I believe in a parallel universe, there is a version of me that is a film teacher. On that parallel me’s syllabus for Film 101, appears the film Singin’ in the Rain. While it’s inclusion might seem obvious, the truth is it’s one of the best movies to present the transition from silent film to “talkies”. Despite it having a glossy, musical exterior, the film has a solid heart, quick wit, and some of the best remembered performances ever put on film. It is a lovely introduction to a very big turning point in Hollywood’s history and one of my personal favorites in the top 100.
The film follows Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), a successful star of silent film. From his humble beginnings in vaudeville, he worked his way up to become one half of the most popular screen pair in Hollywood. On the way to celebrate his latest triumph, Don jumps in a car to escape a horde of fans. Landing in Kathy Selden’s (Debbie Reynolds) car, his charms fail to woo her as she drops him off at the party proclaiming stage performers real artists. During the party, the host shows his guests a new found machine that syncs up speech with images on the screen. Most dismiss the new invention as nothing more then a passing fad and that the first full length film, The Jazz Singer, was going to bomb. Kathy pops up as part of the floor show, surprising Don. In a moment of anger (due to him mocking her), she attempts to throw a pie at him only to hit his screen partner Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). This leads to Kathy getting fired from her job, but eventually landing a job as an extra at Monumental Pictures (the same studio Don works for).
When The Jazz Singer proves to be a hit, the studio that Don and Lina are contracted to begin to respond by producing musicals and decide to convert their newest production, The Dueling Cavalier, into a ‘talkie’. Both Don and Lina encounter problems in the transition. Don’s overacting comes off as completely comical and Lina’s grating voice (as well as technical issues) cause the first screening to erupt into a mocking-fest. While sitting at home, trying to figure out what to do with the film they have, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) comes up with brilliant idea to turn the film into a musical and play to Don’s strengths. This leads to Cosmo suggesting the idea of Kathy dubbing Lina’s voice (both singing and speaking). Despite Don’s hesitations, they pitch the idea to the head of the studio and rework the film to include the singing and dancing. When Lina finds out of their plan to dub over her voice, she lies to the press making them think that she is the one doing the singing, thus ruining Kathy’s chances to become a star. During the premiere, the crowd, impressed by “Lina’s” singing, demand her to perform live. Don cooks up a plan that reveals Kathy as the true voice behind Lina to the public. The movie ends with Don and Kathy being the new it couple and living happily ever after.
Despite what the average viewer might think, only one of the songs was written specifically for the film. Even the title song, Singin’ in the Rain, first appeared in another film (The Hollywood Review of 1929) before becoming one of the most well known musical numbers put on film. Despite this fact, all the songs seem as if they were meant to be in this film and fit in, even if they do feel a little forced at times (**cough** Beautiful Girls **cough**). Betty Comden and Adolph Green did an excellent job building a strong script around the music. I can imagine that would not be an easy task and only feels clunky at a few points in the movie. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen co-Directed the film with Kelly focused mostly on the choreography. It would be the second film they collaborated on together (the first being On the Town) and worked due to them having a good working relationship. Both men having a strong choreography background had a similar eye when it came to film.
What is most well remembered by audiences are the amazing musical numbers performed by performers at the top of their game. The Singin’ in the Rain number is one of the most iconic moments in film. The pure, childlike joy of Kelly as he lets go and just splashes around can’t help but put a smile on your face. The scene is almost more remembered by the legends that have formed in the making of then the scene itself. Some of the legends are true such as Gene Kelly performing the scene while fighting a 103 degree fever. Others, like the rumor they mixed milk into the rain to make it show up better on film and it caused Kelly’s wool suit to shrink, are just fantastic fibs that made the legend of the scene all the more epic.
What always stands out to me every time I watch the movie is the chemistry that is between Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. You can’t help but smile when they tap dance across the screen in matching green checker suits or when they are exchanging one liners. Despite the amazing Gene Kelly, my favorite moment of the whole film belongs to Donald O’Connor. We get to see little glimpses of his humor throughout the film, but when he performs Make Em Laugh, he takes all your attention. Watching him it is hard to believe he was smoking four packs a day at this point in his life. Once the filming for the scene was over, he took a week to stay home in bed (or was hospitalized by some accounts). Yet, you would never know that by the amazing performance that has become immortalized on film.
Singin’ in the Rain was a modest hit when it was released, but has become one of the most well remembered movie musicals since. It is one of those films that always seems to be timeless and continues to be entertaining. The musical numbers are on point and it showcases some of the best performances from Kelly & O’Connor. It also helped to launch Debbie Reynolds career. Somewhere, parallel universe film teacher Holly is showing this film with a grin on her face knowing that, for some of her students, this is the first time they will be watching it and (hopefully) they will love it as much as she does.