Singin' in the Rain

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SINGIN' IN THE RAIN: the American Movie Musical Raised to the Level of True Art.

Jan 20, 2000 (Updated Jun 14, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A funny, melodic comic history of the coming of Sound to Hollywood.

Cons:Make sure you get a late, restored print.

The Bottom Line: Not particularly heralded upon its release, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN has proved to be the capstone of the Hollywood Musical, with a satirical story as strong as its production numbers.

What makes SINGIN' IN THE RAIN so satisfying is that it is a movie musical which works superbly, EFFORTLESSLY, on several levels. So often, musicals were simply pointless revues.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is, of course, as simply entertaining as any Hollywood musical of its period. It resembles Fred Astaire's THE BANDWAGON (Donen, 1953) or Danny Kaye's WHITE CHRISTMAS (Curtiz, 1954), both show biz stories, but these films tend to stop for the big production numbers, where Director Stanley Donen integrates each number of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN -- one thinks of "You Were Meant for Me" or the magnificent "Broadway Melody" sequence -- seamlessly into a savvy plot written by the great Broadway team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

The film just rollicks along, equally entertaining as the song, dance, comedy and popular history of Broadway and Hollywood, show biz in general.

The opulent musical numbers draw on the entire songbook collection of the Arthur Freed Unit at MGM. Freed, after all, wrote the song "Singin' in the Rain," along with most of the film's other songs (words by Ignacio Herb Brown), and had featured them in Hollywood films from the dawn of the Sound Musical in Motion Pictures onward. Thus, we are treated to only the best Freed-Brown efforts, honed, and presented "one more time" with great verve. In fact, when the songs were assembled, Comden and Green wrote their marvelously satirical screen play to match.

We have three of the best dancers ever caught on film, at the top of their careers, in Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse and Donald O'Connor. And Debbie Reynolds, not in the mentioned company, manages by youthful effort to hold her own as the fresh ingenue (Kathy Selden), and she contributes energetically to several numbers, especially a delightful song and dance performance of "All I Do the Whole Night Through."

The principal players, Kelly, O'Connor, and Reynolds, work easily together in comedic ensemble (not Hollywood's strong suit in the period). They are outrageously supported by Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont, Kelly's beautiful, dumb Silent Picture co-star (alas, generally ill-used in her few other films). Veteran farceurs contribute like Douglas Fowley as Roscoe Dexter, a barely sane, frustrated director, and Millard Mitchell as R.F. Simpson, the studio head (his last film). And that is a very young Rita Moreno sparkling in a small role.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN was born, as fine work often is, out of tension. In 1952, Television was destroying the audience Hollywood had enjoyed since 1920. Anti-trust action had deprived the major studios of the steady profits that owning their own theaters had ensured. Budgets were cut back. Producer Arthur Freed saw the days of the expensive big-budget musical about to end. He wanted to make an entertaining, nostalgic homage to a period which had been good to him and to Hollywood.

At the time, Dancing Star Kelly and Director Donen were attempting to break out beyond the silly plots and unimaginative staging of many movie musicals. They had seen what Michael Powell was doing with the musical film: THE RED SHOES (1948) and THE TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951). Kelly and Director Vincent Minnelli had copied the techniques of those works more conventionally in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951). Donen and Kelly wanted now to extend their range. They saw that SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, as a popular continuation of THE RED SHOES' influence, might extend their artistic freedom.

Finally, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN's story gives a history of popular musical entertainment from vaudeville through the birth of the motion picture musical. The film is dotted with actual legendary problems of the transition from stage and silent techniques, simply disguised, like John Boles' difficulty with sound dialogue projection, and the technical challenge presented by heavy, noisy cameras in the presence of primitive microphones.

We should mention the rather complex structure of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, which begins with memories of Movie Idol Don Lamont (Kelly) at a World Premiere, then carrys him a small boy dancing for pennies with lifelong friend Cosmo Brown (O'Connor) to Star Hero in an economical satirical montage, and follows with a series of happy flights into song, satire, dance and popular history, which by a rather crazy stretch may be seen as the musical comedy counterpart of *CITIZEN KANE.

No film I can think of, other than SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, can be watched again and again with such joy and pleasure!


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