Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Release Date: April 11th, 1952 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly Actors: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Cyd Charisse, Rita Moreno
t the 1927 premiere of Monumental Pictures’ silent epic “The Royal Rascal,” headliners Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) and Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) are cornered by a reporter and asked to chronicle their cooperative careers. Don relates the story of his humble origins studying at the Conservatory of Fine Arts and undergoing rigorous musical training with his pal and supporting actor Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor). He greatly contradicts his genuine struggles with show business by flourishing his misadventures and degrading errands with details of gloriously overblown successes. Lina and Don were never the inseparable romantic icons fans idolize; rather, he started as a lowly stuntman who couldn’t get a second glance from the stuck-up leading lady. Nonetheless, retaining his dignity is his longstanding credo, which makes stretching the truth a necessary conceit.
After the show, it’s revealed that the studio’s publicity department has decided Don will do all the talking, since Lina’s physical beauty drastically clashes with her obnoxiously squeaky voice. Her obvious unintelligence has allowed her to believe in their invented romance, cooked up for the sake of promotion (though she turns into quite the conniving villainess when she finally catches on). While attempting to elude the airheaded chatterbox, Don bumps into Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), a young woman who scorns his profession, claiming that stage actors are the only serious artists. She’s an actress herself, though not in a play at the moment and only dreaming of heading to New York. But at a party that evening, Don realizes she’s a dancer (popping out of a celebratory cake) in the Coconut Grove showgirl troupe – and that he’s undeniably attracted to her. When she accidentally throws a cake in Lina’s face, she’s fired, and it takes more than three weeks for Don to track her down and admit that he’s in love. Eventually, the two secretly develop an affair while working together to fix Don’s current movie project, which is in desperate need of reworking to please modern audiences.
Lending heavily to the plot of “The Artist” (2011), “Singin’ in the Rain” is set during the transition from silent films to the utilization of synchronized dialogue, with “The Jazz Singer” becoming a sensation and forcing rival studios to convert their equipment to accommodate talkies – the next big thing. In the context of the film, the bright, vibrant colors of Lockwood’s world create greater disparity to the dull black-and-white footage of the fake project, which is brilliantly designed to exhibit a musical within a musical. Perhaps unfairly, “Singin’ in the Rain” wasn’t even nominated for any of the top five Academy Awards, while “The Artist” took home Best Picture, Director, and Actor Oscars. Ultimately, whereas “The Artist” crafted a story around the changing times, “Singin’ in the Rain” focuses on the impressive physical prowess of its lead dancers, their masterly singing voices, and fascinatingly complex choreography. As a result, it’s a film that has garnered greater appreciation throughout the years for its archetypal musical attributes (also including routinely fairy tale-like joyousness and a positively cheerful conclusion) rather than achieving instant success upon its release.
Whether it involves sword-fighting, falling and lunging stunt work, or tap dancing, the composition and patterns of each sequence showcase exceptional talents. Smooth segues are also utilized to transition dances and include songs without breaking up the flow of the story. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen not only staged and directed all the musical numbers, but are also credited as dual directors of the film. And the songs are all unusually memorable, as each of the three leads performs their own major pieces, with Kelly’s titular rendition enchanting most incomparably. It’s particularly remarkable that the film features almost no original songs (save for “Moses Supposes” and the highly derivative “Make “Em Laugh”), instead reusing MGM’s existing catalog of producer Arthur Freed’s tunes.
“Now remember, you’re madly in love with her,” instructs the director to Don, just as the actor is feeling uncustomary contempt for his leading lady. The script is genuinely funny, addressing the unexpected problems with sound recording microphones, the differences in miming and acting, and the uproariously failed test screening of “The Duelling Cavalier.” While Lena’s flummoxed complaints and O’Connor’s wisecracks further supplement the humor, Kelly innovatively speaks directly to the audience and has a vision of the future to demonstrate the modernized sequence that spans several majestic sets and lengthy presentations (some of which are dreams within a dream, with the emerging product a movie within a movie), culminating in a lavish finale (which also parallels his character’s turbulent rise to stardom) and a complete masterpiece that is simply without equal in the musical genre.
– Mike Massie