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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: An American in Paris: Two-Disc Special Edition

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#1 of 17 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted September 08 2008 - 04:34 AM

An American in Paris: Two-Disc Special Edition

Directed By: Vincente Minnelli

Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary, Nina Foch

Studio: Warner Brothers

Year: 1951

Rated: Not Rated

Film Length: 114 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 4:3

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Japanese, Thai

Release Date: September 16, 2008

The Film

In An American in Paris, Gene Kelly plays Jerry Mulligan, the titular American ex- GI in postwar Paris who stayed on after being discharged to pursue painting. After perfecting the art of being a starving artist, Jerry unexpectedly benefits from the patronage of wealthy divorcee Milo Roberts (Foch). Milo has romantic as well as professional designs on Jerry, but Jerry, while grateful, is smitten by young perfume shop employee Lise Bouvier (Caron, in her film debut). Matters are further complicated by Lise's romantic attachment to French music hall singer Henri Baurel (Guétary) with whom Jerry shares a mutual friend, American concert pianist Adam Cook (Levant).

Looking at the film's running time and the minimal plot synopsized above might mislead one to question the film as a value proposition for audiences. An American in Paris is one of those films that is to be appreciated not for what it is about so much as how it is about it. The relatively slight narrative is interrupted for inventively staged production numbers big and small based around songs culled from the library of tunes by George and Ira Gershwin. Gene Kelly and director Vincente Minnelli are at their most inventive when staging these numbers, and the film is a near perfect blend of Kelly's populist dance philosophy with Minnelli's fine art sensibilities. The film climaxes with perhaps the ultimate production number of the classic MGM studio era, a ballet that plays for the entirety of George Gershwin's "An American in Paris" with multiple segments based around the visual style of paintings by Dufy, Renoir, Utrillo, Rousseau, Van Gogh, and Toulouse Lautrec that are also keyed to the memories and psychology of Kelly's character at the film's climactic moment.

While Michael Powell had managed to incorporate an extended ballet segment into The Red Shoes a couple of years previously, nothing like this had been attempted in mainstream Hollywood studio films. Additionally, Kelly and Minnelli's staging of the ballet expands on Powell's creative mix of ballet with cinematic techniques by mixing in modern dance and popular jazz with the classical ballet elements.

With the whole Gershwin catalog at their disposal, the filmmakers resisted the temptation to make a composer biopic as MGM had recently done with Rodgers and Hart in "Words and Music", and Kalmar and Ruby in "Three Little Words". This was partly because George Gershwin had already received such treatment in the Warner Bros. film Rhapsody in Blue and partly because they had something quite different in mind. This allowed them to eschew the normal hit parade approach and go deeper into the Gershwin catalog to pull out fairly obscure songs such as "By Strauss", "Tra La La", and "Our Love is Here to Stay" to mix in with the better known standards. The latter emerged from relative obscurity and became a standard largely because of its effective use as a love theme in this film. The unconventional approach is also reflected in Alan Lerner's script, which has hints of darkness and complexity in characterizations such as Foch's barely veiled romantically predatory patron and does not feel obliged to arrange neat happy endings for the supporting cast by the film's conclusion.

The Video

For this 4:3 color transfer, Warner has employed their Ultra-Resolution process to digitally align and combine the color records of the original three-strip Technicolor negatives. The result is a video presentation with few noticeable flaws. Color and density are solid and unwavering. Light, natural looking film grain is noticeable and fairly well rendered by the video compression. I noticed high contrast edge halos at only two points in the film. One was a stock shot of Paris and the other was during the "Embraceable You" montage of Leslie Caron in various settings to illustrate her character's personality during the part where she is wearing a black outfit against a yellow background. These instances appear to be film source related. The most convincing evidence for this is an optical shot at the end of the "Embraceable You" segment where it shows a split screen of Caron in all of her various outfits. The black on yellow still has the thin haloing, proportionately reduced in size, but there is no evidence of edge ringing in any of the other images.

The Audio

The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is more than serviceable. Noise reduction is applied with a light touch resulting in a track with very good fidelity and light background hiss without any significant audio processing artifacts.

The Extras

This two-disc special edition improves greatly on previous DVD releases of the film in the extras department, with a full complement of special features related to the film as well as a few vintage shorts spread across the two double layered DVDs. All extras are presented in 4:3 color video with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio unless indicated otherwise.

Beginning with disc one, the first and most significant extra is a Commentary by Patricia Ward-Kelly with producer Arthur Freed, Gene Kelly, director Vincente Minnelli, screenwriter Alan Jay Lerner, co-musical director Saul Chaplin, Leslie Caron, Nina Foch, musician Michael Feinstein, co-musical director and head of MGM music department Johnny Green, art director Preston Ames, and costume designer Irene Sharaff. This outstanding commentary amounts to an oral history of the film with first hand behind the scenes accounts from several of the key contributors. Ward-Kelly introduces the track and then provides connecting comments between interview excerpts from the various participants. Comments from Caron and Foch are newly recorded, and the rest are from archival sources. Recording quality varies greatly as many of the interviews were likely conducted as research without intention of releasing the tapes commercially. Michael Feinstein's presence on the track comes about due to the Saul Chaplin comments being taken from a recorded conversation between the two men.

Next up is Paris on Parade (8:52), a 1938 color short photographed by Jack Cardiff from the James Fitzpatrick "Traveltalks" series looking at the 1937 Paris exhibition. It focuses more on the exhibits of the various nations than on Paris itself, but there is a section on the illuminated fountains designed by the French.

Symphony in Slang (6:45) is a 1951 Technicolor Tex Avery cartoon consisting almost entirely of a series of sight gags based on literal translations of slang and idiom terms as a recently deceased hipster relates his life story to Saint Peter and dictionary master Noah Webster.

Concluding the extras on the first disc is the film's lengthy Theatrical Trailer (3:38 )

All of the video-based extras on the second disc are presented with available Japanese and Thai subtitles

Kicking off the disc two extras is Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer (84:43). This is an outstanding 2002 career profile from the PBS American Masters series directed by Robert Trachtenberg which is presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. It provides a very comprehensive, refreshingly even-handed overview of Kelly's professional career with plenty of film clips and archival footage such as a rare soundless clip of Kelly performing in Pal Joey on Broadway. On-camera interview participants include a wide array of scholars, friends, family, and colleagues including: daughter Kerry Kelly Novick, Biographer Clive Hirschhorn, Dance Historian Beth Genné, Actress/ex-wife Betsy Blair, Writer Adolph Green, Film Historian Jeanine Basinger, actress Nina Foch, Stanley Donen biographer Stephen Silverman, composer Andre Previn, writer Betty Comden, writer Arthur Laurents, actress Leslie Caron, actress Cyd Charisse, dance critic Deborah Jowitt, film critic Elvis Mitchell, dancer Fayard Nicholas, actress Betty Garrett, UCLA Professor of Film Studies Peter Wollen, actress Debbie Reynolds, choreographer Kenny Ortega, and son Tim Kelly. Additionally, there are archival interview clips with Gene Kelly, Vincente Minnelli, Donald O'Connor, and Stanley Donen. Donen actually appears twice, once in what is clearly an older interview and once in one that looks more recently recorded. This documentary would be worthy of purchase for fans of Gene Kelly as a separate release, and in fact, it was released on its own DVD six years ago. It is presented with outstanding video and audio quality, with most of the archival film clips being from recent high-quality video masters.

Next up is the newly produced "making of" featurette 'S Wonderful: Creating "An American in Paris" (42:23). It is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. This is a somewhat more comprehensive than usual mini-documentary mixing standard "talking head" retrospective interviews with film clips and behind the scenes pictures and footage. My favorite segment is a section by section breakdown of the climactic ballet. Interview participants include music historian/Gene Kelly friend Gene Lees, music and film Historian Gary Giddins, author and widow of Gene Kelly Patricia Ward Kelly, author/historian Hugh Fordin, author/historian Dr. Drew Casper, Nina Foch, Leslie Caron, former child actors Andrée and Claude Guy, former MGM orchestra musician Uan Rasey (As an amateur trumpet player, I have to admit to being pretty geeked out to see Rasey who is something of an unsung legend.), and dancer Marian Horosko. Archival interview clips also include comments from director Minnelli, co-musical director Saul Chaplin, and cinematographer John Alton.

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 nice touch.

A collection of Audio Outtakes (14:33 w/"Play All") includes:
  • Alternate Main Title
  • But Not for Me Guétary
  • But not for Me Levant Piano Solo
  • Gershwin Prelude #3
  • I've Go a Crush on You (Kelly vocal)
  • Nice Work if You Can Get It (Guétary vocal)
  • 'S Wonderful (Kelly vocal)
The outtakes are selectable individually or via a "play all" feature, but fast forward and rewind abilities are not enabled while listening.

Finally, a collection of three promotional Radio Interviews (13:54 w/"Play All") includes a segment with musical director Johnny Green, a segment with Gene Kelly, and a segment with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. The first two are to promote the film and record album and are one-sided interviews recorded so that local hosts could fill in the questions themselves. The last one is a Dick Simmons-hosted promotional radio segment where Kelly introduces Caron to the listeners. As with the audio outtakes, they are selectable individually or via a "Play All" option, but fast forwarding and rewinding functions are locked out.


The two dual-layered DVD-9 discs are packaged in an Amaray-style hard plastic case with a hinged tray allowing it to accommodate two discs. The hard case is in turn inserted into a cardboard slipcover that reproduces identical text and graphics to those of the hard case with no embossments or foil enhancements. The cover image of Kelly and Caron against the colors of the French flag is not as graphically elegant as the classic promotional image from the previous DVD releases, but it is not bad and will help to distinguish it from its predecessor on the shelves of stores and DVD collectors. Extra kudos to the Warner Bros. Home Video marketing folks for not giving this edition a dopey name like "'S Wonderful Two-Disc Special Edition". Such terrible and corny references to song titles and movie moments should be kept out of DVD titles and remain squarely in the domain of hack online reviewers as my very next sentence will illustrate.


Warner Home Video has gone the extra mile to present a two-disc special edition of An American in Paris that 'S Wonderful by almost any standard. Audio/Video quality is about as good as one could hope for if not a little better, and the full complement of extras, including an outstanding oral history commentary and a comprehensive documentary on Gene Kelly are well worth the time it takes to view them.


Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 17 OFFLINE   Robin9



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Posted September 08 2008 - 05:36 AM

OK. Sold. I'll double-dip.

#3 of 17 OFFLINE   BillyFeldman


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Posted September 08 2008 - 05:42 AM

It would be so nice to know how much better than the previous DVD the image quality is.

#4 of 17 OFFLINE   Russell G

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Posted September 08 2008 - 05:47 AM

fantastic! Got this on pre-order, glad I held off all this time! Great review as always Posted Image

#5 of 17 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted September 08 2008 - 06:02 AM

Would "quite noticeably better" suffice. I own it, but have not had time to do an elaborate A/B comparison due to a large slate of reviews on my plate (Speed Racer, Risky Business, Snow Angels, Busby Berkeley Box 2... and that's just the ones coming out next week!) Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#6 of 17 OFFLINE   ahollis



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Posted September 08 2008 - 07:24 AM

Thanks for getting my appetite up for this one. It is going to be hard, but I am going to wait for the Blu-Ray next year. I am going to do the same for Gigi. I also know that it is just complaining but having “Invitation To Dance” as an extra on “An American In Paris” would have made this a perfect disc.
"Get a director and a writer and leave them alone. That`s how the best pictures get made" - William "Wild Bill" Wellman

#7 of 17 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted September 08 2008 - 09:15 AM

With the number of Kelly, Garland, and Astaire yet unreleased musicals reduced now to a bare few, I have to believe INVITATION TO THE DANCE won't be withheld much longer.

#8 of 17 OFFLINE   Steve Christou

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Posted September 08 2008 - 09:39 AM

One of my favourite musicals, thanks for the review. I will be buying. Another Gene Kelly classic I'd love to see get the special edition treatment is the hugely enjoyable On the Town, next year will be it's 60th anniversary.

Dave hören... auf, wille stoppen sie Dave... stoppen sie Dave... Mein gehirn geht... Ich bin gefühl es... Ich bin gefühl es... Ich bin ängstlich Dave... Guter Nachmittag. Ich bin ein HAL 9000 computer. Ich wurde funktionsfähig am HAL-Betrieb in Urbana, Illinois auf January 12 1992.

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#9 of 17 ONLINE   Mark-P



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Posted September 08 2008 - 12:58 PM

I love Ultra-rez, and wish all 3-strip technicolor movies could undergo this expensive process. It also would have been nice if they could have done a 5.1 remix (like Singin' in the Rain and Meet Me in St. Louis) but I know that not all the MGM movies have the original recording stems available to do that, though I can't complain since from a purist standpoint mono is correct. Anxiously awaiting to get this and Gigi next week.

#10 of 17 OFFLINE   Edward Weinman

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Posted September 08 2008 - 02:18 PM

...I have always wanted the stereo tracks for the musical numbers for the sole reason of hearing that great orchestra and artists in as clear a sound presentation as possible...the ballet alone must have sounded electrifying on the sound stage when originally recorded...

#11 of 17 OFFLINE   Drew Salzan

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Posted September 08 2008 - 11:39 PM

The Rhino soundtrack is almost entirely in mono. The liner notes state that the original multi angle stems no longer exist, so a stereo remix would not be possible. A shame indeed.

#12 of 17 OFFLINE   Phil Crosby

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Posted September 13 2008 - 10:04 AM

Must ... hold .... out ... for ... Blu-ray ....
Philip Crosby

#13 of 17 OFFLINE   Roger Rollins

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Posted September 13 2008 - 01:18 PM

Indeed, that's true...and further, the liner notes specifically noted the oddity that the ballet was NOT recorded with multiple channels (rather than a case of having been recorded that way, but not surviving). I am counting the hours until this and GIGI are available. I just can't wait. I'll surely pick up the Blu Ray versions next year, but I need my fix now! Thanks to Ken for another superbly crafted review.

#14 of 17 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted September 13 2008 - 01:56 PM

My review may lag the street date due to some business travel, but fans of classic musicals should not hesitate to pick up the second volume of the Busby Berkeley Collection either. I have watched all titles except for "Gold Diggers in Paris" and the presentations are exceptional. Perhaps those of you holding out for the "American in Paris" or "Gigi" Blu-Rays can pick this one up as a "tide me over". Posted Image

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#15 of 17 OFFLINE   ahollis



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Posted September 13 2008 - 03:05 PM

Good idea along with the Alice Faye Collection Volume 2 on October 7 and Warner Brothers & The Homefront Collection on November 11 will also help me wait until the Blu-Ray edition on An American in Paris and Gigi arrive. Your review of the standard release just welted my appetite.
"Get a director and a writer and leave them alone. That`s how the best pictures get made" - William "Wild Bill" Wellman

#16 of 17 OFFLINE   Wayne_j



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Posted September 16 2008 - 07:45 AM

I just watched this and found it to be one of the best upgrades between DVD releases that I have seen. The old version seems to have been sourced from a release print with plenty of dirt, scratches, and cigar burns. The new version has much better blacks, whites, and color saturation although it looks like it might be oversaturated to me.

#17 of 17 OFFLINE   Art_AD


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Posted September 17 2008 - 04:30 AM

I compared my laser disc audio extras and the Rhino cd usually the audio extras come up short but here it was fine. This is the second release of the Gene Kelly American Master's biography how come they did not go th extra mile and this time add the 8-10 outtakes from that special. Also the MGM library has another Gene Kelly special "An Evening with Gene Kelly". I had wished they released something I did not already have.

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