although some modern sources have speculated that Fred Astaire was initially under consideration for the lead, no information in the Freed or M-G-M collections mentions anyone other than Kelly as the lead. M-G-M contract player Sally Forrest was tested for the role of "Lise Bourvier," as were French actresses Jeanine Charrat and Odile Versois. Modern sources note that Minnelli and Kelly wanted someone "fresh" for the role of Lise and Kelly had been impressed by Leslie Caron, a then seventeen-year-old ballerina in the company of French ballet impresario Roland Petit. Caron was signed for the picture on 29 May 1950, according to the M-G-M files.
       The files indicate that musician Benny Carter and his group were to perform on the "Our Love Is Here to Stay" number, but their participation in the completed soundtrack has not been confirmed. HR news items include Jeane Romaine, Mary Gleason, Judie Landon, Mary Jane French, Marilyn Rodgers, Ann Brennan, Beverly Thompson, Marietta Elliott, Pat Hall , Joan Barton, Beverly Baldy, Lorraine Crawford, Madge Joureay, Ann Robin, Angela Wilson, Lola Kendrick and Marlene Todd in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
       A 26 Dec 1950 news item in HR indicated that Grahame Johnson, a leading male dancer in the Los Angeles Negro Ballet was signed for a role in the production, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Pre-production memos in the M-G-M collection indicate that James Basevi was initially to be the film's art director with M-G-M art department head Cedric Gibbons and that conductor Andre Kostelanetz was at one time being considered to work on the production.
       Memos in the M-G-M Collection indicate that the title An American in Paris had been registered with the PCA on 17 Dec 1948 by Roberts Productions, but that the issue of rights to the title were settled in early 1951. A memo to M-G-M studio head Louis B. Mayer from the PCA informed Mayer that the PCA had only one objection to Lerner's recently submitted script. The memo advised that it should be made clear that "no illicit sex affair" existed between Jerry and Milo. No additional censorship problems were encountered with the script, although, according to a 1955 memo from M-G-M international distribution executive Robert Vogel to studio production head Dore Schary and Freed, "French Indo-China censors have banned An American in Paris in part because 'It depicts friendly amoral Franco-American relations and glorifies France.'"
       Although most of the film was shot on M-G-M's Culver City, CA lot, some location filming was done in Paris, France. According to memos an initial estimate of the film's location shooting schedule was for several days of atmospheric backgrounds and establishing shots, with two days of shooting in Paris featuring Kelly and Leslie Caron. Actual second unit work began on 2 Sep 1950, but memos in the files indicate that rainy weather caused considerable delays and reshoots. Filming in Paris ended on 22 Sep; montage sequence director Peter Ballbusch, who was in London, gave final approval for the Parisian footage on 26 Sep 1950.
       An opening montage, some longshots of Parisian landmarks, a tracking shot of Milo's car driving up to her hotel and atmospheric backgrounds were the only Parisian footage retained in the released film. Although modern sources have indicated that Kelly and Minnelli originally wanted to shoot the entire ballet sequence in Paris, there is no indication in the M-G-M files that this was a serious consideration once pre-production began on the film. Other memos in the files indicate that the studio had been in negotiations with the owners of La Moulin de la Galette in Paris to use exteriors and possibly interiors for the film, but negotiations fell through.
       According to an AmCin article by director of photography Alfred Gilks, the "Our Love Is Here to Stay" number set on the Quai along the Seine near Notre Dame, was accomplished through use of a one-hundred-foot cyclorama set up on an M-G-M sound stage. The final scene of the film, which captures Kelly and Caron running toward each other on the multiple flights of stairs below Sacre Couer in the Montmarte section of Paris, was actually made by Gilks shooting one staircase built on the studio backlot that was enhanced by Warren Newcombe and his special effects unit.
       Although M-G-M records indicate that the film was in production without interruption from 1 Aug 1950 through 8 Jan 1951, filming stopped at various intervals to allow for preparation of the "American in Paris Ballet" sequence. According to HR news items and production charts, because of the length of time required for the ballet, Minnelli left the production on 15 Sep 1950 and directed M-G-M's Father's Little Dividend ; after that film was completed at the end of Oct, Minnelli returned to An American in Paris .
       In the American in Paris Ballet, a story is told through various settings in which the characters Jerry and Lise intermittently dance. Although in his autobiography, Minnelli, who was an artist himself, described coming up with the idea for the dance, outlines and other memos in the M-G-M files were submitted jointly by Minnelli and Kelly from the earliest stages. The final outline and description of the dance, co-signed by Kelly and Minnelli, was submitted to Freed on 6 Sep 1950. Introductory remarks to the outline, describe the vision of the ballet as follows: "The decor of the ballet will be its most distinguishing feature as to uniqueness and originality, for each individual scene will be done in the styles of different painters which we will denote in the synopsis of the libretto...the ballet visually should reflect an artist's viewpoint and both the scenery and the costumes should be done as they painted....In essence, the entire ballet is a representation of a painter thinking about Paris."
       Many aspects of the dance have been discussed at length by critics, including the iconographic use of the red flower in the opening and closing scenes of the ballet and the reappearance in different guises of Jerry and Lise. Each sequence in the ballet was shot in a different color scheme, with costumes, sets and choreography of the large company of dancers reflective of the mood of the various sections of Gershwin's musical suite, which runs almost twenty minutes. In the first sequence, Jerry's sketch of a gate floats away and turns into a backdrop that is reminiscent of the painting style of Raoul Dufy (1877--1953); the next scene is set like a Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841--1919) painting; this is followed by a Montmarte setting inspired by several paintings of Maurice Utrillo (1883--1955). The next sequence was inspired by the paintings of Henri Rousseau (1844--1910); after the Rousseau setting, there is a switch to a sound stage recreation of the Alexandre III bridge in Paris, followed by a brief recreation of a painting reminiscent of the work of Vincent Van Gogh (1853--1890).
       The last artist represented is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864--1901). Kelly appears in costume as the black dancer in Toulouse-Lautrec's "Chocolat dansant dans un bar." Caron appears dressed as Moulin Rouge dancer Jane Avril, who was featured in various Toulouse-Lautrec paintings. The final sequence, a dance featuring many of the characters who had appeared earlier in the ballet, is set around a fountain reminiscent of the fountain in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
       In addition to the American in Paris Ballet, several other musical numbers were highly praised by critics and have been included in documentaries on American motion pictures: "Dance in the Mirror," a montage of Lise appearing in different costumes and dancing in different styles to represent aspects of her personality as described by Henri, appears in early in the picture. In the "I Got Rhythm" number, Kelly, dressed in casual clothes and a baseball cap, uses the song to give some Parisian children an English lesson. At various points throughout the song, children call out the words "I got" when Kelly points to them, after which he completes the lyrics. According to modern sources, this number was reshot by Hal Rosson following the film's initial preview. In "Stairway to Paradise," as Guetary sings the number, stairs appear behind a curtain. As he ascends the stairway, individual stairs light up, then go dark and light up again later.
       Another well-received number was a dream sequence in which Levant's character imagines himself playing Gershwin's 1925 "Concerto in F" before an audience in a large concert hall. As the music continues, Levant is variously seen as the orchestra's conductor, the kettle drummer, xylophonist, several violinists, concert master and finally as a member of the all-Levant audience who yells "Bravo, encore!" Levant, who was a close personal friend of Gershwin, has often been hailed by critics as one of the best interpreters of his music. Gershwin's original piece runs thirty minutes. In An American in Paris , only the concert’s third movement is performed, which is about 4-1/2 minutes in length.
       In addition to the main songs used in the film, a number of other Gershwin tunes were used as background, among them "How Long Has This Been Going On?," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Liza" and "Lady Be Good." Numbers initially planned for the film but not included were "Love Walked In," which was performed by Guetary but cut from the picture and "I've Got a Crush on You," which was planned for Kelly but not filmed.
       Frank Whitbeck produced and narrated the trailer for the picture. At a 25 Sep 1951 special screening of the picture at the Academy Award Theatre on Melrose Avenue, Ronald Reagan, who was then head of the Screen Actors Guild, was the moderator for a forum discussion on the picture. A gala premiere was held for the film in Los Angeles on 9 Nov 1951 and broadcast overseas by the Armed Forces Radio Services.
       The film opened to excellent reviews. In addition to winning the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year, An American in Paris garnered awards for Best Story and Screenplay, Best Cinematography (Color), Best Art Direction (Color), Best Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Costume Design (Color). Kelly also won an honorary Oscar at the 1952 ceremonies for his versatility as an actor, singer, dancer, director and choreographer. Minnelli was nominated in the Best Director category but lost to George Stevens for A Place in the Sun (see below) and Adrienne Fazan was nominated for Best Film Editing but lost to William Hornbeck, also for A Place in the Sun . The film also won a Golden Globe as "Best Hollywood Picture Produced" in 1951 and was variously listed in Hollywood trade publications as either the first or third highest box office film of the year.
       An American in Paris was ranked 68th on AFI's 1997 list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time, and in 2005, the picture was ranked 9th on AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals list. A news item in NYT on 13 Jan 1989 announced that a Broadway adaptation of the film was being planned; however, a stage version was not produced. On 4 Sep 1992, M-G-M and Turner Entertainment released a restored version of the film that opened at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles and subsequently played in about thirty theaters nationwide. The new print was a restoration following a 1978 fire at the George Eastman House film archive in Rochester, NY, which destroyed two reels of the original 35mm print of the film. According to articles in LAT the studio Oscar for An American in Paris was sold at auction in Apr 1988 for a price of $15,000. Some sources indicated that the statuette auctioned was Freed's personal Oscar, but that was not the case. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
LOCATION
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 Jan 1952
pp. 18-19, 36-39.
Box Office
1 Sep 1951.
---
Cue
6 Oct 1951.
---
Daily Variety
28 Aug 1951
p. 3.
Film Daily
28 Aug 1951
p. 7.
Hollywood Citizen-News
10 Nov 1951.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jun 1949.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jul 1950
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jul 1950
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 1950
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 1950
p. 7, 10.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Oct 1950
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Oct 1950
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 1950
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Dec 1950
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Aug 1951
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Oct 1951
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Aug 1992.
---
Life
23 Apr 1951
p. 39.
Los Angeles Times
10 Nov 1951.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Apr 1988
Part IV, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
25 Apr 1988.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
1 Sep 1951
p. 997.
New York Times
4 Oct 1951
p. 36.
New York Times
5 Oct 1951
p. 24.
New York Times
13 Jan 1989.
---
New Yorker
6 Oct 1951.
---
Newsweek
8 Oct 1951.
---
Time
8 Oct 1951
p. 108.
Variety
29 Aug 1951
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
And introducing
Herb Winters
Children in ballet:
Dancers in ballet:
Tommy Ladd
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
Story and scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Ballet photog
Cam op
Gaffer
Elec
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
Gene Kelly's paintings by
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
Beaux Arts Ball cost des
Ballet cost des
MUSIC
Mus dir
Mus dir
SOUND
Rec supv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Mont seq
DANCE
Choreog
Asst dance dir
MAKEUP
Hair styles des
Makeup created by
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
Unit mgr
Dir of pub
Unit pub
Trailer prod
Prod asst
Research
Legal dept
STAND INS
Baritone singing voice double for Oscar Levant
Dance-in
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
Technicolor col consultant
Technicolor tech
SOURCES
MUSIC
"An American in Paris," "Concerto in F," "Embraceable You" and "I've Got a Crush on You, Sweetie Pie" by George Gershwin.
SONGS
"Nice Work If You Can Get It," "By Strauss," "I Got Rhythm," "Tra-la-la," "Our Love Is Here to Stay," "Stairway to Paradise" and "S'Wonderful," music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin.
DETAILS
Release Date:
11 November 1951
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 4 October 1951
Los Angeles opening: 9 November 1951
Production Date:
1 August 1950--8 January 1951
retakes began 2 April 1951
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
5 September 1951
Copyright Number:
LP1161
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
113 or 115
Length(in feet):
10,192
Length(in reels):
14
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
14898
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

American Jerry Mulligan, a former G.I. and fledgling painter who stayed in Paris after World War II, loves his life as a struggling artist on the Left Bank. He is friendly with his neighbors, especially the local children and cynical American Adam Cook, a concert pianist living on a succession of fellowships. One day, when Jerry is particularly low on money, he goes to Montmarte and sets up an impromptu exhibit of some of his work, hoping to sell something to a tourist. He has little success until Milo Roberts, an American heiress living in Paris, admires his paintings and buys two. Because she does not have enough cash with her, she invites Jerry to her hotel to get the money. Jerry shows little enthusiasm for her chauffeur-driven car and expensive hotel room but accepts an invitation to a party she is giving that night. When he returns, the provocatively dressed Milo reveals that the party is only for herself and Jerry. Thinking that she wants a gigolo, Jerry is insulted and wants to return the money for his paintings, but she convinces him that she is a patron of the arts and only wants to help him. With his pride intact, Jerry agrees to take her to dinner, but only if they go to a café he can afford. She suggests a jazz club in Montmarte, where they talk about their lives and his paintings. While Milo dances with Tommy Baldwin, a friend she runs into at the club, Jerry, who is attracted to a pretty girl he has spotted at the next table, overhears her name, Lise Bourvier, ... +


American Jerry Mulligan, a former G.I. and fledgling painter who stayed in Paris after World War II, loves his life as a struggling artist on the Left Bank. He is friendly with his neighbors, especially the local children and cynical American Adam Cook, a concert pianist living on a succession of fellowships. One day, when Jerry is particularly low on money, he goes to Montmarte and sets up an impromptu exhibit of some of his work, hoping to sell something to a tourist. He has little success until Milo Roberts, an American heiress living in Paris, admires his paintings and buys two. Because she does not have enough cash with her, she invites Jerry to her hotel to get the money. Jerry shows little enthusiasm for her chauffeur-driven car and expensive hotel room but accepts an invitation to a party she is giving that night. When he returns, the provocatively dressed Milo reveals that the party is only for herself and Jerry. Thinking that she wants a gigolo, Jerry is insulted and wants to return the money for his paintings, but she convinces him that she is a patron of the arts and only wants to help him. With his pride intact, Jerry agrees to take her to dinner, but only if they go to a café he can afford. She suggests a jazz club in Montmarte, where they talk about their lives and his paintings. While Milo dances with Tommy Baldwin, a friend she runs into at the club, Jerry, who is attracted to a pretty girl he has spotted at the next table, overhears her name, Lise Bourvier, and calls to her, pretending to know her. After whisking the annoyed Lise onto the dance floor, Jerry gets her phone number from one of her companions. Observing this, Milo is hurt and lashes out at Jerry while they drive back to her hotel. He responds by getting out of her car and determining he wants nothing to do with her. The next morning, Jerry telephones Lise at the perfumery where she works and asks her out. She brusquely turns him down and tells him not to call again. A few moments later, Milo shows up at the Flodair, Jerry’s neighborhood café, and apologizes for her outburst the previous night. Again insisting that she is only interested in promoting his work, she invites him to lunch to meet a well-known art dealer she knows. Jerry agrees to meet her later, then goes to the perfumery to see Lise. When he charms a middle-aged American customer into selecting a perfume, Lise is amused and agrees to meet Jerry at 9:00 o’clock that night at a café near the Seine. Unknown to Jerry, Lise is loved by popular music hall entertainer Henri Baurel, a close friend of Adam and the man who became her guardian when her parents were killed during the war. Henri is debuting a new number that night and wants Lise to be in the audience. Although Lise is torn, she meets Jerry that evening, and as they walk along the Seine, the couple begins to fall in love. When Lise suddenly realizes that it is 11:00, she rushes off after agreeing to meet Jerry again on Saturday. At the theater, Henri does not realize that Lise missed the number and introduces her to American impresario John MacDowd, who wants Henri to tour America. Assuming that Lise loves him as much as he loves her, Henri suggests that they get married and go together to America. The next day, when Milo calls for Jerry, he dismisses Adam’s suggestion that he is becoming a kept man. Later, when Milo takes Jerry to a studio she has rented for him and informs him that she has arranged for an exhibition, he is angry but agrees to work hard if she promises to let him pay her back for everything. For the next few weeks, Jerry paints constantly, highlighting the people and sights of Paris, often using Lise as his model. One day, while Lise and Jerry are riding in a taxi, they talk about how little they know about each other’s lives and realize that they have both been evasive. Later, at the Flodair, Jerry tells Adam about Lise, and when he mentions her name, Adam chokes on his coffee, knowing that she is the young woman whom Henri loves. When Henri arrives, he and Jerry talk about being in love while Adam nervously tries to change the subject and hopes the men will not mention the names of their respective loves. Henri convinces Jerry that he must tell his girl friend how much he loves her, so when Jerry later meets Lise, he reveals his feelings. Although she feels the same, Lise confesses that she is marrying Henri because he loves her and she owes him her life. Hurt, Jerry then says that he has been seeing a woman he does not want to lose. After they part, Jerry rushes to Milo’s apartment, passionately kisses her for the first time and asks her to the art student’s costume ball that night. At the raucous ball, Jerry dances with Milo, pretending that he is happy, but after they run into Henri and Lise, Jerry admits to Milo that he is in love with Lise. Milo then leaves, after which Jerry walks out onto the balcony, where he is joined by Lise. She says that she and Henri are marrying the next day, but before returning to the party admits that it is painful to be near Jerry and not hold him close. Unknown to Lise and Jerry, Henri has been smoking a cigarette near by and has overheard everything. Without saying a word to Lise, he drives her from the party while a despondent Jerry fantasizes about Lise and imagines himself dancing with her throughout Paris. A short time later, he is startled to hear the horn of a car and looks down to see Lise being brought back in Henri’s car. While Jerry runs down the Montmarte steps, Lise rushes up to meet him. The lovers embrace and walk down the steps hand-in-hand. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.