One of my favourite movies of all time and easily my favourite musical, Singin’ In The Rain is one of those classic movies that I use to silently judge people. If they can’t appreciate any aspects of it then I just don’t understand them.
Gene Kelly stars as Don Lockwood, he’s one of the biggest cinema stars of the time alongside the beautiful Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). Sadly, it looks like their time is over when The Jazz Singer erupts onto screens and becomes a huge success, heralding the dawn of the talking picture age. Don might be able to keep his fanbase but when people hear the awful voice issuing from Lina then they’re just going to laugh at the onscreen pair and then leave the cinema. It doesn’t help that the movie that the pair are making, “The Duelling Cavalier”, is plagued with problems as the studio gets used to the new requirements for sound recording. Disaster is looming but there MAY be some way to save the movie with some help from Don’s long-time friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) and a feisty newcomer to the business, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds).
Many people, even if they haven’t seen Singin’ In The Rain, know the following: Gene Kelly is the main star, the title song and the staging of it and there’s a bit with some guy who runs up a wall and does a backflip to land on his feet. There’s so much more to discover and I’d argue that even people who have already seen the movie a few times will forget how many pleasures it contains.
Like any musical, not every song and dance number is an unmissable treat so I won’t pretend that I keep the movie on a loop while singing along to it all. However, the film has so many hits (that title song, “Good Morning”, “Moses”, “Make ‘Em Laugh” – which includes that wall run/backflip in the choreography, “Fit As A Fiddle” and more) that the one or two misses don’t matter. I never really loved “You Were Meant For Me” and “Would You?” but they are far from the worst musical numbers ever to appear in the movies from this era.
In between the great songs, and equally important, runs a sharp script full of great lines delivered by great performers. Gene Kelly was, without question, one of the top dancers to ever grace the screen and he would always drive others hard to get the very best results so it’s no surprise that Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds also impress with their moves (as does Cyd Charisse and anyone else involved in a bit of singing and/or dancing). The surprise comes from the comedy quotient that many people either overlook or forget about while praising the movie to others.
This would be the perfect place to praise Jean Hagen. The actress is often given less attention due to the fact that she wasn’t involved in any of the musical numbers but Hagen pretty much steals every scene that she’s in as the dim Lina Lamont, a woman with a voice painfully unsuited to her appearance. Her character being given elocution lessons is a moment almost as hilarious as her inability to work with hidden microphones as the studio attempts to teach her the requirements for talking pictures. O’Connor gets most of the one-liners but it’s Hagen who actually gets most of the big laughs.
Stanley Donen shares the directing duties with star Kelly, that script was written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden and the song lyrics were written by Arthur Freed but it would be fair to say that Singin’ In The Rain is as much the result of hard work in preceding movies as it is the result of what happened during production – which included burst blood vessels, sheer exhaustion and a star suffering from a very high fever while filming the memorable sequence featuring the title song. Most of the songs had already been used elsewhere (and even the original “Make ‘Em Laugh” seems to have been based on “Be A Clown” by Cole Porter), many of the stars had been honing their craft for years and, of course, the main plot takes a cue from what many saw as the biggest development in motion picture history. Many silent stars did find themselves either on hard times or out of work completely when sound was added to the cinema experience and many of the characters are based on actual people. It’s as if everything in Hollywood up to that time simply fed into the movie to create the ultimate film about Hollywood.
A classic in absolutely every respect. See it and make up your own mind, while I sit and quietly judge you based on your opinion.
Singin’ In The Rain has just been released on Blu-ray and the 60th anniversary package is a treat for fans, even if some of the extra features are ported over from the 2-disc DVD release. The Blu-ray includes a commentary and a documentary entitled “Singin’ In The Rain: Raining On A New Generation”. The DVD bonus features include some nice behind the scenes titbits such as a scoring stage session, “You Are My Lucky Star” outtake, a stills gallery and more. Then everything is rounded off by the CD soundtrack and a 48-page commemorative booklet.
DIRECTOR: STANLEY DONEN, GENE KELLY
WRITER: ADOLPH GREEN, BETTY COMDEN
STARS: GENE KELLY, DONALD O’CONNOR, DEBBIE REYNOLDS, JEAN HAGEN, MILLARD MITCHELL, CYD CHARISSE
RUNTIME: 103 MINS APPROX