Singin’ in the Rain is probably the most popular and beloved movie musical of all time. With snappy songs, witty dialogue, phenomenal dance numbers, and a great Hollywood story, it probably deserves to be. Add to that a great energy that the cast brings to the script throughout the film and you got yourself one heck of a movie. Singin’ in the Rain is probably one of the few musicals that I can feel comfortable recommending to people who don’t like musicals. While I don’t know how successful it will be at converting nonbelievers into fans of the genre, I do think that anyone can at least come away liking the film itself.
The story is this: a silent movie star’s career is threatened when talkies come into fashion, so he manages to save it by making an existing dramatic film of his into a musical. This all seems fine, but the actress he always teams up with has an obnoxious voice. He and his friends overcome this by dubbing in another actress’s voice, but have their work cut out for them trying to keep it from the original actress. Sound like fun? It should be, especially when it’s all put to music. Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is the actor, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) is the best friend/side kick, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) is the annoying actress, and Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) is the up and coming actress/love interest.
The film begins just before the opening of Don and Lina’s latest film: The Royal Rascal. It’s still a silent film, and it becomes a big hit. Before they enter the premiere, an interviewer wants to know everything about how Don first made it big in Hollywood. And since we don’t know either, the film is happy to tell us. What we get is an ironic flashback to the days before Don became famous; he makes himself sound very high class (“Dignity. Always dignity.”), but in fact he’s just an entertainer that worked his way up like the rest of them. In this flashback we get a really humorous number: “Fit as a Fiddle.” It’s performed by Don and Cosmo on their way up, and though they’re really fantastic their audience is less than appreciative. The number is particularly notable for both of them faking the violin, stealing each other bows, and playing in all sorts of strange positions. Notice that during this whole rendition of Don’s life story, Lina is not allowed to say a word. The same is true when Don goes to thank the audience of The Royal Rascal afterwards.
The reason for this becomes abundantly clear backstage, where we finally get to hear Lina speak. Her voice is shrill, squeaky, and obnoxious. Not to mention that everything that comes out of her mouth is utter nonsense as well. She’s very self absorbed, won’t let anyone explain anything to her, and thinks she and Don are going to get married because she read it in a fan magazine. The only reason anyone puts up with her is because she’s a big star and they need her. Anyway, they’re all heading toward the after party when Don meets his match. First, a giant group of fans mob him and he has to get away by jumping onto a cable car and into the regular car of Kathy Seldon. She doesn’t recognize him at first, but really she has the best excuse ever of being caught off guard. Don is pretty menacing here; I don’t blame Kathy at all for picking on his acting abilities to get him to go away. It works, and in a brilliant comedic move, he “tears [him]self from [her] side.” Kathy, coincidentally, is going to the same party he is, only she’s working. She’s just a chorus girl, not quite the illustrious performer she made herself out to be. She gets to jump out of a cake and perform “All I Do Is Dream of You,” which is a decent number but all in all one of the film’s more forgettable ones.
Don is hurt by what Kathy has claimed of him, and starts to worry it’s true. He also feels bad about Lina and Kathy’s encounter at the party, and Kathy now feeling the full extent of Lina’s wrath. He likes her, and spends the next couple weeks trying to find her. Before he does, Cosmo works to cheer him up with one of the best numbers in the film: “Make ‘Em Laugh.” This number reminds Don of his role as an entertainer, as well as highlights O’Connor’s humor and goofily acrobatic dancing style. You won’t believe how long it took me to figure out that the painting of the hallway he does a flip off of was actually a painting! There’s some pretty amazing stuff on display here, including O’Connor working with a dummy, and manually readjusting his face when he crashes into a brick wall. The number is great fun, and if it doesn’t cheer you up, I don’t know what will.
Don eventually does find Kathy, and she’s working in his own studio, funnily enough. This whole part of the film is a classic example of the “there’s always that one musical number in a musical that I hate” problem. This is it, here. They do a random montage of sorts to transition into “Beautiful Girl” which is meant as a homage to the “fashion musicals” of the forties that Donan and Kelly worked on (mainly, Cover Girl, which was Kelly’s big movie hit with Rita Hayworth. I have not seen it yet unfortunately). Basically, we have this random guy singing about what all of these chicks are wearing, and most of the things they are wearing are ridiculous in my opinion. The reason it’s in here is so that Don can find Kathy, but they could have easily left the number out, shown it ending, and have Don find Kathy then. Then Don decides to romance Kathy, and though I can’t fault the number for being unnecessary because it has a purpose, I’m still not a big fan of “You Were Meant For Me.” It’s romantic and everything, and shooting it on an empty sound stage is kind of cool, but on the whole, “[it] just [doesn]’t impress me.”
Now that we got the falling in love part out of the way, we can get back to the film history part, which is more interesting to me and one of the reasons this film has remained relevant for so long. At the party earlier in the film, RF (the studio head, played by Millard Mitchell) showed a talking picture. Everyone dismissed it, calling it “a scream” and “vulgar.” After The Jazz Singer is released, everyone is changing their tune, and RF makes the whole studio convert to talking pictures. This causes a problem as Lina can’t speak normally. Despite the efforts of diction coaches, her voice is still extremely annoying and unattractive. Don gets a diction coach as well, though he really doesn’t need one, so he and Cosmo do a dance number instead. It’s one of my favorite numbers in the film, “Moses Supposes,” and the lyrics feature a lot of tongue twisters that the diction coach loves to use. Meanwhile, filming is a disaster as they try to adapt to the new technology. The biggest problem is that they can’t figure out how to position the microphones correctly. The stick them in Lina’s dress, in bushes, and other random places that end up not working out. During all of this comes one of the few sensible things Lina says: “I can’t make love to a bush!”
The Dueling Cavalier, their first talking picture, is a resounding failure. Don and Lina both overact, and the sound is messed up even before it goes out of synchronization. As the audience leaves the test screening, they vow to never see another one of Don and Lina’s pictures again. Don, Cosmo, and Kathy retreat back to Don’s house and try to figure out how to save the picture and the studio. After a great musical number, “Good Morning,” Cosmo hits upon it. Dub in Kathy’s voice for Lina’s, making the picture into a musical. “Good Morning” is a great number that showcases many different dance styles, and languages. Once they figure this out, the only thing left to do is convince RF, implement it, and keep it a secret from Lina. That’ll work.
Somewhere in here is the iconic title number: “Singin’ in the Rain.” Usually people think of rain as sad, but not so here. Don is so happy to have found Kathy, that he just splashes around in the rain for awhile. He doesn’t care about getting wet in the least; he’s giving free reign to his joy and it cannot be damped by anything, let alone a mere rain shower. Don may just be splashing around, but Kelly sure isn’t. There is some extremely impressive dancing going on here, and he makes it look natural to him. Of course, that’s true is just about every number he does, but the joy in this one tops all the rest.
There’s really only one big musical number left, other than some reprises of stuff we’ve already heard and tying the rest of the plot together. The last number is the big production number of the film, where you basically don’t even pretend the musical numbers are helping out the plot, stop everything, and sing and dance for a good fifteen minutes. Here it’s a number there supposed to be doing in The Dancing Cavalier, though it’s clear they’re just checking off fifties movie musical conventions here. Nevertheless, it’s a very impressive number. “The Broadway Melody” (you can see most of it here and here) features Kelly as a young, naive talent heading to Broadway for the first time. He is taken on, seduced by Cyd Charisse (brought in specifically for this number; she does nothing else in the movie besides dance here), but finds out she’s a mobster’s girlfriend and has to back off, but becomes a big success anyway. It seems he’s a bit disenchanted with the whole thing, but another young dancer comes at the end reminding him of how far he’s come. The dancing here is fantastic, as is the point. It’s basically the Gene Kelly show though, O’Connor and Reynolds aren’t in it anywhere.
As this is a musical, the strongest thing it has going for it is the musical numbers. Not all of them are strictly relevant, but that’s to be expected. They are all well executed, and most of them are fun as well. Another element that makes this film so good is the comedy. Betty Comden and Adolph Green penned the script, including wonderfully hilarious banter and one-liners as always. The actors all deliver the comedy perfectly. The most important aspect the film has going for it though, is the energy. Singin’ in the Rain has a great energy, kept up by the dancing, the comedy, and the great sense of pacing. Rarely does the film drag even though it has to transition into all of these musical numbers. It just is an overall happy film; in order to be saddened by it you really have to look hard.
Singin’ in the Rain is undoubtedly one of the best movie musicals ever made. It has great music, keeps your spirits up, lets you in on some stuff you may not have known about film history, and will leave you in awe of Kelly’s, O’Connor’s, and Reynold’s dancing prowess. There are a few problems in my opinion, some of the songs aren’t up to par and I can see some getting very annoyed with Hagen’s character, but I believe the good things about the film ultimately overcome any of these problems by a very wide margin. In the end, you’ll just be happy you watched a great film. And hopefully you’ll want to watch some more musicals as well? (Please?)
“Well of course we talk! Don’t everybody?”
Long story short: 4/4 stars