2 min

To gay Paris

Une voyage d'amour

Credit: Xtra files

If you could visit either the Gigi Paris or the An American In Paris Paris, which would you choose? Both are Vincente Minnelli-directed, Alan Jay Lerner-penned, Leslie Caron-endowed, Arthur Freed-produced, Best Picture Oscar-winning, MGM Parises in which colourful passersby burst into song. It’s a tough decision, I know. But if there was a gun to your head, which would you choose? Let’s think it through.

An American In Paris, released in 1951, stars 38-year-old Gene Kelly as an ex-patriot painter who is torn between his “older” benefactress (27-year-old Nina Foch) and a French Resistance pixie (20-year-old Caron). It’s all so serious. Oscar Levant is an able quipster, but his mania grows oppressive. Only when Kelly flirts with his tuxedoed rival (Georges Guetary) do we feel a spark.

Gigi, made seven years later, stars fully blossomed Caron as a turn-of-the-century courtesan-in-training who finds true love with a dashingly handsome Louis Jourdan. Now that’s lovely. And to quote the voice on the original theatrical trailer, “What is a picture about gay Paris without Maurice Chevalier?” Here he is paired with the adorably nasal Hermione Gingold. Add Eva Gabor to the mix and we have a party.

An American In Paris features a score of assorted Gershwin standards and, although numbers like “I Got Rhythm,” “‘S Wonderful” and “Stairway To Paradise” are charming, the whole thing feels like an excuse to wow us with the “An American In Paris” ballet finale. Choreographed by Kelly, this sequence is exquisitely designed but really pretentious. Especially when Kelly leaps into a Toulouse-Lautrec painting and flexes his bum.

Gigi boasts the first Lerner and Loewe score written directly for the screen and it’s brilliantly nonchalant. Indeed, numbers like “I Don’t Understand The Parisians,” “I Remember It Well,” “It’s A Bore, “The Night They Invented Champagne” and the Oscar-winning “Gigi” enhance Colette’s story beautifully. (This is the team that wrote My Fair Lady… they love turning tomboys into ladies.) Screenwriter Lerner’s decision to create a narrator character for Chevalier was inspired. “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” bookends the tale in a satisfying, albeit disturbing, way.

An American In Paris was shot in Culver City.

Gigi was shot in Paris.

Decision made. There’s more amour in Gigi Paris.

But hypothetical debate aside, let me suggest you enjoy both these flicks in Cinematheque’s Vincente Minnelli retrospective. Liza has gushed that she got her drive from her mother and her dreams from her father. Gigi, with its fairy-tale story set in a fairy-tale time, is a dream from start to finish. An American In Paris feels just a little too, well, American. Both, however, are fine winter escapes. Bon voyage.

* Cinematheque’s Vincente Minnelli retrospective continues through March.


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