It's hard to think unkind thoughts about Gene Kelly, but he may be a victim of tribute blacklash. We've been subjected to so much gratuitous bow-taking on TV in recent years that the CBS Kelly special, "An American in Pasadena," at 10 o'clock on Chanel 9, seems a sour sort of funfest.

Former Kelly co-stars like Cyd Charisse, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, and Jerry the Mouse drop by to take part in this salute to Kelly's movie career, but the delight remains forced and all the pre-recorded lip-synch songs sound like murmurs from an attic.

Whatever latent exuberance existed in this event, taped at a Pasadena College, has been to some extent stifled by director Marty Pasetta, who has a fondness for meaningless overhead shots and for cutting away from the old hams just when they reach a socko finish.

The only raw charm apparent is contained in a clip from a 1959 Kelly special in which he sang "For Me and My Gal" with Liza Minnelli, just as he'd sung it with Liza's mother in the MGM musical of the same name. Kelly and Minnelli as they are today sing along with their younger black-and-white selves and for only a moment Kelly seems to have a smile on his face for the whole human race again. And vice versa.