Should I Watch..? 'Singin' In The Rain'
What's the big deal?
Singin' In The Rain is a musical comedy film released in 1952 and was co-directed and choreographed by Stanley Donen and the film's lead actor Gene Kelly. The film is a fond recollection of the era in Hollywood when silent films began developing into so-called "talkies" and the difficulties faced by many popular stars at the time. The movie also stars then-19 year-old Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Conner and Jean Hagen. When it was released, the film was only a fairly modest success but in the years since has come to be regarded as one of the greatest musicals Hollywood has ever produced. It often appears on lists of the best film of all time (it topped the American Film Institute's poll in 2006 for the greatest musical of all time) and was among the very first films to be selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in the US in 1989.
What's it about?
In 1927, silent movie star Don Lockwood is attending the premier of his latest film with his co-star Lina Lamont. Despite Monumental Pictures billing the two as a couple, Don cannot stand the shrill voice and vanity of his co-star. After an interview at the premier where he recounts his vaudeville past with his best friend and composer Cosmo Brown, Don escapes a mob of his adoring fans by leaping into the passing car of Kathy Selden. After sneering at Don's movie career by claiming to be a stage actress, Kathy drops Don off and leaves him having a crisis of confidence.
While filming their next feature The Duelling Cavalier, studio boss R.F. Simpson demands that the film becomes a talkie after the runaway success of rival picture The Jazz Singer. But with the technology not fully understood and Don and Lina's performances being ridiculed at a test screening, it appears that their next film could bankrupt the studio. But after a surprise reuniting with Kathy (who turns out to be a chorus girl), Don and Cosmo are forced into some radical changes if the studio's future is to be saved...
Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
Betty Comdon & Adolph Green
Release Date (UK)
19th September, 1952
Comedy, Musical, Romance
Academy Award Nominations
Best Supporting Actress (Hagen), Best Musical Score
What's to like?
It's not that common for me to give any film a five-star rating, let alone one that I'm not usually in the mood for. Musicals and me don't really mix. However, even I have to concede that this burst of joy is the perfect tonic for rainy days and not just because of the theme tune which I imagine you're probably already singing to yourself. On paper, this might have been a disaster - a musical cobbled together from a string of songs already used in other films and choreographed by a notoriously tyrannical star in the form of Kelly. But his demanding style paid off in spades - the iconic dance sequence to the theme music has become one of the most cherished and imitated in all of cinema, one of dozens of brilliantly performed dance routines.
But it wasn't all about Gene. O'Conner and Reynolds may have had a job keeping up with Kelly but they more than acquit themselves, especially in the dazzling "Good Morning" scene. Topping the lot though is O'Conner who practically kills himself during the unbelievably energetic "Make 'Em Laugh" sequence, flipping off walls and throwing himself around the set like a rag-doll in a hurricane. In between the catchy songs, the blossoming romance between Don and Kathy keeps the movie's story rumbling along and even the comedy is good value as the ever-despairing director (played by Douglas Fowley) grows increasingly tired of Lamont's diva-like behaviour and lack of smarts. Hagen is also superb as Lamont, the dumb blonde with enough ambition to ruin both Lockwood and Monumental Pictures for good.
- Reynolds was once insulted for her dancing by Kelly and she was later comforted and taught by none other than Fred Astaire who was hanging around the studio. Reynolds later admitted that making this film and childbirth were the two hardest things she had ever done.
- At the point in the movie where Kathy is dubbing Lina's lines for The Duelling Cavillers, the voice you hear actually belongs to Hagen herself who had a deep, rich voice instead of the shrill one she uses in the film. So in effect, you have Hagen dubbing Reynolds dubbing Hagen!
- Filming of the Cyd Charisse dance number had to be stopped when it was discovered her pubic hair was visible through her costume. When the problem was fixed, costume designer Walter Plunkett said "It's OK, guys, we've finally got Cyd's crotch licked."
What's not to like?
The reason I don't usually get musicals is because I don't identify with the cast. Why does the film have to stop for a big dance number before carrying on as if nothing had happened? It wasn't until I watched Singin' In The Rain that the penny dropped. Forget things like continuity or plot development - it's simply about having fun, the seemingly long-lost art of movies entertaining audiences instead of bombarding us with explosions and special effects. During this movie, the whole thing grinds to a halt during the "Broadway Melody" sequence, a dreamy section of the film filled with beautiful dancing, plenty of gusto and Gene being Gene. There's nothing wrong with it - in fact, it sets up one of the film's best jokes once it's finished - but it does go on and you start to think what happened to the rest of the film.
But hating the movie is like hating life and I simply haven't got the energy to do that. The film is a clever and riotous look at the magic behind the movies with a love story, plenty of spoken and physical comedy and some of the best dance sequences ever filmed. It's just too good to nit-pick, even for someone like me.
Should I watch it?
I cannot think of another film that inspires joy as much as Singin' In The Rain, one of the last great Hollywood musicals before the genre's decline. After this, musicals became stage adaptations so this final hurrah for Hollywood demonstrated just how much fun they could be. Forget your umbrella and just soak up the energy, enthusiasm and excitement of this first-class film.
Great For: musical fans, cheering you up, dancing, the whole family
Not So Great For: fat people who can't dance
What else should I watch?
Singin' In The Rain was the product of a sub-division within MGM known as the Freed Unit, responsible for producing musicals that challenged the established style of film popularised by the likes of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Busby Berkeley. Under the guidance of lyricist and producer Arthur Freed, the Freed Unit produced some of the biggest musicals of the late 1940's and early 1950s with films like On The Town, An American In Paris and Easter Parade, the film that coaxed Astaire out of retirement to dance alongside Judy Garland.
Most of the musical films released in the 1950's and 1960's were adaptations of stage shows like West Side Story, The Sound Of Music, Oliver! and many others. Although successful, audiences began to tire of the musical despite the odd original like Mary Poppins becoming a hit. With the rise of rock and roll, it would fall to the likes of Elvis Presley to carry on the genre and by the 1970's, the genre had fallen from favour.
© 2017 Benjamin Cox