“An American in Paris”

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Vicki Hughes Film-140 Essay #2 At What Price Love? Of all human emotions, love is the most revered, but also the most costly. In real life, love often comes with a “price tag” attached; impediments which can include guilt and greed. How do we negotiate the perilous pursuit of love? What guidance does Hollywood provide? An “American in Paris” in spite of being a premier musical of its day, mixed love with the baser element of human endeavor but came out with a 1950’s happy ending. Some critics have said that “An American in Paris” was produced to showcase George Gershwin’s 1928 symphony of the same name. Others complained the film was a weak shrine to Gene Kelly’s ego. Still others dismissed it as little more than fluff with Director Vincente Minnelli sparing no available film technology for this early 50’s musical using elaborate artistic sets, split screens and process shots. However, while all of these complaints may have some merit a more compelling theme of this film is the dark side of its principal character. Opportunistic Jerry Mulligan is an American expatriate painter residing in the starving artist’s colony in Paris. “Discovered” by wealthy heiress Milo Roberts, portrayed by throaty Nina Foch, Jerry, not too reluctantly, allows her to become his “patron” or as some might say, a “wannabe sugar-mama”. While Jerry is pretending not to know Milo’s true intentions he discovers and begins to romance the fragile, waif-like Lise Bouvier, Caron’s character. Unbeknownst to Jerry, Lise has already “promised herself” to one of Jerry’ pals, Henri Baurel portrayed by Georges Guetary. As Jerry’s irrepressible advances begin to succeed, Lise begins her own game of deception. Eventually we learn that Henri and Jerry know each other, but are not aware of their mutual affection for Lise. The happy-go-lucky Kelly character charmingly pursues Caron with good old fashioned gentlemanly exuberance that would make Andy Hardy proud. At the same time he callously uses Milo to further his career. The temptation of his benefactor wanting to sponsor an exhibit for him is too much. The prospect of fame and riches takes over and after token resistance he gives in and lets her “pay” for him. Interestingly during the scene where Jerry is on a date with Milo, while all but stalking Lise, Minnelli, still manages to make us like Jerry. Jerry’s insensitivity in most circumstances would be more than frowned upon but we forgive him because Lise is sweet and innocent while Milo is hard, calculating and not the type of girl you bring home to meet mother. Something’s got to give. At this critical juncture we are given seventeen minutes of intense Kelly choreography that if not too helpful to resolving the crisis of the characters, did help the film garner industry’s biggest prize that year along with five other Oscars. Jerry falls for Lise. Lise falls for Jerry. Lise feels guilty: Jerry does not. Henri finds out. Milo finds out. Good-girl Lise remains loyal to Henri while bad-boy Jerry gives into the dark side (Milo). Eventually, however, Jerry is saved from this sordid but lucrative end by Lise dumping Henri for her true love, Jerry. In Hollywood style they ride off into the sunset together to live happily ever after. At the film’s conclusion, we are allowed to appreciate the extent of Milo’s sadness however on balance she gets what she deserves, or does she? We have more empathy for Henri [1] because while he experienced the same fate in terms of love lost, his fate is noble by giving up Lise for her true love. After all once again, after a sometimes unappealing pursuit, love trumps all in 1950’s Hollywood. ———————– [1] Particularly because he was unsuccessfully being groomed to be the next Maurice Chevalier.

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