Passion for Paris
GREAT EVENTS and great people are the inspiration for great movies. Wars are no exception either. The events in Europe from June 6, 1944, cannot be forgotten easily. On that day, millions of Allied forces under the command of American General Dwight Eisenhower crossed the English Channel and landed on the Normandy beach to begin the first phase of liberating Europe from Hitler's armies. The process went on for months and culminated in the liberation of Paris.
Three years earlier, the capture of Paris by the Nazis had shocked the civilised world. This was no ordinary city, having given the world the Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa and other wonders. In 1944, in the face of defeat, Hitler threatened to destroy all the wonderful art of Paris. Fortunately this did not happen.
Once the World War was over, authors and movie-makers got busy. American author Cornelius Ryan's memorable book, `The Longest Day' faithfully recorded the Normandy invasion and the liberation of Europe. It was tailor-made for a classic film and was brought to the screen by the American producer Darryl. F. Zanuck.
America always had a soft corner for Paris and its liberation in August 1944 is celebrated even today. To the culture-hungry Americans, Paris has been something special. After the liberation, thousands of Americans landed up in Paris to draw, paint, sculpt and drink its special wines. The exchange rate made Paris a cheap place to live in and the city opened its arms to the Americans.
This was also the Golden age of Hollywood movies. Suddenly everyone wanted to make movies in and about Paris. Actor-director-dancer-choreographer Gene Kelly romanced young Paris ballerina Leslie Caron in the unforgettable musical "An American in Paris" which bagged eight Oscars. This was a trend-setting film. So Paris became the location of expensive, star-studded musicals.
Hollywood came out with the likes of "Gigi," again featuring Leslie Caron, this time with handsome Louis Jordan and the incomparable French actor, Maurice Chevalier. And speaking of Paris, who can forget the famous but naughty "Can Can," starring Maurice Chevalier, Frank Sinatra and Shirley Maclaine.
In the early 1950s, Hollywood made "Moulin Rouge" featuring the famous Paris nightclub. Maxim's was the scene of yet another Hollywood romance, "The Merry Widow," starring Lana Turner and her then boyfriend, Latin actor Fernando Lamas.
Hollywood filmed a number of memorable love stories too. Elizabeth Taylor starred with Van Johnson in "Last Time I Saw Paris." Another movie to capture the spirit of the city was "Paris When It Sizzles." Noted directors observed that it was easy to shoot romantic films in Paris. Audrey Hepburn's film "How to steal a Million" was set in Paris. She told a magazine during an interview, ``There is something special about this wonderful city. It stirs the creative instinct in a performer. I found it exhilarating to shoot in Paris.''
Of course Paris has also been the location of hundreds of war, spy, morbid and serious films. There was nothing of its romance in the Marlon Brando classic of the 1970s, "The Last Tango in Paris."
During the 1960s, the Americans found French President Charles de Gaulle a difficult man to work with. Yet when President Kennedy and his wife Jackie visited Paris in 1961, they were bowled over by its charm and the U.S.-Paris love affair began again.
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