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AN AMERICAN IN PARIS – George Gershwin, Johnny Green, and Saul Chaplin

February 13, 2023 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer Arthur Freed took in a Hollywood Bowl performance of George Gershwin’s music from the Jazz Age and was inspired by the show’s “An American in Paris” number. For the next three years he sought support in bringing his film version to fruition. He found a partner in Gene Kelly who sold MGM executives on the concept of a dance film by screening the film “The Red Shoes” (1948). Arthur Freed was assigned production with a $2.7 million budget, Alan Jay Lerner was hired to write the screenplay, Gene Kelly would manage the choreography, and Vincente tasked with directing, with assistance from Gene Kelly. Kelly had seen Leslie Caron performing a ballet in Paris and he personally recruited her for the role of Lise Bouvier. Joining her would be Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan, Oscar Levant as Adam Cook, George Guétary as Hank Baurel, Nina Foch as Milo Roberts and Eugene Borden as Georges Mattieu.

The film is set in Paris in the post WWII and explores the life of aspiring artist Jerry Mulligan. A lonely socialite Milo Roberts takes a liking to Jerry and agrees to sponsor his art, yet is put off when at a party he abandons her and her fellow patrons for a beautiful woman named Leslie, who unbeknownst to him is the girlfriend of his friend Henri. It turns out that Leslie intends to marry Henri not for love, but for duty as he kept her safe during the war and she feels obligated. Eventually Henri finds out the truth of Leslie’s feelings and that she is in love with Jerry. He releases her from their engagement and the film ends with her and Jerry warmly embracing and then walking off together.

The film was a commercial success earning a profit of $1.346 million. Critical reception was positive, and praised Caron’s performance and the final dance scene which closed the film with an epic performance by Caron and Kelly. The film earned an impressive eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, Best Film Editing, winning six for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Music, Scoring a Musical Picture.

Producer Arthur Freed purchased the film rights for “An American in Paris – A Tone Poem for Orchestra” for $158,750 with an additional $58,250 consultant fee for Ira Gershwin. Gene Kelly’s choreographed dance numbers were accompanied by songs composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by his brother Ira Gershwin. Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin were hired as music directors to write the score and integrate the songs into the film’s musical tapestry, which included ten songs and dance numbers, as well as the now legendary final 17-minute ballet scene.

For their soundscape, Green and Chaplin chose to interpolate two of Gershwin’s iconic song melodies to unify the film’s musical narrative. For Jerry, they chose the title song melody, “An American in Paris” (1928) as their main theme. It is in reality, Jerry’s Theme as the film is his story as an American in Paris. The music is vibrant, and exuberant offering joie de vie that is just infectious. The song melody for the romantic “Love is Here to Stay” (1938) was utilized as Jerry and Lise’s Love Theme. The song choice was perfect as it offers classic romanticism, supporting a Jerry’s affirmation of love for Lise. The additional Gershwin songs chosen for the film were iconic, and included “Fascinating Rhythm”, “Nice Work if You Can Get It”, “Embraceable You”, “I Got Rhythm, “Someone To Watch Over Me”, “By Strauss”, “Tra-La-La”, “I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise”, ‘S Wonderful”, “I’ve Got a Crush on You, Sweetie Pie”, “Oh Lady be Good”, “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, and “But Not For Me”.

Cues coded (*) contain music not found on the album. “Main Title” offers a wonderful score highlight where the composer team masterfully pulls the audience into the film. It opens vibrantly as the MGM studio logo displays and launches exuberant fanfare as the film title displays. We flow into an instrumental rendering of the American and Paris Theme, who’s vibrant, exuberance offers joie de vie that is just infectious, and perfectly establishes the tone of the film. At 0:45 we segue into happy go lucky exuberance of the “’S Wonderful” song melody rendered as a danza felice. We conclude with a coda of the bravado “I Got Rhythm” song melody. “Paris Narration” begins the film proper with narration by Gene Kelly, which relates that he was an American WWII soldier who decided to remain in Paris after discharge, as he loved the city and was an aspiring painter. A spritely danza felice supports the narration and a montage of camera shots of the many architectural wonders of Paris. A diminuendo bridge ushers in at 0:59 a segue into “Left Bank”, where Jerry describes the quaint street where he lives, with the danza felice music sustained. At 1:38 woodwinds sonnolenti support us entering Jerry’s bedroom, where he wakes to greet the day. The Main Theme unfolds as a soothing morning pastorale, that shifts to and from woodwinds to strings gentile as he prepares his coffee and breakfast. At 2:53 trilling woodwinds support him opening the patio door to let in the sweet morning breeze. We close with a final statement of the theme on warm French horns as he gazes at a self-portrait, and then waves to three kids on the street below.

(*) “Oscar’s Story” reveals Jerry’s fellow starving artist Adam, a pianist who lives next door. He plays Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” (1924) on piano as he relates his struggling artist story. Below, Henri is making his morning rounds and when he hears Adam playing, begins singing a few lines of Gershwin’s aspirational “Nice Work if You Can Get It” (1937). Over coffee, Henri relates that he is in love and describes his girl, a ballet dancer Lise, and we shift to a stage where she performs a solo balletic dance in “Embraceable You”. As Lise graces the stage, Chaplin supports with the song melody to the tender love ballad by Gershwin, which speaks of a woman’s yearning for her husband to take her into his arms. When Adam relates that she sounds like the spiritual type, we switch scenes to a pink boudoir at 0:29 atop a saxophone playing sultry jazz as Lise seductively dances using a chair as a prop. Adam then says that she seems to be a lusty lady, and Henri says no, no, she is sweet and shy, and we flow at 0:52 atop strings tenero into a valzer gentile as Lise returns to balletic form in a beautiful yellow dress. Adam then says, an old-fashioned girl then, and Henri says of course not, adding she is vivacious and modern, with a harp glissando ushering in the festive Charleston dance as we see her dancing on stage in a short white dress. Henri then add she reads incessantly and at 1:28 we flow into a set of balletic poses set to chamber music atop a table top as Lise reads a book. As Adam asks if she is moody, Henri counters saying she is the gayest woman in the world and at 2:04 we flow into a vibrant and energetic balletic danza spiritoso as Lise dazzles us with her gift in a blue tutu. At 2:27 a sequence of chords supports the screen splitting to reveal each of the previous dance numbers she performed set to a different color matte, concluding with a dreamy harp glissando.

“By Strauss” reveals Jerry joining Adam and Henri at the café and asking for a loan of 300 francs for lunch money. Henri is gracious, and Adam coaxes him into a Gershwin song, “By Strauss” (1936), which joins silliness and drama, eventually evolving into an entertaining and delightful dance by five people. “Street Exhibit” reveals Jerry walking the streets with his paintings carried by a spritely rendering of the Main Theme. He is enjoying life and offers friendly acknowledgments to fellow artists he passes along the way. (*) “Milo” reveals a woman named Milo taking a liking to two of his painting’s and offering his $50 a piece, which Jerry happily accepts, but she is short of cash and he agrees to ride in her limousine to her hotel. Strings eleganti support their arrival at the hotel. Sardonic woodwinds juxtapose the string borne melody as he enters her luxurious apartment. Milo invites him to a party at her apartment tonight, which he accepts, and then is driven home by her chauffer in her limousine, which makes quite an impression with the locals. He is surrounded by dozens of kids and agrees to entertain them, launching with whistling into a score highlight with a song and dance act of Gershwin’s iconic happy go lucky song “I Got Rhythm” accompanied by the M-G-M Children’s Chorus;

The confluence of Gershwin’s song and lyrics and Kelly’s virtuoso dance skills was just outstanding! He shows up later for the party only to discover that it is instead a date with Milo. He takes her to a restaurant for dinner, which Chaplin supports with a diegetic band playing Gershwin’s melody for “Someone To Watch Over Me” (1926). At dinner it becomes clear that she is attracted to him, and he accepts he offer to serve as a patron who sponsors and promotes his art with the local dealers. Her friend Tommy joins them and as move to his table, Chaplin supports the café ambiance with a number of Gershwin classics. Jerry has a chance encounter with Lise and is immediately smitten. After staring at her for a while, he walks over and takes her to the dance floor where he quickly makes known how he feels about her as he sings a Gershwin love ballad “Love Is Here To Stay”;

The song offers classic romanticism supporting a man’s affirmation of love for his woman. Lise is uncomfortable, as is Milo who is watching from the other side of the dance floor. The music stops, and he takes here back to her friend’s table, and secures her phone number from them. When he rejoins Milo, she is clearly displeased, they depart, quarrel in the limousine, and he eventually gets out leaving her in tears. In (*) “Jerry Rebuffed”, the next day he calls Lise to try and make a date, but she rebuffs him and hangs up. A sad, woe’s me musical narrative unfolds joined by a sax sardonico as Milo joins him at his café table for morning coffee. She advises him that she has elicited interest in his painting by two galleries and invites him to join her for lunch, to which he agrees. He departs and the spritely Main Theme carries his walk to the perfume shop where Lise works. He helps her make a sale and his charm proves irresistible as she agrees to join him at 9:00 pm that evening. He is on top of the world as he departs and a playful variant of the Main Theme carries his departure.

In (*) “Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra 3rd Movement” Jerry arrives home to see Adam playing the Gershwin (1925) classical piece on his piano. Jerry is smitten and cannot contain himself and launches into the classic Gershwin song “Tra-La-La” with Adam on piano; The song abounds with exuberant happiness, which achieves a perfect confluence with Kelly’s virtuoso dancing, concluding with a big band flourish. Later in (*) “First Date” he joins Lise at a café, but she asks to leave and so he takes her for a hand-holding walk along the river. She is captivated by his charisma and he serenades her with a reprise of Gershwin love ballad “Love Is Here To Stay”. The orchestra take up the melody and supports the two premier dancers performing a tender and moving danza romantico. She realizes that it is past 11 pm, and rushes off, yet he grabs her, they kiss, and she agrees to meet him Sunday for lunch. Later that evening Henri performs at the theater, offering the classic Gershwin song “I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise” with a retinue of beautiful women. The song is one of optimism, which exhorts one to engage and enjoy life with dance.

Lise arrives late only to have Henri propose and then asks her to join on a tour of America. She demurs, but we see she is clearly conflicted. Back at Adam’s flat we see Jerry preoccupied as Adam offers a line of the Gershwin song “I don’t think I’ll fall in love today” (1928). Milo’s limousine arrives, and as Jerry departs Adam teases him about being a ‘kept man’. As Adam lay on his bed, he dreams of being a world-famous pianist and we see him playing on stage an inspired and virtuoso performance of Gershwin’s dazzling note rich “Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra 3rd Movement” (1925), one of his finest classical compositions. As the bravado performance continues, we see him also as the conductor, various members of the orchestra, and members of the audience. We shift to Jerry and Milo who are supported by a spritely Main Theme as they exit her limousine. She reveals to him a stunning art studio for him to paint, as well as news that she has booked him in three months for an exhibition of his art at a renowned gallery. He agrees on one condition, that he pays her back. She is ecstatic and gives him a warm, hugging embrace, much to his surprise.

“Painting Montage” reveals a montage of Jerry painting around Paris as he needs a large body of work to display for the upcoming exhibition. Chaplin supports with a vibrant rendering of the Tra-La-La song melody abounding with joie de vie. Yet when we come to a portrait of Lise, the music softens at 0:42 and we are graced the Love is Here to Stay song melody rendered as a romance for strings as Jerry adjusts her pose and then lovingly kisses her. Later, as he selects frames for his paintings, we are dazzled with a reprise of the Tra-La-La melody by piano felice, which concludes with a dreamy harp glissando. Jerry and Lise are out on a date and he stops by his place to drop off some pictures, she becomes nervous and when he goes into the café, she orders the cab driver to go, stranding an incredulous Jerry. He sits down for coffee with Adam and confesses to him, that he is hooked, and that she is the one. Henri arrives and declares he is getting married. He sees Jerry is unhappy, and when he describes his love for a woman, whom he believes loves him, Henri counsels him to be more forthright and to declare to her your love, to which he agrees. Poor Adam looks on bewildered as he knows that they do not know that they both love the same woman. We flow into a score highlight, the Gershwin song “’S Wonderful” sung by Jerry and Henri, which speaks to the joy of being in love;

They celebrate their happiness with a dance. At 1:44 the orchestra takes up the melody, joined by Henri’s whistling as Jerry dazzles us with his tap dancing. We conclude with the two reprising the last stanza, which climaxes with a grand flourish as the towns people applaud. “Lise, I Love You (‘S Wonderful/Love is here to Stay)” That evening Jerry goes to meet Lise to confess his love carried by a romantic rendering of the “’S Wonderful” song melody. He confesses his love to her, and then is shattered by her revelation at 0:40 that she is engaged to marry a man to whom protected her from the Nazis and to who she owes her life. The musical narrative shifts to an aching, and plaintive rendering of the “Love Is Here to Stay” melody as he accepts the bitter news and departs, saying that he also has a person who is fond of him. As he ascends the stairs, she calls out, and say she does love him. He hesitates, yet never the less leaves.

Jerry goes to Milo’s apartment, tells her to break her date, because he is taking her out. She is surprised, more so when he gives her a passionate kiss. Later in (*) “Costume Ball” they arrive at a costume party, which is supported by a number of Gershwin songs, including “I’ve Got a Crush on You, Sweetie Pie”, “Oh Lady be Good”, “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, and “But Not For Me”. By chance Jerry and Milo meet Henri and Lise, which is awkward, and uncomfortable. Henri and Lise depart and Jerry comes clean with Milo, telling her that he is in love with Lise. Milo leaves to get some champagne, while Jerry goes out on the terrace where he is joined by Lise. They are both sad and strings doloroso emote and extended rendering of the “Love Is Here to Stay” song melody so full of heartache. He relates his dreams as an aspiring artist living in Paris, that are now dashed, leaving him bitter. She hugs him one last time and runs away leaving him alone in his thought. We see smoke from the shadows and Henri appears, fully aware now of Lise and Jerry’s feelings. He also departs, and as he and Lise get into a car below, she gazes up to him one last time, with Henri fully aware.

“An American In Paris Ballet” offers the score’s greatest highlight, which provides one of the finest confluences of dance and music in cinematic history. Jerry is heartbroken and transported into one of his drawings. The orchestra explodes with horns energico and strings furioso as the black and white background transforms into the French colors of red, white and blue. Jerry is surrounded by beautiful women in elegant white gowns and at 0:19 he begins dancing, carried by the Main Theme through Paris street life set against his drawing, joined by a retinue of dancers. At 1:20 a quirky diminuendo support him being surrounded by four women in red dresses who join him in dancing supported by the lively Main Theme. At 1:45 the theme becomes horn declared and bold as soldiers prance onto the stage and precision dance. A kaleidoscope of colorful dancers fills the screen supported by playful and at times frenetic music until 2:42 when yearning violins usher in Lise. Yet when he runs to her, she disappears upon a diminuendo, which ushers in a woodwind misterioso as moonlight rays flow through a garden canopy. The music brightens at 3:30 as daylight comes to reveal a flower cart. He grabs a red rose and we see Lise in his thoughts, with ascending strings of aspiration bringing her to him balletically at 3:52 en point and pique. They begin a sensual danza romantico with the Main Theme rendered con amore. As he twirls with her in his arms, she vanishes at 5:15 atop horns triste, replaced by bouquets of flowers. He is heartbroken, yet at 5:31 the calm is shattered by four men in uniform who pull him into a dance with them, propelled by a festive, high octane rendered Main Theme. At 5:39 the music becomes comic and playful as they change into Parisian garb and resume dancing. A reprise of the military version of the Main Theme counters as the troupe of French soldiers pass by and enter the town square where they and a troupe of women join in a danza festive. The women take center stage and dance balletically empowered by an energetic Main Theme.

At 7:42 we shift back to Jerry and his troupe of four men who reenter the square and tap dance carried by a playful Main Theme, joined by the French soldiers. The two versions of the Main Theme interplay as dancing shifts to and fro. At 8:29 we demur as Jerry tap dances and is joined by a balletic Lise. A dance tette et tette between Jerry and Lise unfolds, with Jerry’s tap dancing synced rhythmically with the spirited Main Theme, which crescendos at 10:04. At 10:05 Jerry and Lise are alone in a yellow mist. He lifts and carries her in his arms supported by a sultry saxophone. At 10:52 he lets her down, and they begin to dance sensually with the music shifting to a romantic contour atop the Love Theme, which blossoms as they surrender to a kiss at 12:20. At 12:29 drums and horns festive unleash a new spirited danza energico routine with the two of them joined by a large retinue of dancers. At 13:25 a series of chords dramatico transport Jerry into a drawing by French artist Henri de Toulose-Lautrec, unleashing a new jazz dance routine empowered by a funky saxophone and kindred horns as he joins Can-Can dancers on stage. They all depart, leaving the stage to him and Lise who dance supported by a sensual danza festivo. At 15:26 they return to the ballroom supported by a spirited Main Theme, which climaxes grandly at 15:50. We conclude frenetically as everyone disappears and he runs back to retrieve the red rose, from which this dream sequence began, concluding dramatically with a grand declaration of the Main Theme. Afterwards the music demurs and we conclude with an aspirational coda of the Love Theme as the camera zooms in on the red rose.

“Finale” reveals Henri and Lise returning, blowing their car horn to get Jerry’s attention. She kisses Henri goodbye and at 0:24 a crescendo gioioso swells as our two lovers run to each other’s welcoming arms at 0:41, their kissing embrace crowned rapturously with the Main Theme borne by strings d’Amore. As they descend to the street hand in hand, we close magnificently with a resplendent flourish atop the American in Paris Theme. The two-disc album contains a number of outtakes and music that never made it into the film and I encourage the reader to explore it, as I believe that you will find it rewarding.

I commend Michael Feinstein, George Feltenstein, Bradley Flanagan and Rhino Movie Music for producing an album for one of the finest Hollywood musicals in cinematic history. George Gershwin was one of America’s greatest composers and this two-disc album offers many of his iconic songs. The technical team used the original studio session masters as their source and while many of the cues had dual microphone angles that allowed a stereophonic conversion, some did not and remain monaural. While 21st century audio qualitative standards were not achieved, I believe the listener can still appreciate the genius of George and Ira Gershwin’s handiwork. The composer team of Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin took on the daunting task of creating a soundscape to support some of the most iconic American music ever written. Yet in a masterstroke they did not try to create new music to compete with Gershwin’s, but instead interpolated his melodies to create a uniform musical narrative. They understood that this was Gene Kelly’s movie and so used the “An American in Paris” song melody to tell his love-struck story. The melody was versatile and they masterfully adapted it for his many dance routines and scenes. For our lovers Jerry and Lise, they chose the romantic song melody “Love Is Here To Stay” for their Love Theme. The song offers classic romanticism supporting Jerry’s fervent love for Lise. Scenes that showcased Kelly’s virtuoso dancing achieved a wondrous synergy with Gershwin’s melodies in “I Got Rhythm” and “’S Wonderful”. But it is with the 17 minute “American in Paris Ballet” scene that we bear witness to one of the greatest confluences of dance and music in cinematic history. Folks, I believe “An American in Paris” merited its Academy Award and endures as one of Hollywood’s finest musicals of the Golden Age. The music and songs are timeless, and when joined with Gene Kelly’s dancing, sublime. I believe this two CD album to be an essential purchase for lovers of Golden Age musicals and the music of George Gershwin.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the Main Title; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4IQ0Sctx94&list=PL-jq4DwiS5LRItON88R548GJoJGdN6Mpu&index=1

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Track Listing:

  • Main Title (An American in Paris, ‘S Wonderful, I Got Rhythm) (1:35)
  • Paris Narration/Left Bank (Theme from An American in Paris) (3:34)
  • Nice Work If You Can Get It (Outtake) (1:05)
  • By Strauss (3:43)
  • Street Exhibit (0:44)
  • I Got Rhythm (3:43)
  • But Not For Me (1:21)
  • Medley: Do, Do, Do/Bidin’ My Time/I’ve Got A Crush On You/Love Is Here To Stay (4:07)
  • Someone To Watch Over Me (1:17)
  • Medley: My Cusin In Milwaukee/A Foggy Day/The Half-Of-It Dearie Blues/But Not For Me (Outtake) (3:33)
  • Tra-La-La (3:44)
  • I’m Not Enemy (Love Is Here To Stay) (Outtake) (2:24)
  • Love Is Here To Stay (3:46)
  • Medley: What Time Is It?/Love Is Here To Stay (Reprise) (Outtake) (1:15)
  • (I’ll Build A) Stairway To Paradise (2:42)
  • I’ve Got A Crush On You (Outtake) (2:45)
  • Love Walked In (Outtake) (2:35)
  • Medley: We Would Get Married (Love Walked In-Outtake)/I Don’t Think I’ll Fall In Love Today(Extended) (2:49)
  • Concerto In F (3rd Movement) (4:35)
  • Painting Montage (Tra-La-La/Love Is Here To Stay) (1:32)
  • Kiss Me (Outtake) (0:56)
  • ‘S Wonderful (2:47)
  • Lise, I Love You (‘S Wonderful/ Love Is Here To Stay) (2:12)
  • Strike Up The Band (Extended Version) (1:48)
  • Liza (Complete Version) (0:59)
  • Medley: Oh, Lady Be Good/ ‘S Wonderful (1:58)
  • Medley: That Certain Feeling/ Clap Yo’ Hands (1:27)
  • I’ve Got A Crush On You (1:05)
  • I Got Rhythm (Extended Version) (1:15)
  • Tra-La-La (Outtake) (1:05)
  • But Not For Me (Outtake) (1:38)
  • Utrillo Did It (Love Is Here To Stay/An American In Paris/Nice Work If You Ca Get It) (4:19)
  • An American in Paris Ballet (16:38)
  • Finale (An American in Paris) (1:17)
  • Painting Montage (An American in Paris) (Deleted Version) (1:47)
  • Main Title: An American in Paris (Alternate Version) (Outtake) (3:12)
  • Adam Cook Monologue (How Long Has This Been Going On?) (Extended Version) (1:39)
  • Nice Work If You Can Get It (Partial As Used In Film) (0:30)
  • Third Prelude (Outtake) (1:01)
  • Mi Cousin In Milwaukee (Outtake) (1:08)
  • A Foggy Day (Outtake) (1:46)
  • The Half-Of-It Dearie Blues (Outtake (0:36)
  • But Not For Me (Outtake) (3:27)
  • Bidin’ My Time (Outtake) (1:38)
  • ‘S Wonderful (Reprise) (Outtake) (0:56)
  • Finale (Alternate Version) (Outtake) (1:34)

Running Time: 114 minutes 15 seconds

Rhino Movie Music R2 71961 (1951/1996)

Music composed by George Gershwin. Conducted by Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin. Orchestrations by Conrad Salinger, Benny Carter, Robert Franklyn, Wally Heglin, Skip Martin and Albert Sendrey. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Score produced by Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin. Album produced by Michael Feinstein, George Feltenstein and Bradley Flanagan.

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