After noting in this blog that I had not seen the 1952 film in its entirety, it was total coincidence that The Wife decided the family ought to watch together Singin’ In the Rain.
I did not know this until watching the extras, but the film was MGM producer Arthur Freed’s plan to use his catalog of songs, written with Nacio Herb Brown, and used in previous MGM musical films, mostly from the 1930s. It became the job of screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green to create a script that would make sense. They decided that making a film that shows one studio’s foray into talking pictures in response to the real game changing film, 1927’s The Jazz Singer. Hollywood is usually good at showing Hollywood.
Singin’ In the Rain is mostly marvelous. Gene Kelly not only plays Don Lockwood, “a popular silent film star with humble roots as a singer, dancer and stunt man, ” he also co-directed it with Stanley Donen. He performs the iconic title song sequence, which I had seen often, but it works so much better once seen in context.
Don’s leading lady in the silent films is Lina Lamont, played by Jean Hagen, doing her best Judy Holliday routine. She has a voice made for silent films.
Donald O’Connor, as Don’s best friend Cosmo, is marvelous dancing with Kelly, particularly in Moses Supposes, a Roger Edens/Comden and Green piece new for the film. But O’Connor is most extraordinary in his solo stint, Make ‘Em Laugh.
Debbie Reynolds, not yet 20, plays Kathy Selden. Don, avoiding his fans, accidentally lands in Kathy’s car. She feigns disinterest in his “undignified” film career, but later Don discovers she is not a stage actress but a chorus girl. Eventually, romance is kindled.
After the disastrous preview of The Dueling Cavalier, Don, Kathy and Cosmo come up with the idea to change it into a musical called The Dancing Cavalier. It’s at this point the marvelous dance Good Morning with those three characters takes place, up and down a flight of stairs, among other tricks. Reynolds, a gymnast but not previously a dancer, managed to keep up with Kelly and O’Connor.
I understand it from a historic context, but the one part of the movie I wish were a bit shorter was the flashy Broadway Melody Ballet. Not sure what I would have cut out, although it would NOT have been the parts with Cyd Charisse as Kelly’s dance partner. Incidentally, Reynolds’ rendition of You Are My Lucky Star, sung to a billboard showing an image of Don, was cut; nicely performed yet unnecessary in advancing the plot.
All in all, Singin’ in the Rain is a quite enjoyable film, and a cultural icon to boot, referenced in everything from A Clockwork Orange to Glee. The extras, showing where the songs had been used in previous films, was entertaining, as was Debbie Reynolds’ recollections of the filmmaking.