"Singin' In The Rain" is one of my all-time favorite movies, and it's nearly the perfect musical.
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Let's start where the development process began: with the music and the lyrics. Arthur Freed wrote the lyrics to numerous popular songs in the 20's and 30's, eventually rising to become head of the "Freed unit" at MGM, which produced "Girl Crazy," "Meet Me In St. Louis," "The Harvey Girls," and many others. Freed wanted to come up with a movie that would re-use the songs he had written earlier in his career. He arranged for Gene Kelly, hot off the success of "An American In Paris," to star and Stanley Donen to direct.
Freed, Kelley, and Donen had worked with the lyric-and-script-writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and the duo was brought in to cook up a script. Assigned simply to come up with something that would string together the songs Freed had written with composer Herb Nacio Brown decades earlier, Comden and Green managed to produce that rarity of musical comedy scripts: one with a compelling plot, believable characters, and situations in which musical numbers seem completely natural.
It goes without saying that Gene Kelly's dancing is terrific. What's surprising is that Donald O'Connor proves entirely his equal, showing a dancing ability he rarely got to use again. And 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds, who wasn't a dancer and had to train for three months to become one, shows incredible self-confidence and grace.
The supporting players are equally good, with Jean Hagen playing a ditsy blond, inspired by Judy Holliday, and Millard Mitchell playing a stiff producer patterned on Freed himself.
So, why is this nearly a perfect movie, and not entirely perfect? Because three quarters of the way through, the plot comes to a grinding halt for a 12-minute number called "Broadway Ballet," unrelated in style or subject to the rest of the movie. You can't blame the filmmakers; the sequence was inserted after the rest of the movie had been completed, when delays in the film schedule had forced O'Connor to exit before he could shoot the number that had been planned in its place. But blame or no blame, the number is a painful flaw in an otherwise perfect gem.
Incidentally, the DVD transfer is spectacular: the color is vivid and the sound is exceptional. There aren't any extras on the disc, but it comes with an informative and well written brochure (from which much of the information above is taken.)
LETTER GRADE: A+