Singin’ in the Rain
Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen
Alright, ladies and gents. This is a big one. A BIG one. When I think about “perfect movies,” only very few films come to mind, but Singin’ in the Rain… wow, this is definitely one of them.
1927 is a time of great change for Hollywood. Successful screen couple Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Hagen) have chemistry onscreen and vicious hatred offscreen. When sound comes roaring to Hollywood, Lockwood and Lamont have to find a way to adjust to the new technology. While Don can sing and dance, most frequently with his best friend Cosmo (O’Connor), Lina is another story, having a voice akin to a dozen screeching raccoons. Don and Cosmo devise a plan whereby newcomer Kathy Selden (Reynolds), who has the voice of an angel, records Lina’s lines. Lina, though, is more than a bit of a snake in the grass and hopes to derail both Kathy’s budding career and Don and Kathy’s romance.
I mean… where to begin… so much… so awesome… so perfect…
I, like many others, am fascinated by movies about the movies, and Singin’ in the Rain is easily one of the best movies about Hollywood. I have a feeling this is the film’s biggest draw to those people who aren’t huge fans of musicals. The little hints, jabs, winks, and references that abound in Singin’ in the Rain make it a rich tableau for those who know ANYTHING about early Hollywood history. Nearly every supporting character is a direct reference to an early Hollywood legend, including Arthur Freed, Clara Bow, Pola Negri, and even Erich von Stroheim. I love all these fun little bits, but it’s much more than just the characters. I love how Don’s career, pre-Dancing Cavalier, is nothing but the same melodramatic love story rehashed over and over and over again, because YES, that is precisely what early (and, well, current) Hollywood did when they found a successful formula for anything. And then, once sound comes barreling onto the screen, how there’s an onslaught of loud, noisy, and superficial musicals that are little more than vapid showcases for the new technology. I love the montage where Don and Cosmo walk through the sound stage and there are three or four different movies filming all at once – and they all look like crap. Singin’ in the Rain is about as vicious as an MGM musical could get when it comes to calling out Hollywood on its mediocrity, mass production, and lack of originality. Although it definitely has a happy ending and creativity wins out, I love all the jabs at Hollywood that Singin’ in the Rain takes, probably because the film manages to do it in the least bitter way possible. There’s fun to be had at Hollywood’s expense, to be sure, but Singin’ in the Rain does it in a “Hollywood may be ridiculous, but by gum we love it, warts and all” kind of way.
So we’ve got the fun due to tongue-in-cheek Hollywood mocking in place. Add on top of that the fun of some top-notch songs. What’s so fantastic about the musical numbers in Singin’ in the Rain is that they all come from other shows or movies that were written right around the time the film is set. (And don’t try to tell me “Make ‘Em Laugh” is an original song, not until you’ve heard “Be a Clown” from 1948.) Long before someone had the cash cow idea of making a musical from ABBA songs, it was done in Singin’ in the Rain. I like the idea of pulling from existing songs rather than using new ones because it adds to feeling of late twenties Hollywood.
Has Technicolor ever looked more exquisite than when it was illuminating the GORGEOUS costumes and production design of Singin’ in the Rain? No, I think not. The costumes are beyond heavenly. The silks, the lace, the satin, the colors… I could gaze at this film all day and never get tired of it. The costume designer seemed like they had so much fun making all the costumes for this film; even a “throwaway” costume for Jean Hagen that she wears in one scene that gets less than 30 seconds of screen time is beyond fabulous. And it’s not just the women who get the great costumes; Gene Kelly gets to flounce about in plus-fours, wearing an argyle sweater vest that matches his socks, for crying out loud. Everything is illustration-perfect, everything. This film is visually sumptuous.
And how about funny! I contend that Singin’ in the Rain is not just one of the best musicals ever made, but one of the best comedies ever made. Barely a few lines go by without some sort of gag coming from somewhere. Sometimes it’s lowbrow physical comedy, sometimes it’s some high culture reference, but crap it’s funny. Leading the comedic aspect of this film is, without a doubt, Jean Hagen. She goes to town as Lina Lamont, playing her as a full tilt idiotic evil genius (yes, I don’t know how she does it, but she’s the stupidest evil genius you’ve ever met). O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” always did when I was a kid, and was probably my single favorite musical number when I was growing up because it was so amazing and hysterical.
The previous points are reasons that I believe the average, ambivalent-to-musicals viewer might enjoy Singin’ in the Rain. But jesus, if you love musicals (like I do), then there’s even more to discuss. Because this is the most hyper-musical musical to ever musical. It’s brilliant. The musical numbers are staged to perfection; this is Gene Kelly at the height of his creative genius. His tap dance solo in the rain (performed while he was allegedly sick with a 100+ degree fever) is the stuff of Hollywood legend, the extended “Broadway Melody” ballet dream sequence is beyond heaven, but the other numbers are just as much fun. Personally, I always like to call attention to some lesser-remembered musical numbers. First is the “All I Do the Whole Night Through is Dream of You” song, when Kathy jumps out of the cake at R.F.’s party. There’s something about the ridiculous sweetness and sassy twenties attitude of the girls as they sing the chorus that I find completely charming. I adore the costumes with those perfectly pink caps. Next up is the very first musical number in the film, “Fit as a Fiddle.” I am so in love with this number and it gets constantly overlooked. I love that Gene Kelly was all “screw that, the first number is gonna be a wham-bam tap dance duet where Donald and I impress the shit out of everyone. That’ll wake them up.” And given my love for “Fit as a Fiddle,” it should surprise no one that I MUST TALK ABOUT “MOSES SUPPOSES.” “Moses Supposes” is… should I say it? Yes, I’m going to say it. “Moses Supposes” is my favorite number in the whole movie. And easily in my top five favorite musical numbers of all time. I love love LOVE this song and routine. It’s so high energy and so much fun and so ridiculously insane to watch. I’ve said it before, but I love it when Gene Kelly (oh my heart, Gene Kelly) dances with other people in duets or trios, mostly because it’s then that you truly understand his brilliance. Because try as he might to tone his level down to match that of the other dancer, he can’t help but be SO MUCH BETTER than whoever he’s dancing with. Donald O’Connor was no hack. Donald O’Connor was insanely talented. But in both “Fit as a Fiddle” and “Moses Supposes,” when I compare him to Kelly, I see a bit of strain come through on his face, whereas Kelly makes it look thoroughly effortless. The greatest geniuses make their craft seem ridiculously easy, and man if that isn’t the best description of Gene Kelly’s dancing I’ve ever heard.
Oh, and did I mention that I’m madly, passionately, and eternally in love with Gene Kelly? Because I am. Utterly and completely. Forever and always. And I’m sorry, but wow is he sexy in Singin’ in the Rain. I love how he’s always clad in tight-fitting tweeds, how his hair is always coiffed with that middle part of the twenties, and especially how he embraces every opportunity to roll up his shirt sleeves. ROLLED UP SHIRT SLEEVES. I just… no. Done. Gene Kelly is sex on a stick and always will be. I will always love him with the passion of a thousand fires, and YES, please, SHOW THE SCAR. THE SCAR MAKES HIM EVEN SEXIER.
|Stop it, Gene. Gene. Cut it out. My ovaries cannot handle that expression.|
|Excuse me, I'm dying from the rolled up shirtsleeves.|
I had the chance to see this on the big screen at the Dryden a few years ago. Now, Singin’ in the Rain has long been one of my favorite movies, ever since I was old enough and interested enough in films to compile such a list. In fact, it (and a few others) holds the distinction of being one of my favorite movies both before and after my epic 1001 Movies journey. So when I walked into the Dryden screening, I knew what I was going to see.
Except that I didn’t.
I don’t through around the word “transcendent” all that often, but watching Singin’ in the Rain on the big screen with a packed and appreciative audience was a transcendent experience. It was like I was seeing it for the very first time. I never stopped smiling, not once. The seven year old boy sitting next to me kept singing along with the numbers, a fact which made me smile even more (to his parents: you’re doing it right). I was brimming with joy from the minute the movie started to when it ended, and I was on a Singin’ in the Rain high for the rest of the evening. It was, simply put, one of the most amazing theatrical experiences I’ve ever had, and it was with a movie I’ve seen easily fifty times.
It’s remarkable that a movie that was my favorite as an eight year old child is still my favorite as a thirtysomething adult. But that is Singin’ in the Rain. That’s why it’s as epic as it is.
Always and forever, Singin’ in the Rain.
Arbitrary Rating: 10/10. Funny side story: my sister and I, growing up in the late eighties and nineties, requested my parents to rent this movie so often from the video store that this was one of the first films my family bought – because my parents realized it would be cheaper in the long run than renting it every weekend.