(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.)

singing in the rain

So…Singin’ in the Rain.

Considered by critics, historians and movie buffs alike to be the greatest musical ever made.

 

Go see it.

 

 

NOW.

 

 

 

 

Seriously, what are you still doing here reading my ramblings? You’re better off spending the next hour and forty-two minutes watching the film yourself.

 

 

…well, you came this far, didn’t you?

 

I’d hate to hype up this movie too much since it already has such a lofty reputation, but I can swear a solemn oath that its reputation is one that it has well and truly earned. I count my first viewing as one of those times where I looked at a classic film and said “Yeah, bring it on,” but minutes later was completely hooked.

It all began when Arthur Freed, famed musical producer for MGM, tasked songwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green to create a film using only well-established tunes from previous MGM musicals to show off their catalogue of hit songs.

In other words, the Greatest Movie Musical of All Time is in fact a jukebox musical.

So why is it that this movie gets all the praise (which it deserves, might I add) while films like Mamma Mia…don’t? Well for one thing, they put time and effort into crafting the story and how the songs play into it. They don’t use the elaborate musical numbers as a distraction from a wafer-thin plot or characters like some other movies I could mention.

Second, all the songs featured have become standards for a reason. Each one is an ear worm from start to finish. Though they’ve been featured in other movies, how they’re utilized here all but eclipsed their previous incarnations.

Third, it is funny. And I mean laugh-out-loud, every-line-hits-its-mark, future-screenwriters-please-watch-this-to-learn-how-to-write-good-crack-up-dialogue funny.

Fourth, let’s talk about Gene Kelly.

I have…mixed feelings when it comes to Gene Kelly and his works. Have you ever seen a movie that blew you away so much that any in the same anthology or of a similar caliber simply, for whatever reason, failed to match the same experience you had before? I’ve had that happen to me twice – once when I tried to watch the other Mad Max movies after seeing Fury Road, and again with most of Kelly’s films after Singin’ in the Rain. Kelly was an incredible dancer and choreographer; some might even say he was to dance on film the way Walt Disney was to animation. Talent and praise can go to your head if left unchecked however, and Kelly LOVED to show off his moves, even at the expense of the story. If you ever decide to play a drinking game when watching one of his movies, don’t drink whenever he stops the film just so he can dance. You won’t make to the end credits. Don’t get me wrong, I adore musicals and a good dance break is always welcome if it’s entertaining enough, but Gene indulges himself one too many times even for me. Also, if you know anything about him behind the scenes, the horror stories are sadly true. The man wasn’t a perfectionist, he was a full-blown diva. Both cast and crew lived in fear of his tantrums should one step fall out of place. Singin’ in the Rain is no exception to either of these truths, but one, you couldn’t tell by the great chemistry on screen, and two, with the exception of one or two moments, the dancing is so well integrated in the narrative that to cut any of it would be a detriment to the film. There are moments that left me slackjawed at how fluid and lively the choreography is. I can’t recall any other musical that has left me the same way regarding to that aspect.

Well, enough of my buildup, let’s look at that silver screen classic, Singin’ in the Rain.

The year is 1927. Hollywood is at the cusp of its first Golden Age. A mob of movie goers and fans alike have gathered outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater for the premiere of what’s sure to be Monumental Picture’s next big hit, “The Royal Rascal”, starring that sizzling onscreen couple of Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). The stars are announced as they walk down the red carpet, dressed in that wacky ’20’s fashion style.

Singin001

It’s good to see Gomez and Morticia getting out more.

Among them is flapper “Zip Girl” Zelda Sanders (played by future Oscar winner Rita Moreno in one of her first screen roles), and Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), the man behind the music of Don’s films and his best friend since childhood. Cosmo gets virtually ignored by the crowd as they wait for a “real” star to show up, and as you’ll soon see, that’s a goddamn shame. Don and Lina’s arrival nearly causes a riot among their eager fans. They’re interviewed by a radio host who asks the question that’s on everyone’s minds, whether or not there’ll be wedding bells for them in the future. Don insists that he and Lina just good friends, but agrees to tell the story and secret of his success – “Dignity. Always dignity.”

Of course, what we the audience see differs vastly from the tale he weaves for his admirers. “Entertaining mother and father’s society friends” is young him and Cosmo dancing for nickels in a saloon. “Raised on Shaw and the classics” is them sneaking into a B-film at the local movie theater. “Classical training at the conservatory” is bar gigs. And “Fellowship at the Academy” is them getting their feet wet in vaudeville, which leads to the first big musical number, “Fit as a Fiddle and Ready for Love”. If you want an indication of how most of the songs in this movie play out, look no further than this one. Most every interlude has a role in the story, in this case how Don and Cosmo’s original act plays out, and if their chemistry isn’t entertaining enough to watch, the precision and energy in their dancing is. Kelly and O’Connor only made this and one other film together but their combined talent is something to behold.

Just…LOOK.

fitdance

Need I say more?

You’d think this would make them a big hit, but you’d be wrong. For whatever reason Don and Cosmo get booed off the stage (then again, they’re two men singing about getting married to an audience of what are probably rural Southerners…) Of course, Don paints it as their first big success and continues.

He and Cosmo hitch a ride to Hollywood and get work as musicians that set the mood for the actors filming silent pictures. During one shoot the main heavy gets knocked out in the middle of a fight scene. The director, Roscoe, notices Don bears some resemblance to the unconscious actor and has him finish the scene, beginning his career as a stunt double for Monumental Pictures. After filming one day Don tries to catch the attention of his co-star Lina, but she doesn’t give two ships about him – that is until the head of the studio, RF Simpson (who was modeled after Arthur Freed), shows up and congratulates Don on his amazing work. He makes the decision to have him and Lina star in her next picture together. Lina is interested in Don now, but he, having seen her true colors, takes back his initial invitation to dinner. Lina makes it clear she doesn’t do rejection.

Singin002

The beginning of a beautiful friendship.

With his story done, everyone enters the theater for the movie. “The Royal Rascal” is as melodramatic as a silent film can get, helped by the fact that Don does some decent swordplay against some rogues set on kidnapping the fair pining Lina. It’s a big hit and Don and Lina emerge from the wings to take a bow, though Don is quick to silence her anytime she tries to get a word in his thank you speech. In fact, up to this point in the movie, Lina has been suspiciously quiet any time she’s on screen, and there’s a reason why:

Remember how I described Una O’Connor’s voice in my Robin Hood review as a cat being dragged up a xylophone? Well, give that cat the voice of Harley Quinn and the petulance of a teenage girl and you’ve got a general idea of what Lina Lamont sounds like.

Lina whines that she never gets to give a speech, but RF and the head of publicity tell her that audiences think she’s got a voice to match her looks and they want to keep their stars from looking like fools at any cost. Cosmo’s response? “No one’s got that much money.”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the many, many reasons why Cosmo steals the show. He is always ready with a comeback for any occasion, and it’s delivered in a wry down to earth manner that never comes across as obnoxious. Additionally, where most sidekicks add virtually nothing to the plot except for a few cheap laughs, Cosmo plays an integral part. His quick thinking drives the plot forward, and his zingers and funny moments are welcome every time. Most importantly, though he’s got something to say to everyone, he’s a legitimately nice guy. If you think think not the getting the same recognition as his friend would make him bitter and resentful, guess again. Cosmo’s just glad to be working alongside his pal. His jokes are his way of having fun with a pretty thankless job while also keeping Don grounded and his spirits up, especially when dealing with Lina.

Lina, the bleach-blonde dope that she is, doesn’t seen anything wrong with her voice and pesters her “fee-an-cee” Don to stick up for her. Their “romance”, if you can can call it that, is one cooked up by the press for free publicity, but she’s blissfully ignorant of that fact and think she and Don are the real deal, even though he obviously can’t stand her.

Don and Cosmo head to the wrap party but their car breaks down on the way. Don gets mobbed by fans and Cosmo, well, he just sits back and enjoys watching his friend getting the drawbacks of the limelight. Call it a dick move, but the nonchalant way he responds brings out the best of his humorous side (“Cosmo, do something! Call a cab!” “Okay, you’re a cab.”). Desperate, Don pulls a real stunt by climbing over his car on to a moving trolley and jumping into the passenger seat of the next passing vehicle. This terrifies the driver, a woman named Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) who mistakes Don for a criminal and flags down a policeman for help. The officer clears up the misunderstanding and Kathy is more than a bit starstruck when she learns who Don is. She willingly gives him a ride to his home so he can change into a new outfit.

Don apologizes for the intrusion and not-so-subtly attempts to flirt with Kathy. Kathy tries to plays it cool and tells him that she hasn’t seen most of his movies or any in general because if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all (oh great, Kathy’s a hipster). Her comment unintentionally wounds Don, not helped by her elaborating that the personalities don’t pop off the screen since all they do is “make a lot of dumb show” with their faces. Kathy finally reaches Don’s address (and I’m counting “Here we are, Sunset and Camden” as the shortest tune in the movie because of the chipper sing-song way she says it). Don questions if she sees what he does as acting, and Kathy openly admits that it’s nothing like the variety and poetry that comes with the stage. When Don asks what she does, she quickly responds that she’s a stage actress planning on finding work in New York. Their banter quickly turns ugly when Don tries to get fresh and Kathy boots him out of the car, calling him nothing but a shadow on film. Don is further humiliated when the remains of his coat get caught in the door as he attempts to make a dramatic exit, which Kathy finds hysterical.

Singin003

I’m sensing a pattern to the girls Don’s attracted to.

Don finally makes it to the party but is still perturbed by what Kathy said. With his star finally there, RF gathers everyone for a surprise screening. A man came into his office claiming he’s got the next big thing in motion pictures and he wants to share it with his guests. The movie is a short black and white piece of a guy who likes like an even more decrepit version of Vincent Price talking to the camera. What’s more, the people there can actually hear him speaking. RF assures them this is no trick, what they’re watching is a real talking picture. Apparently Warner Bros. is making their next picture “The Jazz Singer” a talkie. Nobody thinks it’ll catch on, except for Cosmo (“That’s what they said about the horseless carriage.”)

RF reveals another surprise for his two moneymakers, a very special celebratory cake. And what should emerge from that cake but –

Singin004

Hey, even Ethel Barrymore got her start jumping out of desserts.

Don playfully teases Kathy but she and the other chorus girls have a show to do. They perform a jazzy rendition of “All I Do Is Dream of You”, a number that manages to charm Don further and another MGM musical standard. This was the first musical Debbie Reynolds ever did, and she does a phenomenal job despite having no prior dancing experience. Even Don seems impressed by her talent because he keeps his mouth shut the entire time.

Once the song is done Don tries to talk with Kathy further but a jealous Lina butts in. Kathy decides to show Don that she’s picked up at least one thing from movies and throws a cake at him – which hits Lina square in the face. Don is barely able to restrain her before Kathy can escape through the dressing room. He tries to pursue Kathy himself to apologize but just misses her.

Weeks pass and in that time Don has been searching for Kathy. Maybe it’s because she’s the first woman who’s resisted his charms after learning who he is, but most likely because he can’t get what she said about him out of his head. This isn’t helped by Cosmo saying the new film they’re doing, The Dueling Cavalier, is just like all the others he’s done before. Cosmo more than makes up for it by cheering Don up with “Make ‘Em Laugh”. In a movie that already has numerous outstanding musical numbers (and we’ve already gone through two of them), “Make ‘Em Laugh” is arguably the best (yes, even rivaling the titular tune). Cosmo’s timing, self-induced slapstick, rubber faces and amazing moves serve only to convince me that he’s really a cartoon in a man suit, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone outside of a Looney Tunes short pull off this kind of routine with such ease. By the end he is literally bouncing off the walls! His collapse at the finale is one you can buy; in fact during one take O’Connor fainted for real because it took so much out of him. I can’t blame him, but I certainly can applaud him for his efforts to entertain us did not go wasted.

As Don and Lina prepare to film their next scene, she asks him why he’s been brushing off their usual social engagements. Don says he was busy but Lina knows that he’s been looking for Kathy. Unlike Don she has no qualms about Kathy having lost her job at the club after the cake fiasco – because Lina was the one who called her boss and had Kathy fired.

DadSpit

Up to this point we’ve seen Lina as nothing but a bubble-headed shrew, but this is a taste of how devious she can truly be when she wants something. I’ve seen this movie at least twice with a live audience and each time she announces that everyone always goes “OOOOHHHHHHHH”. The real kicker, though? Immediately following that revelation, Roscoe comes up and tells Don that for this scene he has to act completely in love with Lina. The two passionately exchange passive-aggressive insults in between smooches, which, according to my research, was actually a pretty common occurrence back in the day. Silent movie actors often strayed from the script and no one on set cared because nobody would hear them in the final product. If you know how to read lips, watch a silent movie sometime. You’ll get a kick out of what they’re really saying.

2001-space-movie-screencaps.com-6244

“Oh the things I could tell you, Dave!”

Once the scene is done, RF shows up to announce they’re freezing production on The Dueling Cavalier. Thanks to the unprecedented success of The Jazz Singer audiences are clamoring for more talking pictures, and, like any Hollywood executive looking to capitalize on the latest trend, RF is making all of his films talkies without a second thought as to how this will effect filming and technical issues. Cosmo will no longer have to play mood music for the actors (at last he can start suffering and write that symphony) because he’s being made the head of the new music department (at last he can stop suffering and write that symphony). RF raves about how Don and Lina’s fans will finally be able to hear them talk, to which Lina replies “Well of course we talk, don’t everybody?”

Immediately following that oh crap moment we get a montage of various truncated musical numbers intertwined musical numbers which I think are supposed to symbolize Hollywood’s jumping on the bandwagon of talking musical features, all leading into the Ziegfeld Follies-inspired fashion show “Beautiful Girl”. RF is there supervising the filming of said song but finds his attention drawn to a charming young woman in the chorus. When he points her out to the director, he mentions she’d be good for a supporting role in Zelda’s next movie, which makes Zelda jealous. Cosmo, who also happens to be there, realizes that this is the girl is none other than the one Don’s been looking for and he fetches him as the song wraps up.

The director pulls Kathy aside to introduce her to RF and offer her the role. At the same time an overjoyed Don arrives with Cosmo. Thinking Don is there to ruin her chances, Kathy comes clean about creaming Lina in the kisser and tries to leave with her dignity in tact. Don assures her and RF that having her at the studio wouldn’t bother him and Lina and urges her to take the part. RF questions if he speaks for them both but Don reminds him that he’s the head of the studio, not some nightclub owner who can be pushed around by Lina. RF declares he’s right and hires Kathy on the spot. I don’t know what it is about the moment, the timing, the nonsense logic, but it’s a good laugh that sounds like something you’d hear in a Spider-Man movie.

spider-man-21-movie-screencaps.com-11780

“Parker! You’re fired! Get outta my office!”


spider-man-21-movie-screencaps.com-747

“But Mr. Jameson, you can’t fire me! You’re the head of the Daily Bugle!”


spider-man-21-movie-screencaps.com-11780

“You’re damn right I am! Parker! You’re un-fired! Get back to work!”

Kathy and Don take a stroll around the studio and get to know each other a little more. When Kathy asks Don if he’d rather be spending time with Lina, he tells her how their romance was just cooked up by the publicity department. Kathy admits she couldn’t tell otherwise when she read about it in the fan magazines – well, the ones she picked up at the dentist’s office, not ones she’s bought in her spare time, of course. And she also confesses to seeing one or two of his movies…well, more like eight or nine. Yep, it turns out Kathy is a bit of a fan girl, not that Don doesn’t mind. They apologize for what they said when they first met and confess that they haven’t been far from each other’s mind since.

Now here’s where things get interesting for the character of Don. He declares he’s such a ham that he can’t express what he really feels for Kathy without the right mood. He takes her into an empty soundstage and creates it for her; lights on a backdrop become a glowing sunset. A smoke machine and a fan produce evening mist. A ladder substitutes Juliet’s balcony with Kathy overlooking Don. It’s a barebones version of what would be a love scene from one of his pictures, but it’s a love scene nonetheless. The movies mean a lot to Don – it’s more than his livelihood, he feels he is so inseparable from his screen persona that when someone like Kathy comes along and tells him that what’s up on that screen is nothing it causes him to question his own self-worth. He believes the only way he can declare his love for Kathy is by doing it in a typical romantic film way. His acting on film also provides an escape, a moment where he can be anyone or anything else, and do anything he can’t normally do in the real world (not unlike how some people view movies as whole as escapist fantasies); whereas in the real world Don can’t be anyone other than what the world sees him as, in his own self-made movie setting he is able to say and do exactly what he longs to. Also the song he performs, “You Were Meant For Me”, is genuinely romantic as well.

As the talkie boom grows, the need for diction coaches increase. This is another shockingly accurate detail for the time period this movie takes place. The transition from silent pictures to talkies was not an easy one, especially for the actors. This film takes a very comic approach to it and it works, but it’s a hard truth that for every Garbo, Mae West, Laurel & Hardy and Marx Brothers that made the leap, there’s a Chaplin or Keaton that didn’t. Case in point, Don works well with his coach, but Lina…not so much. Cosmo drops in on one of Don’s sessions and provides a bit of levity as he makes some amazingly timed silly faces matching the coach’s behind his back.

Singin007-2

Did I already mention Cosmo rules? Because he does. Unequivocally.

The practice turns into a chance for Don and Cosmo to clown around as they get caught up in their tongue-twister practice and sing “Moses Supposes”, the one original song in the entire movie. There’s not much of a reason for it to be there, but it does feature some excellent tap work from Kelly and O’Connor. I do kind of feel bad for the poor coach who winds up getting his office wrecked by their random antics.

Singin008

“This is the last time I loan my services for a musical!”

As well as the classes are turning out for Don, they’re not much help when he can’t even get around to saying his lines on set. The technical difficulties of filming with primitive sound technology (and with an actress who’s slightly more alive than Kristen Stewart) are beginning to mount; Roscoe has to constantly remind Lina where the microphone is – hidden in a shrubbery – since it only captures half of what she’s saying when she’s bobbing her head around, leading Lina to cry out “Well I can’t make love to a BUSH!!”

goodnight2 copy

Other attempts to disguise the microphone and capture anything sound worthy drive poor Roscoe to the brink of insanity as each take goes horribly wrong in increasingly comedic ways. But, after much toil and trouble, “The Dueling Cavalier” is ready for a preview screening (see? They did have those back then). And…

…seriously, how do you think it goes?

Lina and the crappy sound job aren’t the only ones at fault here, though; Don didn’t feel like his big romantic speech was good enough and settled for saying “I love you” over and over like he normally would when the sound was off.

So, bad acting, poor editing, and cringeworthy dialogue that makes subtext text – The Dueling Cavalier is a Damon Lindeloff movie made in the ’20’s.

If that weren’t enough, the soundtrack goes off-sync with the film right at the point where Lina is held captive by the villain. Her high-pitched cries of “No! No! No!” are switched with his deep “Yes, yes, yes!”, sending the audience into further hysterics. RF and the crew go incognito outside the theater to study the audience’s reactions, and most everyone comes out either pointing out how laughable it is or swearing off Lockwood-Lamont films forever. Lina says she liked it though.

gf0118-03

“Yeah, you would enjoy this.”

Don, Cosmo and Kathy grouse over The Dueling Cavalier’s failure at Don’s mansion. Don is certain that his career is shot once the film is released. Again, he ties so much of who he is to the screen that this humiliation causes him to worry if Kathy was right all along; that he really is no actor, just a shadow on film.

Kathy and Cosmo try to cheer him up by reminding him that Lina was far worse, and hey, he could always return to vaudeville. Don wonders if maybe the movie could have gone over better if he did his song and dance routine from the old days. And then Kathy asks the big question – why doesn’t he? There’s six weeks to go before the movie is set to premiere, just enough time to trim some scenes, add a few new ones, and alter it from a cheesy melodrama into a musical that can really showcase his talents. Don likes the idea, and The Dueling Cavalier officially becomes The Dancing Cavalier.

Realizing they’ve stayed up into the wee hours of the morning plotting their bounce back from failure, Don, Kathy and Cosmo are nonetheless energized enough to sing “Good Morning”, another show-stopping highlight. The song is upbeat and catchy, but the choreography sets it apart from the rest, utilizing everything in Don’s house from the coats to the couches. If you know what went on during the filming of this particular scene, however, it does put a bit of a damper on it. Kelly went into tyrant mode and worked Debbie so hard that by the end of filming her feet were bleeding and she was at her wit’s end. Funny story how that got resolved…

astaire

“Hello, Gene.”


Gene-Kelly

“Hello, Astaire. Tell me, what gave you the sheer low-hanging balls to show your face around MY set?”


astaire

“You know, it’s the funniest thing, Gene. There I am strolling along minding my own business when I find some poor kid huddled under a piano sobbing her eyes out. She tells me it’s her first time dancing in the latest Gene Kelly flick and he’s been criticizing every mistake and yelling his head off at her, working her so hard on this one ‘morning’ number there’s blood pouring from her pumps – in short, he’s being an utter asshole. Now a true gentleman who’s more than a bit skilled at the old softshoe would offer to help her practice, maybe do a little coaching on the side just for her, so I did. And boy, was she grateful.”


Gene-Kelly

“Your point?”


astaire

“The point, Gene, is don’t a prick to your costars ’cause they don’t reach your lofty standards. You never know what they’re gonna say about you when you’re gone. Oh, and apparently you’re a lousy kisser, too. Way too much tongue.”


Gene-Kelly

“What I do with my tongue’s none of your business, Astaire. How’s your sister, by the way?”


astaire

“She’s no Ginger Rogers but she’s – Hey! You leave Adele out of this you bastard!”


Gene-Kelly

“You don’t scare me! I danced the sailor’s hornpipe with Mickey Mouse!”


astaire

“That was Jerry the mouse, you moron! JERRY! Disney doesn’t do every single piece of animation on the planet!”


Gene-Kelly

“It wasn’t? DAMMIT! Last time I do anything with cartoons.”


astaire

“More for me, then. I got a call from these Rankin-Bass guys asking me to narrate some Christmas special with Mickey Rooney as Santa. I’ll be sure to thank you if I win another Emmy for it.”


Gene-Kelly

“Go ahead! But we’ll see who the history books say the art of dance on film began with!”

The mood is brought down when everyone realizes there’s only one drawback in their plan, and that’s Lina. She can’t sing, dance, or act – a triple threat, as Cosmo perfectly sums up. What they all agree on is that she was funny when it seemed like the villain’s voice was coming out of her and vice-versa. Then Cosmo is hit with inspiration; why not have Kathy dub her voice over Lina’s? Don has his reservations, mainly that Kathy would be throwing her career away, but Kathy insists that it will only be for this one film.

Don escorts Kathy home as it downpours and is so thrilled things are finally going his way that he eschews his ride home in favor of, you guessed it, dancing and singing in the rain.

This is another one of those iconic movie scenes that everyone recognizes, even if they haven’t seen the film it’s from. Heck, my first intro to it was a parody on Sesame Street where Grover attempts to dance the same way in other types of inclement weather. It’s an entertaining scene on its own, but watch it in the context of the film and its joy and significance triples. After weeks of worry Don has his future assured and the woman of his dreams by his side. It’s a carefree expression of his euphoria, unembarrassed and confident in what it is. Also I’ve ridden The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World enough times to know that the rumor they used milk in place of water for this scene is just that, but Gene Kelly really was running a 103-degree fever while filming it. This is why for all the crap I give Kelly I still respect and admire him, because for all his demands, indulgences and ridiculously high standards, he knew how to deliver some of the greatest and most entertaining pieces of choreography on film, and you can’t say he never gave one-hundred percent when he did.

The following morning Don and Cosmo run their idea by RF. He’s so enthusiastic about it that he even wants to give Kathy her own voice credit and do a big publicity campaign around her. He does have valid concerns about the bad blood between Kathy and Lina, but they convince him that what Lina doesn’t know won’t hurt her. This leads into a scene of Kathy recording one of the new songs for the film while Lina learns to lip sync it. The funny thing is, this is one of the few times in this movie where Debbie Reynolds isn’t the one who’s doing her own singing. The vocals here are done by Betty Noyes, who you might recognize as the voice behind one of the most tear jerking Disney moments of all time. So this scene is a woman trying to lip sync to a woman singing who’s actually lip syncing to another woman singing. Wrap your head around that.

Once Don finishes showing RF some of the new footage, he pitches a modern musical sequence that will be the film’s high point. Said sequence is The Broadway Melody, a whopping thirteen minutes of music almost entirely disconnected from Singin’ in the Rain’s plot. Now despite what you might believe, Gene has really been holding himself back so far regarding his love of extended dance breaks, but I suppose he was saving that for this scene. Again, this should come as no surprise if you’re familiar with his previous works. The dream sequence in An American in Paris is visually stunning but it doesn’t exactly disclose anything that we don’t already know. The ballet closing out the second act of On The Town grinds the film to a halt so they can reenact literally every single plot point that’s happened up until then through dance. And I don’t even know where to begin with Anchors Aweigh; more than half that movie feels like musical filler.

But even though I agree that you could do away with the Broadway Melody and not miss much, there’s an subtle importance here that most people don’t think about. The story of the Broadway Melody sequence is one that chronicles his character’s – which from here on shall be referred to as The Hoofer – rise from nobody to superstar. Remember in the beginning of the movie Don could only spin a fictional take of his journey to Hollywood for his moviegoing fans, and how he could only say how much he loved Kathy by setting up an impromptu romantic scene out of one of his films? Don feels this is the only way he can tell the true story of his rise to fame. And he does so by presenting a blindingly Technicolor world where everyone expresses themselves through song, dance, and fast-paced comedic action and timing.

Singin011

For his sake I hope he avoids dangling from any clock towers.

Our Hoofer hops his way downtown, bewildered by the sights and sounds of the big city. He knocks on every agent’s door and shows them his moves, preceded each time with an exuberant cry of “Gotta dance!” Twice the door is slammed in his face, but third time’s the charm. The agent cleans him up a bit and takes him to his first gig at a speakeasy where it looks like a Crayola factory exploded – and that’s a compliment. The whole movie looks astounding (the blu-ray is possibly the most perfect I’ve ever seen a film look) but here is where the colors pop. They add to the frenetic energy of Kelly’s performance. The Hoofer’s act goes over spectacularly, but then he runs into…HER.

Singin009

Behold the voluptuous Cyd Charisse. You know the ZZ Top song that goes “She’s got legs and she knows how to use them”? Nothing can convince me that that song WASN’T inspired by her in some way. Charisse was a dancer who could more than hold her own when partnered with the likes of Kelly or Astaire. Here she’s the arm candy of a gangster (and you can tell he’s a gangster by the fact that that he’s flipping a coin and literally has a scar face) who makes her beau jealous by taking an interest in the Hoofer. Our Hoofer in turn is blown away by this seductive Moll. Though not one line of dialogue is shared between them, though not one kiss is exchanged, their riotous duet of footwork makes for one of the sexiest moments ever put on screen.

In the heat of the moment, the gangster leads his Moll away with some sparkly jewelry. The Hoofer has little time to mourn as he’s whisked out of the club and begins his ascent to stardom, climbing up from burlesque, to vaudeville, to the top of them all, the Follies. The chorus in each stage sings the same verse, but every time it sounds a little more polished, a little more refined, a little more…lifeless. Soon our Hoofer is enjoying the best the city has to offer in terms of nightlife with the rest of the creme de la creme of New York, when whom should he see but the Moll standing in the doorway.

The world melts away into the Hoofer’s fantasy (and if I were a lesser reviewer I’d shoehorn in an Inception joke). The Hoofer is poised against a bare but Dali-esque landscape where the Moll is viewed not a heartless harlot but a vision of beauty and pureness with a scarf that seems to billow out into eternity. If their previous dance was a cauldron of sex, this ballet is an expression of unadulterated true love.

Singin010-2

Of course reality sets back in, and what happens when The Hoofer approaches the Moll? She doesn’t even remember who he is. The Hoofer leaves the club feeling down and out. He’s at the top now, the world is lying at his feet, and yet, what was it all for?

Then he hears a voice singing a familiar chant – “Gotta dance!”

And in struts another young would-be hoofer, full dreams and energy as he once was. This invigorates our Hoofer and he invites the entire city into dancing with him in one big grand finale.

Some time later Don is watching Kathy dub over Lina. Once again, the voice we hear isn’t Debbie Reynolds’, it’s Jean Hagen’s real voice and it’s actually quite nice. Don and Kathy move in to kiss…just in time for Lina to barge in, enraged. Her friend Zelda (remember her?) didn’t like Kathy upstaging either of them in their respective films and blabbed everything to Lina. Lina wants Kathy thrown off the lot but Don and Cosmo tells her it’s too late; Kathy just finished dubbing all her lines, she and Don are officially an item, and they plan on letting the whole world know both at the premiere. But Lina won’t take this lying down, not while she has a single brain cell left in her head.

The next morning, the publicity department rails at RF for releasing an interview that praises Lina’s musical talents without informing them. RF doesn’t know what they’re talking about until in saunters Lina with her contract. After going over it with her lawyer she found that she controls her own publicity, not Monumental Pictures, and if they say anything she doesn’t approve – like that she doesn’t do her own singing and speaking – she can “see-yoo” for the entire studio. RF reluctantly concedes to take Kathy’s credit off the film, but Lina’s not satisfied. She wants Kathy to continue supplying her voice forever, robbing her of a real career. RF is aghast and proclaims people don’t do that, but Lina replies “Pee-pole?! I ain’t pee-pole! I am a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema in the fur-ma-ment! It says so right there [in the interview].”

The premiere of The Dancing Cavalier is a smash, though what the people are really over the moon for is “Lina’s” exquisite voice. Before Don, Kathy and Cosmo can celebrate backstage, Lina springs the news on them. Kathy refuses to be Lina’s tool and Don threatens to quit if RF forces her to comply, though Lina overwhelms RF with the promise of even more dough from this film alone once the reviews start pouring in. Between the choices and the applause he’s genuinely conflicted. The publicity head comes in and says the audience is demanding a speech, which gets Lina to thinking (a dangerous pastime, as already proven). Everyone gets to make a speech except her, but that’s changing tonight. RF nearly stops her, until Don reminds him that Lina has never made a speech in front of an audience before. As Don predicts, the audience is confused as to why Lina’s whiny voice doesn’t match the one they heard on screen prior and demand that she sing an encore for them. Cosmo, RF and Don get into a huddle as Lina realizes her plans are falling apart like a house of cards before a fire hose. It’s so wonderfully ironic that someone who sees herself as liberated is literally nothing more than a puppet tangled in their own strings.

Lina sprints backstage in a panic and begs RF for help. He tells Kathy to sing backstage while Lina lipsyncs for the crowd. Kathy won’t comply, but it’s Don of all people who orders her to, for the good of the picture. Heartbroken by this sudden betrayal, Kathy agrees, but on the condition that she never sees Don again. She and Lina “perform” a reprise of “Singin’ in the Rain”, but in the middle of the song, Don, Cosmo and RF gleefully lift the curtain and expose the charade.

Singin005

“Pay no attention to that man and woman behind the curtain!”

Lina flees the stage and a humiliated Kathy attempts to run from the theater. Don manages to get the crowd to stop her and announces that she was the real girl they fell in love, and my God even with tears streaming down her face Debbie Reynolds has never looked lovelier in this scene.

Singin006

Don serenades Kathy with “You Are My Lucky Star”, which turns in a short heartfelt duet. The film ends with them overlooking the billboard for their next picture, “Singing in the Rain”, and sharing a kiss.

 

And there you have it. Singin’ in the Rain, one of the best if not THE greatest musical on film. That would make it a bonafide hit from the start, right? Unfortunately, no. It did fairly well financially on its initial release, but mostly flew under the radar. The only acknowledgement it received during awards season were Oscar nominations for Jean Hagan and for Best Score, and a Golden Globe win for Donald O’Connor. It’s another example of a great film not being recognized for what it is until years after the fact. Still, better late than never. It was one of the first films chosen for preservation in the US National Film Registry, has a place on no less than eight of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 lists, and is among the top 20 movies on Rotten Tomatoes to have a perfect score. I don’t think I have to go into the reasons why any further. If I may bastardize a phrase from Lina Lamont, “This movie’s worth more than Calvin Coolidge put together!”


Thank you for reading. If you like what you see and want more reviews, vote for what movie you want me to look at next by leaving it in the comments or emailing me at upontheshelfshow@gmail.com. Remember, you can only vote once a month. The list of movies available to vote for are under “What’s On the Shelf”.

Dedicated to the memory of Debbie Reynolds. You were our lucky star. Rest in Peace.

Advertisements