Usually considered a masterpiece and one of the best movie musicals of all time, this position in my ranking may seem a bit surprising for the legendary Gene Kelly-movie An American in Paris. To be honest, when I first started to rank the winners, it had an even lower position and there was a time when I considered it one the worst movie musicals I had ever seen. Well, my opinion has changed in some ways and by now, I do admire all the effort and technical brilliance that made it into this movie but overall, I always consider An American in Paris a triumph of style over substance.
Yes, An American in Paris is great to look at – I simply adore those Parisian sets even though they are clearly fake but at the same time there is so much love for detail and careful attention that the results are absolutely gorgeous. Costumes, cinematography and all the other technical aspects are beautiful, too. And what about the songs? As I wrote in my review for Judy Garland in A Star is Born, there was a time when I wanted my musical songs more traditional and more ‘Broadway’ and so it’s no surprise that I disliked the style of An American in Paris at first. By now, I appreciate the score much more – to some extent. It’s mostly the instrumental music that accompanies the famous ballet sequence that truly achieves a level of greatness. But also most of the songs, like ‘Our love is here to stay’, ‘Tra-la-la’, ‘S Wonderful’ or ‘Stairway to Paradise’ are extremely memorable and easy to admire. ‘I got’ may be one of the most famous songs but I have to be honest – I never worshipped a dancing Gene Kelly as much as everybody else does. ‘By Strauss’ features a lovely melody, but seriously – they are in Paris and all they could come up with is a song about Strauss and the Kaiser? And also the whole presentation of this song is rather annoying and it’s hard to understand why somebody thought it would be a good idea to have Gene Kelly use a tablecloth as a bandanna.
It’s no surprise that An American in Paris didn’t receive a single nomination for any of the actors since they are constantly overshadowed by the movies' production values and none of them is presented with a truly challenging character. This brings me right to the biggest problem of An American in Paris which I already addressed at the beginning by calling the movie a triumph of style over substance. Because underneath all the costumes, the sets and the songs, An American in Paris is shockingly empty. I don’t mind simple plots but An American in Paris has almost no plot at all. It’s just a succession of various scenes that are loosely strung together by the central love story but it’s all so shallow and rushed that, no matter how beautiful the movie is, it negatively affects the overall quality of the picture. Characters are not developed, other are almost unnecessary and even some of the songs serve no purpose in context of the story. An American in Paris tries to be very light and easy-going but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to be empty.
The famous last sequence, the 18-minutes ballet number brings all the qualities and flaws together. It’s beautiful to look at, a feast for the eyes and ears and this scene alone is probably enough to justify the status of An American in Paris but at the same time this scene also again feels incredibly out-of-place, meaningless and unessential. Of course, not everything that happens in a movie needs to have a deeper point or must serve any purpose apart from entertaining the audience but An American in Paris doesn’t know how to keep a right balance.
It’s a beautiful and wonderful movie on the one side, empty and shallow on the other one. Still, the positive aspects manage to outweigh its flaws more often than not and helped it to achieve this position in this ranking.