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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Vincente Minnelli
Cast:
Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetary, Nina Foch
Writing Credits:
Alan Jay Lerner (story)

Tagline:
Adventures Of An Ex-GI In The City Of Romance. Arts Students' Biggest Ball, Most Daring Ever Filmed. Screen's Most Spectacular Musical!

Synopsis:
Gene Kelly, producer Arthur Freed, director Vincente Minnelli and an ace creative team conjure sheer screen magic, one of the American Film Institute's Top-100 American Films.

Kelly plays an ex-GI who loves Paris and loves even more an alluring (but engaged) perfume-shop clerk (Leslie Caron in her beguiling screen debut). Dance sequences spun around Gershwin songs accent Kelly's romantic pursuit. And the final 17-minute ballet - combining the title symphony, Impressionist set stylings and Kelly's unique talent for telling a story in dance - lifts this winner of six academy Awards including Best Picture into the ether of timelessness. "Love Is Here To Stay", Kelly sings. So is An American In Paris.

Box Office:
Budget
$2.723 million.
Domestic Gross
$4.5 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
French Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
Japanese
Thai
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
Japanese
Thai

Runtime: 114 min.
Price: $20.97
Release Date: 9/16/2008

Bonus:
DVD One:
• Audio Commentary with Director Vincente Minnelli, Producer Alan Freed, Writer Alan Jay Lerner, Musical Directors Saul Chaplin and Johnny Green, Art Director Preston Ames, Ballet Costume Designer Irene Sharaff, Musician Michael Feinstein, and Actors Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Nina Foch
FitzPatrick TravelTalks Vintage Short
Symphony in Slang Classic Cartoon
• Trailer
DVD Two:
• “’S Wonderful: The Making of An American in Paris” Documentary
• “Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer” Documentary
• Outtake Song Sequence
• Outtake Songs Gallery
• Radio Promos


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


An American In Paris: Special Edition (1951)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 18, 2009)

As I've noted often, I don't usually care for musicals. Long ago I decided to review every DVD available for films that won the Best Picture Oscar. Unfortunately for me, that involved quite a few musicals. I’ve found a few pleasant surprises, but not many that made me rethink my dislike of the genre.

Since I've always had a soft spot for Gene Kelly, 1951's An American In Paris presented one of the potentially most interesting of these films. Singin’ In the Rain offers one of the few musicals I really enjoy, and I've liked his charm and energy for years.

Paris starts unusually, as we're introduced to three of the main characters in a very odd manner. The camera begins with Kelly's Jerry Mulligan and follows him through Paris as his voice-over discusses the specifics of his life. When we reach Jerry's friend Adam Cook (Oscar Levant), the film switches to his point of view, and we learn about him until the situation leads to his pal Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary).

Once Henri relates his information, that's where the device ceases, though we do learn of the story's fourth important character - Henri's girlfriend and Jerry's future paramour Lise (Leslie Caron) - through another irregular device. Adam questions Henri about the girl, and we see many different visages of her through some semi-fantasy dance sketches.

Only Jerry's wealthy art patron and would-be lover Milo (Nina Foch) receives a traditional introduction, and that's where the story starts to go downhill. The creativity of the opening sequence added some nice vitality and excitement to the film; even when the participants launched into song, I stayed interested, whereas I usually get itchy once the first tune begins.

Unfortunately, once Milo gets involved in the tale, it quickly de-evolves into a fairly standard love triangle, or perhaps quadrangle, though Milo's not all that much of a factor. Essentially Lise dates both Henri and Jerry, both of whom know each other but aren't aware of their shared romantic partner. Adam discovers this late in the game, which briefly adds some spice, but not much.

Really, only one factor sets the rest of Paris apart from the pack: the famous dance segment that occurs near the end of the film. We find a 17-minute fantasy scene that is sure to delight fans of the genre. Personally, I couldn't stand it, but I recognize my bias in this matter, so I won't slam the piece. At least it provides something unusual in an otherwise-blah film.

I think that most of Paris is well-executed. Kelly maintains his usual boyish exuberance, and Levant offers some curmudgeonly entertainment. However, Guétary seems very bland and uncharismatic. That may be appropriate, since the audience is meant to side with Jerry, but it doesn't make his time on screen very interesting.

As for Caron, I thought she looked cute in Gigi but she doesn't strike me as attractive at all here. She sports an exceedingly uncomplimentary pixie-like haircut that only serves to accentuate her large mouth, all of which served to give her a serious case of “horse face”. Perhaps this is just another of my biases, but I have trouble accepting all of this conflict over such an unappealing girl. (Oddly, though it was made seven years after Paris, Caron plays a younger character in Gigi. The years served her well, as she lost all of the bony gawkiness that made her so unattractive in Paris. I didn't like Gigi, but at least I believed that folks would find her character attractive.)

Ultimately, I think An American In Paris had some promise to provide some pleasures to even a dedicated musical-hater like myself, but the fun doesn't last. Despite a generally good cast and some interesting moments, an ordinary plot and an unattractive leading lady hamper the film. Only the ever-present charm of Gene Kelly got me to the end of this one.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B+

An American In Paris appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie barely showed its age in this nice transfer.

In terms of sharpness, the movie usually demonstrated nice delineation. A few shots seemed just a smidgen soft, but those issues occurred infrequently. The majority of the flick looked concise and accurate. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and only a little edge enhancement became apparent. Given its age, the film was shockingly clean. Grain remained appropriate, and no specks, marks or other defects showed up at any time in this fresh presentation.

Colors were fairly good though not great. I thought flesh tones were a bit on the brown side. Nonetheless, the hues were usually more than acceptable, as they demonstrated good life. Blacks seemed deep and dense without too much heaviness. Shadow detail worked similarly well, as dimly-lit shots were appropriately clear and thick. Overall, I found the movie to have some small weaknesses but it came with enough strengths to merit a “B+”.

The monaural audio of An American In Paris appeared average for its era. Speech was fine. The lines showed age-related thinness, but they were always perfectly intelligible and without edginess. Effects became a minor aspect of the track, and they resembled the dialogue. Those elements lacked much depth but they were without notable problems.

Music was acceptable for its age but not better than that. The songs and score tended to be a bit harsh and shrill. There wasn’t much range to the music, as those elements appeared somewhat too bright and without great clarity. The music remained decent based on what I’d expect from a movie from 1951, but it didn’t surpass my expectations. Some light hiss cropped up through the flick, though not to a substantial degree; the noise became most apparent during songs. At no point did the audio excel, but it still seemed worthy of a “C+” given its vintage.

How did the picture and audio of this 2008 Special Edition compare to those of the original 2000 DVD? I thought both discs presented very similar audio, but the 2008 release boasted significantly improved visuals. The new disc was cleaner and better defined that the old one. It was a substantial step up in picture quality.

While the old disc included nothing more than a trailer - which reappears here – this SE comes with many more extras. On DVD One, we find an audio commentary from a mix of sources. Hosted by Gene Kelly’s widow Patricia, a combination of old and new recordings provide notes from director Vincente Minnelli, producer Alan Freed, writer Alan Jay Lerner, musical directors Saul Chaplin and Johnny Green, art director Preston Ames, ballet costume designer Irene Sharaff, musician Michael Feinstein, and actors Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Nina Foch. The track looks at the film’s origins and bringing the principals on-board, songs, score and choreography, cast, characters and performances, story and script, sets and production design, life in the Hollywood studio system, and a few other notes about the production.

On the negative side, we get a bit more dead air that I’d expect from a track with so many participants. The gaps aren’t frequent or enormous, but we find more of them than I’d like. Nonetheless, the commentary digs into a lot of useful subjects and does so in a fairly thorough manner. I like this sort of “historic piece”, and this one blends well as it tells us the nuts and bolts of the movie’s creation.

Two vintage shorts appear on DVD One. We get a travelogue called FitzPatrick TravelTalks and a cartoon titled Symphony in Slang. The former lasts eight minutes, 52 seconds, while the latter goes for six minutes, 45 seconds. 1938’s TravelTalks displays the 1937 World Expo that took place in Paris and gives us a look at the city. It’s not exactly fascinating, but it’s interesting as a historical piece.

As for Slang, the 1951 Tex Avery cartoon features a young hipster whose use of lingo makes its impossible for the angels to understand his story. We watch his life through their literal eyes. It’s cute enough but not a classic.

Over on DVD Two, we start with a new documentary entitled ’S Wonderful: The Making of An American In Paris. In this 42-minute and 24-second piece, we get movie clips, archival materials, and comments from Caron, Minnelli, Kelly, Chaplin, Foch, Vincente Minnelli and the Film Musical author Dr. Drew Casper, music historian/Gene Kelly’s friend Gene Lees, music and film historian Gary Giddins, MGM’s Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit author Hugh Fordin, MGM studio orchestra musician Uan Rasey, dancer Marian Horosko, cinematographer John Alton, and former child actors Andree and Claude Guy. “Wonderful” examines the project’s origins and development, cast and performances, script and music, choreography and visual design, recreating Paris, censorship issues, and the flick’s reception.

“Wonderful” provides us with a good overview of the production. It seems inevitable that some of the information repeats from the commentary, but the various new perspectives add more than enough differences. The documentary creates a fine examination of the flick that entertains as it informs.

For information about the film’s leading legend, we go to the one-hour, 24-minute and 43-second Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer. It involves Kelly, Foch, Caron, Minnelli, Kelly’s daughter Kerry Kelly Novick, biographers Stephen Silverman and Clive Hirschhorn, dance historian Beth Genne, writers Betty Comden, Arthur Laurents and Adolph Green, film historian Jeanine Basinger, filmmaker Stanley Donen, composer Andre Previn, dance critic Deborah Jowitt, film critic Elvis Mitchell, dancer Fayard Nicholas, UCLA Professor of Film Studies Peter Wollen, choreographer Kenny Ortega, son Tim Kelly, and actors Debbie Reynolds, Betsy Blair, Cyd Charisse, Betty Garrett, and Donald O’Connor.

“Dancer” tells us a little about Kelly’s personal life, but it usually focuses on his career and work. We find many film clips as well as insights into Kelly’s efforts. I like that emphasis on the movies, as it means “Dancer” avoids any sort of tabloid feel. We learn quite a bit about Kelly’s career in this fine piece.

An Outtake called “Love Walked In” runs two minutes, 44 seconds. It shows Henri as he serenades Lise at the bar. It’s purely a musical number, and not particularly interesting to me. Fans of the flick will probably like it more, however.

A few more materials complete the set. Seven Audio Outtakes fill a total of 14 minutes, 32 seconds. These include “Alternate Main Title”, “But Not For Me” (Guétary), “But Not For Me” (Levant piano solo), “Gershwin Prelude #3”, “I’ve Got a Crush On You”, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”, and “’S Wonderful”. As with the “Love Walked In” clip, these variations on the film’s musical numbers will likely appeal to the movie’s biggest fans, and they’re a nice extra in that regard.

Finally, we get three Radio Interviews. These feature Johnny Green (4:55), Gene Kelly (4:46) and Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron (4:13). Through these, we get some facts about Paris from the musical director and the two lead actors. We find some interesting notes, but the format proves irritating for the first two. Those clips were meant to be introduced by staged questions from radio hosts. We only hear the answers, which occasionally means that the replies don’t make much sense. Still, they’re cool to have as an archival piece.

Clearly An American In Paris will offer more appeal to fans of musicals than it does for me, but I still think it’s a fairly ordinary piece for the most part. It rests its legacy on one long and creative dance number, but other than that sequence, a clever opening, and Gene Kelly, the movie does little to differentiate itself from a slew of other musicals. The DVD provides very good picture and supplements as well as perfectly acceptable audio.

While I don’t think much of Paris, I find a lot to like about this solid Special Edition package. Fans of the movie will want to get it, and that includes those who already own the original movie-only release. The 2008 SE provides a substantial upgrade and is the way to go for Paris buffs.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8333 Stars Number of Votes: 6
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main