Sunday, December 11, 2011

Singin' in the Rain Review

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

I have been told time and time again that I would absolutely adore this movie once I saw it, and low and behold, I certainly did. Singin' in the Rain is arguably the best movie-musical ever made and arguably the best movie made about the moviemaking business itself. This is as much a satire and fun parody of the early MGM musicals and the early days of film as it is a showcase for the awesomeness of Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, and it remains as one of the most entertaining movies ever made. I had so much fun watching this, and I am horrified that it took me so long to do so. I know that the songs are not original to the movie, but it doesn't stop them from being iconic, and it doesn't stop this film from being one of the best films of all time and one of my personal favourites. Boy, I really lucked out these last two times, I've seen new favourites that instill a sense of infectious happiness in me, and one that I'm probably still going to be humming the tunes for next week.

Singin' in the Rain is about Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), one half of the silent film duo by the name of Lockwood and Lamont. The other half of the duo is Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), who will serve as the film's de facto antagonist. Lina thinks that she and Don are actually in love, whereas Don knows that it is purely a publicity relationship, and he actually can't stand Lina (as made evident by one of the funniest scenes in the movie, which I will talk about later). Lockwood has worked hard to get where he is (much like Gene Kelly himself) and a news reporter asks him to tell them his story from the beginning. Lockwood proceeds to tell the audience about his rise to fame alongside his best friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor), dancing in pool halls for nickels (although he glosses over that particular elemnt of the story), rising to become a singer, dancer, and stuntman, and then becoming one of the biggest (if not the biggest) actor of the silent era.

Don and Cosmo leave the premiere and Don gets ambushed by screaming fangirls (much like screaming fangirls would have chased Elvis or Frank Sinatra at that time). In order to escape and get to the after-party, he climbs on top of a bus and jumps into the car of one Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), a self-professed "serious actress" who denounces silent film stars as not real actors. Lockwood makes it to the after-party, and who does he discover as the girl in the giant cake? Why it's Kathy, who is actually a showgirl to make ends meet. At that same party, the president of the studio (R.F. Simpson, played by Millard Mitchell) shows a demonstration of a new thing called a "talking picture", which Warner Brothers had recently released (a certain movie called The Jazz Singer, which I'm sure many of you have heard of). The studio is being pressured to make a talkie, but they have one problem: Lina has a thick and high-pitched Brooklyn accent which completely contradicts her silent film image as a graceful and demure leading lady.

In the wake of the new talkie being released, Don and Lina are both sent to diction coaches and while he excels, she does not and all seems hopeless, as the director can't even get her to talk into the microphone. The film is screened for advance audiences, and it is a disaster, the serious costume drama instead turning out as an unintentional comedy (audiences acting like what I imagine audiences would act like at a screening of The Room). Thinking he will be ruined when the film premieres six weeks later, Lockwood returns to his home dejected with Kathy and Cosmo. Kathy gets the idea to re-tool the movie by making it a musical, and Don and Cosmo quickly get behind that. However, there's still one problem, Lina can't act, can't sing, and can't dance (in Cosmo's words, a triple threat).

I won't give away too much more, but the climax of the film is at the premier of the film, and they do make fun of the fact that a lot of musical actresses had their singing voices dubbed over by other singers. This is an awesome movie through and through, and it has an interesting take on old Hollywood and the dawn of the talkie. After doing a bit of research, I found out that some of the characters are loosely based on old hollywood actors, and Lina Lamont is based on Norma Talmadge, a silent film actress who's career was ruined over the dawn of the talkie. For those who have seen the movie before, they will know that during the awful premiere of the first talkie, Don's character (in the movie-within-a-movie) repeatedly says "I love you", which sends the audiences into laughter. That is based on the talkie debut of John Gilbert, another silent star who bombed in the dawn of the talkie.

The best thing about this film besides the story is by far the music, as well as the dancing. As is fairly common knowledge, Gene Kelly was an extreme perfectionist, and he worked Debbie Reynolds to the point where her feet bled (because she had to mimic his every move in high-heeled shoes, and she was an untrained dancer). In fact, several decades after, Gene Kelly was so surprised that Debbie Reynolds had agreed to even speak to him after all those years because of how he had treated her. Needless to say, his perfectionism certainly paid off, because the dancing in this movie was absolutely amazing, especially from him and Donald O'Connor. I have so much respect for this movie, especially the "Fit as a Fiddle" "Moses Supposes" and of course, the classic "Singin' in the Rain" dances, the intricacy of the dance and the hours of hard work that went into this film certainly paid off, because I was amazed at every dance move.

The songs are amazing, and although most of them (sparing for Moses Supposes) had been performed prior to the movie, it is here where they have become most iconic. I had seen a lot of the songs out of context before, and I enjoyed them then, but seeing them in context makes them even more entertaining and extremely memorable. Besides the titular song, which is inarguably one of the most recognizable songs of all time, there is "Make 'Em Laugh", a showcase for the utter comedic talent of Donald O'Connor. Those two are probably my favourites, but there are tons of other great ones. There is "Moses Supposes", "All I Do Is Dream of You", and the fifteen-minute broadway melody/ballet dance sequence near the end of the film, which I'd like to talk about specifically.

This scene takes place in the last third, and it serves as kind of a tangent. Don is telling RF about the last scene left to film in the musical, which leads us into the Broadway Melody. It tells a basic story about a young dancer who goes to Broadway hoping to make it big as a star, but it tells the story with very little dialogue (in fact, outside the intro, only the words "gotta dance" are sang). Much like Lockwood himself, he works his way up to stardom and gets noticed in a club by a flapper woman (played by Cyd Charisse and her extremely long legs). However, she departs from the club with her (mafioso?) boyfriend. He sees her again at a big party, which appears to be in celebration of him, but she leaves again, leaving the character heartbroken. This goes on in a brief sorrowful epilogue until Donald O'Connor comes on as another young dancer hoping to make it big on broadway, and the fun and dancing resumes. I love this scene, it's a big lipped alligator moment (those who are familiar with the people at know what that means) in the best possible way. It has nothing to do with the plot, but that really doesn't matter because it's a chance just to sit back and enjoy the dancing. The only thing wrong with it was that I thought it was only a little bit too long. Otherwise, it is an excellent scene, brilliantly choreographed and wonderfully entertaining.

Moving on from that, another great thing about Singin' in the Rain is the acting. I said in the first paragraph of this review that this film is as much a showcase for the pure unadulterated awesomeness of Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, and I will stand by that as long as I live. Gene Kelly is one of the most well-known names in Hollywood, and this movie (alongside the much-acclaimed American in Paris) was a big part of that. The man exudes so much class and we can tell that he has worked hard to get where he is, perhaps giving reason to his alleged tyranny on set. He gives a fantastic performance in terms of acting, singing, and especially dancing. Every time that man smiles, you can feel thousands of hearts melting, he's just that magical. However, the movie would simply be great if it were not for Donald O'Connor. The man is a master of slapstick and provides some of the most hilarious moments in the play. He and Kelly work extremely well together (despite the fact that behind the scenes, O'Connor was the vessel for much of Kelly's anger at Debbie Reynolds).

The two of them carry the movie, but the film also has great performances from the likes of Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, and Millard Mitchell. Debbie Reynolds plays Kathy Selden, the main female protagonist and love interest of Don Lockwood. She's pretty good as an actress, and also a pretty good singer (although she was dubbed in some cases, in fact, Jean Hagen dubbed over her speaking voice in the last bit of the movie). Her dancing was also pretty good too, although I know how that came about now. Jean Hagen was straight up awesome as Lina Lamont, the film's villain. In fact, she got an Oscar nomination for her work, but lost to Gloria Graham for The Bad and The Beautiful. Her performance was one of the two Oscar nominations that this film got, and it was a well-deserved nomination. I also loved her voice, which was kind of like Fran Drescher before Fran Drescher, although Drescher's accent is a bit more severe. Although I wonder what happens to her character after the movie....

All in all, Singin' in the Rain is probably my favourite of the movie-musicals, and possibly the most popular and well-liked of all the musical movies, especially those that were produced by MGM. It satirizes them all the same, providing for an extremely funny and entertaining film. It is pretty much a perfect movie, with one one small problem in the Broadway Melody that I talked about, but otherwise I can't run out of good things to say about it. I don't care if musicals are not your thing, you need to see this movie, and those who like musicals who haven't seen it will love it. It is a brilliantly made movie and one of the best movies to ever come out of (or be about) Hollywood. This is the one thing I agree with the AFI about, as they placed this at #5 on their best movies list. It's well-acted, well-directed, well-sung, well-choreographed, and a whole lot of fun. And to close out, I will show you one of my favourite bits of dialogue in the movie.

Don Lockwood: [while filming a silent love scene] Why, you rattlesnake! You got that poor kid fired.

Lina Lamont: That's not all I'm gonna do if I ever get my hands on her.

Don Lockwood: I never heard of anything so low. Why did you do it?

Lina Lamont: Because you liked her. I could tell.

Don Lockwood: So that's it. Believe me, I don't like her half as much as I hate you, you reptile.

Lina Lamont: Sticks and stones may break my bones...

Don Lockwood: I'd like to break every bone in your body.

Lina Lamont: You and who else, you big lummox?



  1. great review, Rachel. I without a doubt have to see this sometime

  2. Excellent lengthy review! I love this film to bits because of its excellent charm! One of the best musicals ever!