An American In Paris appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie barely showed its age in this nice transfer.
In terms of sharpness, the movie usually demonstrated nice delineation. A few shots seemed just a smidgen soft, but those issues occurred infrequently. The majority of the flick looked concise and accurate. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and only a little edge enhancement became apparent. Given its age, the film was shockingly clean. Grain remained appropriate, and no specks, marks or other defects showed up at any time in this fresh presentation.
Colors were fairly good though not great. I thought flesh tones were a bit on the brown side. Nonetheless, the hues were usually more than acceptable, as they demonstrated good life. Blacks seemed deep and dense without too much heaviness. Shadow detail worked similarly well, as dimly-lit shots were appropriately clear and thick. Overall, I found the movie to have some small weaknesses but it came with enough strengths to merit a “B+”.
The monaural audio of An American In Paris appeared average for its era. Speech was fine. The lines showed age-related thinness, but they were always perfectly intelligible and without edginess. Effects became a minor aspect of the track, and they resembled the dialogue. Those elements lacked much depth but they were without notable problems.
Music was acceptable for its age but not better than that. The songs and score tended to be a bit harsh and shrill. There wasn’t much range to the music, as those elements appeared somewhat too bright and without great clarity. The music remained decent based on what I’d expect from a movie from 1951, but it didn’t surpass my expectations. Some light hiss cropped up through the flick, though not to a substantial degree; the noise became most apparent during songs. At no point did the audio excel, but it still seemed worthy of a “C+” given its vintage.
How did the picture and audio of this 2008 Special Edition compare to those of the original 2000 DVD? I thought both discs presented very similar audio, but the 2008 release boasted significantly improved visuals. The new disc was cleaner and better defined that the old one. It was a substantial step up in picture quality.
While the old disc included nothing more than a trailer - which reappears here – this SE comes with many more extras. On DVD One, we find an audio commentary from a mix of sources. Hosted by Gene Kelly’s widow Patricia, a combination of old and new recordings provide notes from director Vincente Minnelli, producer Alan Freed, writer Alan Jay Lerner, musical directors Saul Chaplin and Johnny Green, art director Preston Ames, ballet costume designer Irene Sharaff, musician Michael Feinstein, and actors Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Nina Foch. The track looks at the film’s origins and bringing the principals on-board, songs, score and choreography, cast, characters and performances, story and script, sets and production design, life in the Hollywood studio system, and a few other notes about the production.
On the negative side, we get a bit more dead air that I’d expect from a track with so many participants. The gaps aren’t frequent or enormous, but we find more of them than I’d like. Nonetheless, the commentary digs into a lot of useful subjects and does so in a fairly thorough manner. I like this sort of “historic piece”, and this one blends well as it tells us the nuts and bolts of the movie’s creation.
Two vintage shorts appear on DVD One. We get a travelogue called FitzPatrick TravelTalks and a cartoon titled Symphony in Slang. The former lasts eight minutes, 52 seconds, while the latter goes for six minutes, 45 seconds. 1938’s TravelTalks displays the 1937 World Expo that took place in Paris and gives us a look at the city. It’s not exactly fascinating, but it’s interesting as a historical piece.
As for Slang, the 1951 Tex Avery cartoon features a young hipster whose use of lingo makes its impossible for the angels to understand his story. We watch his life through their literal eyes. It’s cute enough but not a classic.
Over on DVD Two, we start with a new documentary entitled ’S Wonderful: The Making of An American In Paris. In this 42-minute and 24-second piece, we get movie clips, archival materials, and comments from Caron, Minnelli, Kelly, Chaplin, Foch, Vincente Minnelli and the Film Musical author Dr. Drew Casper, music historian/Gene Kelly’s friend Gene Lees, music and film historian Gary Giddins, MGM’s Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit author Hugh Fordin, MGM studio orchestra musician Uan Rasey, dancer Marian Horosko, cinematographer John Alton, and former child actors Andree and Claude Guy. “Wonderful” examines the project’s origins and development, cast and performances, script and music, choreography and visual design, recreating Paris, censorship issues, and the flick’s reception.
“Wonderful” provides us with a good overview of the production. It seems inevitable that some of the information repeats from the commentary, but the various new perspectives add more than enough differences. The documentary creates a fine examination of the flick that entertains as it informs.
For information about the film’s leading legend, we go to the one-hour, 24-minute and 43-second Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer. It involves Kelly, Foch, Caron, Minnelli, Kelly’s daughter Kerry Kelly Novick, biographers Stephen Silverman and Clive Hirschhorn, dance historian Beth Genne, writers Betty Comden, Arthur Laurents and Adolph Green, film historian Jeanine Basinger, filmmaker Stanley Donen, composer Andre Previn, dance critic Deborah Jowitt, film critic Elvis Mitchell, dancer Fayard Nicholas, UCLA Professor of Film Studies Peter Wollen, choreographer Kenny Ortega, son Tim Kelly, and actors Debbie Reynolds, Betsy Blair, Cyd Charisse, Betty Garrett, and Donald O’Connor.
“Dancer” tells us a little about Kelly’s personal life, but it usually focuses on his career and work. We find many film clips as well as insights into Kelly’s efforts. I like that emphasis on the movies, as it means “Dancer” avoids any sort of tabloid feel. We learn quite a bit about Kelly’s career in this fine piece.
An Outtake called “Love Walked In” runs two minutes, 44 seconds. It shows Henri as he serenades Lise at the bar. It’s purely a musical number, and not particularly interesting to me. Fans of the flick will probably like it more, however.
A few more materials complete the set. Seven Audio Outtakes fill a total of 14 minutes, 32 seconds. These include “Alternate Main Title”, “But Not For Me” (Guétary), “But Not For Me” (Levant piano solo), “Gershwin Prelude #3”, “I’ve Got a Crush On You”, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”, and “’S Wonderful”. As with the “Love Walked In” clip, these variations on the film’s musical numbers will likely appeal to the movie’s biggest fans, and they’re a nice extra in that regard.
Finally, we get three Radio Interviews. These feature Johnny Green (4:55), Gene Kelly (4:46) and Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron (4:13). Through these, we get some facts about Paris from the musical director and the two lead actors. We find some interesting notes, but the format proves irritating for the first two. Those clips were meant to be introduced by staged questions from radio hosts. We only hear the answers, which occasionally means that the replies don’t make much sense. Still, they’re cool to have as an archival piece.
Clearly An American In Paris will offer more appeal to fans of musicals than it does for me, but I still think it’s a fairly ordinary piece for the most part. It rests its legacy on one long and creative dance number, but other than that sequence, a clever opening, and Gene Kelly, the movie does little to differentiate itself from a slew of other musicals. The DVD provides very good picture and supplements as well as perfectly acceptable audio.
While I don’t think much of Paris, I find a lot to like about this solid Special Edition package. Fans of the movie will want to get it, and that includes those who already own the original movie-only release. The 2008 SE provides a substantial upgrade and is the way to go for Paris buffs.