Video review: Singin’ in the Rain

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.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

5 thoughts on “Video review: Singin’ in the Rain”

  1. One of my very favorite movies of all time! First time I saw it I was confused by the long ballet number too, but as I came to know the film better, that sequence has become one of my favorite things about it. Incidentally, that riotous sequence depicting the logistical details of capturing sound on the set? All those things were real difficulties encountered by the filmmakers of the early talkie era! God, I love that movie…I think I’ll watch it again really soon!

    (And a special shout-out to Jean Hagen for receiving one of the greatest pies in the face of all time!)

  2. Love. love. love this movie! Donald O’Connor was my favorite when I watched it for the first time with my grandfather. He was an amazing actor, dancer, and acrobat. He plays a charming role opposite Deanna Durbin in the movie Something in the Wind that’s fluff fun (and gives you a peek into his development as an actor,dancer, singer, comic and the man behind the Make ‘Em Laugh choreography).

    I have always loved the contrast of the real version of the Don Lockwood story playing in the background as he “fan”-tasizes it into words for the crowd. The dance numbers with Gene and Donald, separately and together are, in my opinion, some of the best on film ever. Debbie Reynolds sparkles and Jean Hagen and her vocal coach are a HOOT!

    Glad you had the chance to see it in its entirety with the fam. You’ve got a fab wife with exquisite taste. šŸ˜€

  3. I love this movie. Gene Kelly is a master at Dancing, but Donald O’Connor matches him step for step! Did you ever see “Inherit The Wind”. a serious role for Kelly as an cynical reporter.

  4. Tom – Inherit the Wind, same as this movie before recently – Saw it only in parts.

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