Last September, I had the pleasure of reviewing Warner Bros. An American in Paris – 2 Disc Special Edition. Now Warner Bros. has made this undeniable classic available on Blu-ray as of March 31, 2009!
Directed by Vincente Minnelli, the 1951 film An American in Paris was inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition by George Gershwin. Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, and Oscar Levant, the script was written by Alan Jay Lerner, who together with Frederick Lowe, created some of the world’s most popular and enduring works of musical theatre. Of course, the music in An American in Paris is by George Gershwin, with lyrics by his brother Ira, with additional music by Saul Chaplin, the music director.
I first saw An American in Paris when I was about seven years old and can remember being completely transfixed. I was simply amazed that Gene Kelly could sing and dance so well. It was after seeing An American in Paris that I was introduced to the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell and the great musicals like My Fair Lady, Meet Me in St Louis, Gigi and countless others; so An American in Paris holds a bit of a special place in my heart and the soundtrack has a permanent place in my CD collection.
Needless to say, I was thrilled when I heard Warner Brothers was releasing An American in Paris on Blu-ray. For those of you not familiar with An American in Paris, Gene Kelly plays Jerry Mulligan, a veteran who stays in France after the war to pursue a career as a painter. Living in a bohemian section of Paris, he makes friends with several other ex-patriots, including jazz pianist Adam Cook (The incredibly funny and musically talented Oscar Levant). Adam gives Jerry a straight man of sorts and an accompanist for when he breaks into impromptu song and dance routines.
Needing money, Jerry takes some of his canvases to the open market to try and sell them. There he meets Milo (Nina Foch), a wealthy American divorcee who takes a shine to his paintings and to their painter. She becomes Jerry’s patron, though she has a little more than art on her mind. The pair initially agrees to disagree on the subject of romance. However, trouble begins when Jerry becomes infatuated with Lise (Leslie Caron), a French girl he meets at a restaurant. Not only is Milo jealous but Adam’s friend, the French singer Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary), would have cause to be jealous, as well, if he knew what was going on. Lise is his girl and even though Lise loves Jerry, she feels indebted to him for having saved her family during World War II. What a soap opera!
Yes, there’s no denying that An American in Paris is a big sappy muddle of a romance when it comes to the story. As you can gather from my synopsis, the plot is as thin as a piece of saran wrap but it doesn’t matter much here. The beauty of An American in Paris is the music and the dancing. Minnelli, undoubtedly realizing the script wasn’t the star here, wisely keeps things moving, not allowing much time between musical numbers. He gives us a variety of Gershwin tunes: We get the slow and romantic “Our Love is Here to Stay” when Jerry is serenading Lise along the Seine, as well as “Tra-La-La (This Time it’s Really Love),” with Jerry mugging alongside Adam while straddling his piano. Also quite funny is Oscar Levant’s solo scene, playing every member of the orchestra in a daydream where he performs a Gershwin concerto to an enthusiastic crowd of people who aren’t just like him, but are him. (He plays the audience, too!) The tone of the film is pure fun and it’s hard as an audience member, not to join in the fun.
Then of course there’s the “An American in Paris Ballet.” Believing he has lost Lise to Henri, Jerry mulls over his short time with her, envisioning Paris as a city alive with dance and romance. Kelly is simply amazing as he leaps and twirls in the streets in ode to love as Jerry. Kelly jumps into a Tolouse-Lautrec painting (Chocolat) and brings it to life; it’s a summation of the dance and the beginning of a conclusion Jerry doesn’t expect. For anyone who hasn’t seen An American in Paris, the ballet alone is worth the price of admission.
Presented with a gorgeous, perfectly framed 1080p/VC-1 transfer, An American in Paris joins a handful of other notable Warner classics as one of the best-looking catalog releases on the market. Lush colors, vivid primaries, deep blacks, and revealing delineation give the picture a stable, three-dimensional appearance. Contrast is bright and inviting, noise and artifacting are non-existent, and the film’s mild grain field is consistent and unobtrusive. Detail is excellent as well — edges are well defined (without any significant edge enhancement on hand to detract from the integrity of the original presentation), on-screen text is crisp and clear, and textures are quite refined considering the age of the print. skin textures are a solid and impressive . I don’t imagine An American in Paris will ever look any better than it does here.
The Blu-ray edition of An American in Paris only includes a standard Dolby Digital presentation of the film’s original mono track. Even though its single-channel presentation doesn’t create any semblance of a soundfield or immersive experience, dialogue is intelligible and well prioritized, bass tones still sound fairly decent and the musical numbers are rather full sounding. An American in Paris isn’t going to blow anyone away with its sonic prowess but it will please purists looking for an authentic restoration of the film’s original audio.
The features on the Blu-ray have been ported over from the An American in Paris – 2 Disc Special Edition released last September. They are in SD, unless otherwise noted.
• Theatrical Trailer (HD)
• Two MGM Shorts – (8:58) the live-action “FitzPatrick Traveltalks: Paris on Parade,” a travelogue that revisits a 1937 exhibition in the city, and a Tex Avery-directed cartoon, “Symphony in Slang.” Neither of these has had any clean-up done on their prints and do show their age.
• A Full Length Audio Commentary, which is a collage of vintage interviews put together by Patricia Ward Kelly, Gene Kelly’s widow. The participants include: Gene Kelly, Vincente Minnelli, producer Arthur Freed, screenwriter Arthur Jay Lerner, musical directors Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin, costume designer Irene Sharaff, art director Preston Ames, and performer/Gershwin expert Michael Feinstein. There are also excerpts from new interviews with actresses Leslie Caron and Nina Foch. Put together, all of these talented people provide a detailed overview of the film any fan will want to hear.
• Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer (85 min.) – This was part of the PBS American Masters series and biographies don’t get much better than what they produce. A must see.
• ‘S Wonderful: Creating “An American in Paris – (42:23) A newly produced “making of” documentary. using archival news footage, production materials (including behind-the-scenes photos and plans for set designs), and new interviews with Ward Kelly, Caron, Foch, two of the kids from the “I Got Rhythm” sequence, a trumpet player from the orchestra, a dancer in the ballet, and a variety of scholars and biographers, etc. (HD)
• Love Walked In Outtake – (2:43) Is an outtake musical number featuring Georges Guétary and Oscar Levant. The audio/video quality on this extra is comparable to that of the restored film.
• A collection of Audio Outtakes (14:33 w/”Play All”) includes:
1. Alternate Main Title
2. But Not for Me (Guétary)
3. But not for Me (Levant, Piano Solo)
4. Gershwin Prelude #3
5. I’ve Got a Crush on You (Kelly, vocal)
6. Nice Work if You Can Get It (Guétary, vocal)
7. ‘S Wonderful (Kelly, vocal)
• Three Promotional Radio Interviews (13:54) – Johnny Green alone, Gene Kelly alone, and Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron together.
On March 31, 2009, Warner Bros is also releasing the classic musical Gigi on Blu-ray, starring Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier.
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