The greatest of all musicals, a joyful, fast-moving romp of a romantic comedy, which looks both nostalgically and satirically at the earlier days of Hollywood.
After The Wizard of Oz MGM came up with another musical that unlike the Judy Garland movie is for the grown-ups. They asked Screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden to create a story that would make use of a number of songs on which the studio owned the copyright and many of which were written by Arthur Freed, the producer. A lot of the tunes dated from the late twenties, so the writers were inspired to set the story in the transition from silent movies to talkies. If rehashing of some leftover numbers could make the greatest musical the entire credit must go to Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Singin in the Rain has great songs, corny nostalgia, amazing dances including the most memorable dance sequence in 100 years of film history.
Story is a trifle. It’s 1927 and matinee idol Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a popular movie romantic lead with Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen).
They’re a household name all over the world, like bacon and eggs.
They are in love on screen and, as far as Lina is concerned, in real life – she read it in a magazine. When interviewed at a premiere Don does all the talking. Flashbacks show a mis-match between his recollection and actual events. Lina is not allowed to talk.
What’s wrong with the way I talk? What’s the big idea? Am I dumb or something? Why, I make more money than Calvin Coolidge put together!
Things seem to be going swell when, along comes Jolson with The Jazz Singer, and the silent era is over. Don is OK, he can talk, with some help. Lina has a voice like buzz-saw through marble.
Enter aspiring young actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). Don falls in love with her and she saves the day by dubbing for Lin’s voice on the new talkie, now turned into a musical. [In fact, Reynolds own singing voice wasn't quite up to scratch and some of her singing was dubbed by Betty Boyce.] Naturally, love triumphs at the end and they all live happily ever after – or at least as long as Hollywood marriages typically lasted in the good old days.
The plot is competently acted out and Jean Hagen is particularly good – hence the Oscar nomination. In fact her own speaking voice was fine – it’s said that in some of the scenes where Kathy is dubbing Lina’s voice, Hagen is actually dubbing for Reynolds! Debbie Reynolds, who was only nineteen when the film was made, offered a creditable performance. There’s a nice performance from Madge Blake as a sugary gossip columnist.
The story is merely a spring board for choreography, the heart of the film and we get to see some spectacular dancing, not just from Kelly, but also from Donald O’Connor as Don’s old vaudeville partner, Cosmo Brown. O’Connor’s comic and energetic rendering of Make ‘em Laugh is one of the terpsichorial highlights of the movie, indeed of all films of all time. Another is the ‘Broadway Ballet’ sequence featuring Cyd Charisse and a 25-foot veil. (This sequence cost $600,000 and took six weeks to rehearse and shoot.) Time’s judgement awards the dancing honours to Kelly who bounds and skips through the rain washed street, twirling his umbrella, swinging around lampposts and splashing in and out of puddles. It is inspired, managing to be joyous and dreamlike and comic all at once. Every time you see it you just want to go out and do it yourself.
The concept of a movie within a movie is handled with style and panache, utilising in-jokes, old props and self-effacing remarks which apply to more than just this picture. Especially smooth is the way in which scenes change from the present to the past, or to the movie in production, by gliding through the screen or panning to a new perspective. The acting is both excellent and convincing (for all of the major players) but the real stars of the movie as mentioned earlier are the musical sequences, such as the title song scene where Kelly leaps and tap-dances his way through the puddles. (ack:Damian Cannon, Barry Norman ~ 100 Best Films of the Century
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)
Director: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Don Lockwood: Gene Kelly
Cosmo Brown: Donald O’Connor
Kathy Seldon: Debbie Reynolds
Lina Lamont: Jean Hagen
R.F. Simpson: Millard Mitchell
Zelda Zanders: Rita Moreno
Roscoe Dexter: Douglas Fowley
Dancer: Cyd Charisse
Dora Bailey: Madge Blake
* Best Supporting Actress (Hagen)
* Best Score
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