by Alice MacBain
Well I have to say it wasn’t easy to choose. But then I was listening to Gershwin, and heard something which left me in no doubt.
Jerry Mulligan is a struggling painter who spends a lot of his time in Montmartre, trying to sell his paintings. His "very good friends in Paris", Adam Cook (Oscar Levant), is a concert pianist and used to work for successful music-hall star entertainer Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary). Henri shows him the photograph of his 19 year old girlfriend/fiancée Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron). One day, Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), a wealthy, attractive, American patroness, buys two of Jerry’s paintings. She wants to help him make his way, but he believes that she is only interested in him, not his paintings and tries to leave. She, however, manages to convince him that this is not the case.
At a nightclub later that night, he catches sight of Lise and is instantly captivated by her. He then spends the night and the next day attempting to get her to accept a date with him. Finally she accepts, and they walk along the bank of the Seine and dance until she finally confesses her feelings, as they sing ‘Our Love is Here to Stay’.
What Jerry does not know is that Lise is engaged to Henri, and, in one of the most wonderful songs in the film, the two men sing of their love for someone in ‘S’Wonderful’, unaware of the connection. Only Adam is aware when Jerry tells him of Lise.
At a ball one night, with a black and white theme to contrast with the final scene, Jerry, Milo, Henri and Lise are all together. Lise and Jerry manage to take a moment to say goodbye, as she is leaving to get married to Henri. As he stands on the balcony and has watched her leave, the scene develops into the most beautiful dream sequence that has ever been made. To the music ‘An American in Paris’ by George Gershwin, the ballet is in 6 sections, with the famous fountain featuring at the beginning and the end. The single connection in each section is a red rose that symbolises Lise. At the end of the 17 minute dream sequence, Jerry is left standing, again, on the balcony, with only the rose left.
Of course, there must be a happy ending, and so Jerry looks down to the street where he sees Lise giving Henri a grateful farewell kiss. Henri, who had discovered that Lise loves Jerry, releases Lise from her engagement to him and steps aside. Lise returns to Jerry, running up a long flight of stairs into his arms, blissfully reunited in a loving embrace.
This film is a flawless combination of dance, music and acting. I love the score, written by Gershwin, I love the ballet that is more expressive than words, and I love the range of acting styles and emotions throughout. Although the plotline is mildly predictable, the film is not about what happens in terms of the story; it is about the joi de vivre and determination of the characters.
And finally, possibly, the key feature that makes me love this film so much, is the fact that, despite the last scene being twenty minutes of no speech, there is nothing dull or unimaginative. The lack of need for dialogue is an achievement in itself; not many films have ever been able to replicate it.This article was originally published in Portsmouth Point's 'Fight Club' issue, in July 2013.