chapter  5
An American in Paris (1951)
ByPAM COOK
Pages 18

An American in Paris, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, is widely celebrated as one of the high points of the golden era of MGM musicals in the 1940s and 1950s. Despite being perceived by some as less successful than On the Town (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952), the film retains a special place in the canons which have grown up around the production of the musical in this period: as a major success for the Arthur Freed unit (songwriter-turned-producer Freed received a Best Picture Academy Award for An American in Paris); as one of Minnelli’s most sophisticated and stylish works; and as a demonstration of Gene Kelly’s virtuosity as dancer, singer, choreographer and director at the peak of his career. An American in Paris was nominated for eight Academy Awards and gained six: Best Picture (against Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire and George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun), Best Story and Screenplay, Best Music Score, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (Robinson 2004). This list is significant for its validation of the film as a pinnacle of studio production, rather than an achievement by its director or star.1 In emphasizing the creative contribution of teams of craftspeople, it asserts the status of the Hollywood studios at a time when the American film industry was under pressure from several directions.2 The post-war period witnessed a series of far-reaching changes to the studio system that would transform ‘old’ into ‘new’, or ‘classical’ into ‘postclassical’ Hollywood.