Friday, February 22, 2013

Singin' in the Rain (Donen. Kelly. 1952)

"What a glorious feeling. I'm happy again..."

Singin’ in the Rain is a movie that supplies more energy than maybe any other I have seen. The entire ordeal takes place amongst splendid colors and the vast, if not overzealous, landscapes on which some scenes were set remain not only memorable, but also extremely impressive. The cast includes a few of MGM’s biggest Hollywood stars in an era where movie icons were being molded and thrown away at a rapid pace.The music, of course, stands the test of time as proven by the numerous retellings of the classic story on stages from Broadway to The Little Theatre on the Square. What might surprise you is the fact that Singin’ in the Rain was never really meant to be a national treasure. In fact, only one of the ever so famous musical numbers was written specifically for the film in the first place. 

After the incredible success of the Best Picture winning An American in Paris, the figureheads at MGM wanted to crank out another musical vehicle for Gene Kelly as soon as they could. This meant searching the warehouses for any old sets they could find, and revamping some tunes that were already owned by the studio. The Criterion special features even include scenes from other MGM works with lesser known talents singing “Make ‘Em Laugh” and the film’s title song. The movie was not as critically successful upon release as many people may assume. It only garnered two Oscar nominations in 1952 and went home with no trophies. As many films have proved in the past, time is a much better measuring stick for greatness than Oscar will ever be. 

The year is 1927 and Don Lockwood (Kelly) has made a slew of successful silent love stories alongside his ditsy and vindictive costar Lena Lamont (Jean Hagan). Lockwood’s beaming charisma and Lena’s beauty make them the perfect silent film duo, but (note the year) things are about to change. Hollywood is taken over by a new trend called “talkies”. Lena’s voice is far too….wowbad…to ever be realistically featured on the screen, but the studio insists that they must transition into the talking phenomenon. They enlist the talents of an upstart named Kathy Selden who, unbeknownst to Lena, will be providing the speaking and singing voice for the already cemented star as they move on to make “The Dueling Cavalier”. 

Selden is played by a 19 year old Debbie Reynolds who was not a dancer before she was cast in Singin’ in the Rain. Her task was to keep up alongside Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor during some of the most athletic dance sequences ever filmed. Though the whole production has a very improvisational feel, it is obvious that these dance scenes were very heavily rehearsed.  Just watch “Good Morning” and see how Reynolds never seems out of place. I obviously do not know either of them, but Kelly and O’Connor seem like a decent sort. I have a feeling that she got some hefty tutoring. 

It has been said by critics that Kelly’s performance in the “Singin’ in the Rain” number is the single greatest musical moment captured on film. Simply put, I agree. In a moment of pure, unfiltered happiness we see Don Lockwood put on an impromptu song and dance during a rainstorm. He does not mind getting drenched because he is overcome by love and romance. This, kids, is what we like to call the “Honeymoon Phase”. The dancing includes significant prop usage including an umbrella and a streetlamp on which the most famous moment of the film is captured. According to legend, Kelly had a bad fever when he did the scene. I do not know if it is true, but for some reason I believe it. The whole film has that sort of magical feeling. Almost as if nothing could stop it. 

It would be silly to not mention the breathtaking and stunt-filled “Make ‘Em Laugh” number that is perfectly performed by Donald O’Connor. In this funny scene the great entertainer throws himself into walls, rolls all over the floor and utilizes the now clichĂ© ability to do a backwards flip. The entire scene adds to the idea that Singin’ in the Rain must have been a gruelingly rehearsed feature, but the scene is staged so perfectly that It seems really cluttered and hectic. This is movie-staging at the highest level. 

The time of the original Hollywood musical seems to be very much in the past. Singin’ in the Rain shines through as the best film from that era because it is less structured and more charismatic. What it lacked in original music it made up for with technical masterwork and exuberant entertainment value. The dancing is some of the best on film and each actor makes it obvious that they are having the time of their life. Some movies have too many scenes. Some do not have enough. Singin’ in the Rain is a rare film in which every scene is an individual treat. It is not just the best musical ever made. It is also one of the greatest movies ever made. 

Singin' in the Rain: A

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