Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Film Title: Singin’ in the Rain singin-in-the-rain-poster

Year: 1952

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Silent or Talkie: Talkie

Genre: Musical

Starring:

  • Gene Kelly
  • Donald O’Connor
  • Debbie Reynolds
  • Jean Hagen
  • Millard Mitchell

Review

Singin’ in the Rain is one of the most famous and beloved films of all time. Whether it’s the timeless singing and dancing routines or the wide appeal of the three lead characters, one thing is certain – this film is still powerful over fifty years after its March 27, 1952 premiere in New York City. Filmed in Technicolor, it delivers a spectrum of brilliance to every pair of eyes in the room. That radiance has captured the hearts of young and old, and leaves no question as to why few films can rival its magnificence.

Gene Kelly is Don Lockwood, who, along with Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) forms the most popular duo of the silent screen. Don and Lina are the King and Queen Midas of cinema; everything they touch turns to gold. They only thing they refuse to touch is each other, as they can barely stand being in the same room off-camera. The film begins with the two attending their latest smash outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. They whisk through a crowd of cheering supporters in an extravaganza that seems to echo the grandiose of Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels premiere. In flashback mode, Don tells the crowd of his rise to fame (which is obviously embellished). Don’s longtime friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) is part of the celebrity entourage. Cosmo is the piano player whose works accompany the Lockwood and Lamont masterpieces, though his soundtrack is usually overshadowed. Their collaborative success keeps a perpetual smile on R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell), the head of Monument Pictures. After the premiere, Don is attacked by a flock of adoring fans that nearly rip him to shreds. He manages to break away from the mob, executing a series of stuntman-like maneuvers before jumping into a moving car driven by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). Kathy is shaken but tough, despite Don’s attempts to reassure her of his innocent presence. She also belittles his star status, commenting that movie actors could never compete with those on the stage. After awhile, Don becomes offended by the criticism and jumps out of the car when Kathy pulls to a stop. Some time later, Don attends a Hollywood party given by Simpson, who shows his guests a short clip of “talkie”. Studios are just beginning to incorporate sound into their films, and in an attempt to jump on the bandwagon, Simpson announces that Don and Lina will star in their first ever talkie feature. Kathy is also in attendance as part of a singing and dancing troupe hired to entertain the affluent guests.

Don is happy to see Kathy again. However, Lina believes that she and Don are building a romantic future. This causes her to instantly despise the young and attractive Kathy, who is pursuing her own acting career. Kathy is still a bit cold to Don but shows signs of weakening in the knees. Meanwhile, Lina is becoming the diva of the studio. She believes she’s the sole reason for the success of the Lockwood-Lamont phenomenon. Those around her beg to differ, especially Cosmo whose subtle sarcasm flies right over her clouded head. With the studio’s first talkie looming, the crew begins preparing for a grand spectacle. There’s only one problem. Lina’s speaking voice is like nails scraping across a chalkboard. As a silent actress, her expressions were enough, but with a film that requires her to talk, she is sure to be banished from the gilded streets of Hollywood. When the film (an 18th century period piece) is shown to a test audience, they react in laughter and disbelief. It’s a terrible flop that threatens to ruin Don’s career in the wake of Lina’s vocal shortcomings. Don returns home to wallow in pity with Kathy and Cosmo trying to cheer him up. Though they know the film is awful, they try to convince Don that it couldn’t possibly undo all the accolades he’s received as an actor. In a moment of genius, Cosmo suggests that the film be salvaged by turning it into a musical (since Don has an incredible talent for singing and dancing). This sheds light on the gloom, until they remember that Lina’s voice would again sour their efforts. In another moment of genius, Cosmo asks Kathy to dub her voice in place of Lina’s, with Lina carrying only the physical aspects of the performance. They all agree that Lina is so self-absorbed and aloof, she wouldn’t be any the wiser. Don worries that Kathy will be throwing away her own career for his; but, she agrees to dub Lina’s voice just this once to save the film. After a full night of brainstorming, the three are a bit exhausted. Don walks Kathy home. Once she’s safely inside, he performs the famous title routine in a moment of freedom and jubilation. The next day, they pitch the idea to a receptive Simpson, who beams at the thought of a new shot at success. He gives it the green light and the work begins.

Six months of tedious shooting and dubbing ensue. Lina discovers (through a tattling friend) that Kathy is dubbing her voice. She reacts harshly, insisting that there’s nothing wrong with her own voice and that she should be allowed to talk in the film. Naturally, the rest of the cast and crew shudder at the thought. Nevertheless, Simpson continues to use Kathy’s audio. When the newly-polished talkie is finished, it receives an overwhelming applause. The cast (watching from backstage) is relieved and excited, except for Lina who acts like a spoiled child when she doesn’t get the bulk of the attention. She demands to walk out on stage and talk to the audience herself, which worries Simpson until Don has an idea. They allow Lina to go out and speak, knowing that her helium-esque babbling will puzzle the crowd. It does just that. They shout for her to stop fooling and sing. Lina begins to panic as Don forcefully orders Kathy behind the curtain to start singing. Lina lip-syncs to Kathy’s voice just as she’d done on film. Don, Cosmo and Simpson are singing along when they gleefully pull the ropes on the curtain to reveal Kathy as the real talent “behind” Lina. Lina is exposed as a fraud. Despite her warnings to Simpson that she will take him to court, the artistic rug is yanked out from under her farce. Kathy takes off into the crowd with tears in her eyes, believing that Don has betrayed her. However, he proclaims his love for her amidst the flabbergasted crowd.

Singin’ in the Rain was a feature of epic proportions. Interestingly enough, the random song and dance routines peppered throughout the film are like a sub-plot. While they do compliment the scenes they follow, one could assemble them as a separate compilation for educational purposes. This film is what superstardom is all about. Gene Kelly is such an amazing performer, that Singin’ could have been a one-man show. His enthusiasm is unparalleled and his moves are flawless. Every turn, stomp, twist and glide is done with almost no effort. This is not to discount the amazing performance by Donald O’Connor, whose moves were not only as smooth as silk, but whose comedic jabs helped to solidify the film’s appeal. When asked about Gene Kelly in 1988, O’Connor said: “It’s not easy working with a genius, but Gene was very patient with me”. Debbie Reynolds was a touch of innocence as Kathy Seldon. She is the quintessential deer-in-headlights, the nice girl destined to finish last. She carried a set of morals that Hollywood couldn’t corrupt. Kelly’s Don Lockwood appeared to have a few self-image issues, so the chemistry with he and Kathy was more the result of kindred souls finding each other. Reynolds was only twenty years old when she played Kathy Seldon but would remember the role throughout her career, commenting: “Singin’ in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life”. The difficulty was the likely result of Gene Kelly’s exhausting work ethic. His perfectionism could be intimidating at times, but had he been any other way, we may not have this masterpiece to adore. It has become an entity. To quote Gene himself: “What a Glorious Feeling!”

On Video

Singin’ in the Rain was released on DVD as a 2-Disc Special Edition in 2002 by Warner Home Video. It was released as a SE to celebrate the film’s 50th Anniversary. The video transfer is unbelievable. The colors are so vibrant that they produce an almost 3D-like effect. This film was released in the early 50’s, and yet, the colors are much sharper than those of the 60’s and 70’s (known to be a bit drab and pastel in nature). Every angle pops out at the audience, especially during the musical numbers backed with lavish sets and a kaleidoscope of shades. Equally amazing is the sound (English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo). Singin’ relies heavily on its marriage of showmanship and song, so it was crucial that the audio reflect the magnitude of both. There is no doubt that this restoration was done with precision. The bonus features keep the magic going well beyond the film’s 102 minute running time. The features include: A commentary by: Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, co-director Stanley Donen, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, and author/film historian Rudy Behlmer, All-new 2002 digital transfer from state-of-the-art restored elements,”What a Glorious Feeling”: a new 30-minute documentary about the making and impact of Singin’ in the Rain, Musicals Great Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit at MGM, a 96-minute documentary about the career of producer-songwriter Arthur Freed, Excerpts of movies in which Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown songs originated, Outtake musical number: “You Are My Lucky Star”, Stills gallery and Scoring session music cues.

Conclusion

Singin’ in the Rain is one of those films that parents share with their children. It appeals to a wide demographic but does not single them out individually. There’s something for everyone in this film. It’s a complete blend of all the most important elements. Though it ranks among the best of the best, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and sometimes a little light-hearted fun is just the thing to cure those rainstorm blues.

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