This post is part of The Five Obstructions Blogathon, and for this first obstruction the task is to “write a positive review of a movie you don’t like, or a negative review of a movie you love.” For my review of Singin’ in the Rain, I’m choosing the later. Though I did my best to be as honest as possible with this post, clearly it does not represent all of my true feelings about this film. For them, click here.
Despite an indifferent reception when it was released, Singin’ in the Rain has now risen to a very prominent position in classic cinema, and an even higher one in the ranks of movie musicals. Most of this is due to the films’ humor and charm, which is effective. What is lacking however, is any sense of depth or conflict, which is largely absent from the film. Add that to some painfully routine conventions that the musical genre has been burdened with since the beginning of time, and the film fails to live up to its classic status and becomes simply yet another movie musical.
The film tells the story of the transition from silent film to talking pictures, filtered through the career and life of Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly). He rise to fame is told in flashback. His friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) is with him every step of the way even though he doesn’t achieve the same stardom as Don. In present day, he is having difficulties with his frequent costar, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), who thinks they are in love because she’s read it in fan magazines. When talking pictures come along, the problems with Lina multiply. She has a very obnoxious voice that audiences will not be pleased to hear. Cosmo’s solution to this problem is to dub Kathy Seldon’s (Don’s love interest, played by Debbie Reynolds) voice in for Lina’s. Complications ensue, but they are easily sung and danced away.
The only read new thing this musical has to offer is the film history aspect. Singin’ in the Rain shows a problem that many silent film starts faced when talking pictures cam along. It also gives you a good look at the technological limitations that early talkies faced. There is an especially good scene where they simply cannot find an effective place to position the microphone so the actors can be heard consistently. It’s a funny, informative, and effective scene. Other such scenes with dialogue coaches are equally humorous.
In fact, that’s the whole film. Funny, somewhat educational, but in the end way to light and fluffy to go any further. The characters are in trouble; their fame, self respect, and livelihoods are on the line, but the film rarely acknowledges this, and when it does, doesn’t do enough emotionally to make you feel it. The film is so busy cracking jokes and dancing around that you never feel that the characters are in trouble.
It’s unfair to blame the actors, when I could just as easily blame the script. The fact still remains that Kelly in particular never doubts himself. He exudes confidence in every film I’ve sen him in, and this is not different. Ever seen Kelly play humble and defeated, insecure and afraid? Well, you won’t here either. He doesn’t stretch his normal onscreen persona at all here, and the other actors follow his lead in playing their characters as obliviously confident. They’re all good characters in that they are fun enough to watch, but are not very interesting. They have little to no depth or development across the film’s run time. Then again, the film’s tone doesn’t seem to demand it of them, even if the story may be.
The musical numbers are all brilliantly executed, but they have the same problem that the film overall does, way too happy and not enough depth. The only slow number is outright boring. Most of them do make sense within the context of the film, but the most obvious example of this not holding true is the big production number at the end. After the success of The Red Shoes, and then Kelly’s with An American in Paris, Kelly felt he needed another overly long random ballet number towards the end, and he got it here with “The Broadway Melody.” Donan admits to wanting to cut part of it out so the film would flow better, and that would have been the wiser decision. Wiser still would have been to scrap it altogether, or at least make it relevant.
I don’t mean to say that Singin’ in the Rain is a failure for adhering to the conventions of its genre, but it’s a bit of a let down, based on it’s lofty position, to realize that that’s exactly what the film does. If you want to see a light musical comedy, that’s exactly what you will get. If you want to see a musical with a heart and soul, characters that know they have substantial problems, and not simply cheerful singing and dancing, look somewhere else.
“If you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all”.