by Allan Fish
(USA 1952 102m) DVD1/2
Monumental Pictures Presents
p Arthur Freed d/ch Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen w Betty Comden, Adolph Green ph Harold Rosson ed Adrienne Fazan md Lennie Hayton m/ly Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown art Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell cos Walter Plunkett
Gene Kelly (Don Lockwood), Debbie Reynolds (Kathy Selden), Donald O’Connor (Cosmo Brown), Jean Hagen (Lina Lamont), Millard Mitchell (R.F.Simpson), Rita Moreno (Zelda Zanders), King Donovan (Rod), Cyd Charisse (Dancer), Douglas Fowley (Roscoe Dexter), Madge Blake (Dora Bailey), Tommy Farrell (Sid Phillips), Kathleen Freeman (Phoebe Dinsmore), Robert Watson, Mae Clarke, Dawn Addams,
Singin’ in the Rain is one of those films that finally convinces me that my generation is myopic. If you asked your everyday film buff what Singin’ in the Rain meant to them, it’s a fair bet to say about 50% of them will say that it was sung by Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. The fact is that musicals are dead, but not because they aren’t still popular; Chicago won best picture, Evita did alright, too, and Joss Whedon’s musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was universally acclaimed, but they represent a stagy form of musicals, based on or inspired by Broadway productions. Real musicals are from that golden age of the studio system where studios had stars and technicians under contract and musicals were churned out like factory produce. At MGM, producer Arthur Freed headed a mini studio within a studio and, following the success of An American in Paris, he handed himself carte blanche for his next production, which was to be a movie satire including the back catalogue of songs written by Freed with Nacio Herb Brown. It didn’t sound promising, but what resulted was the greatest musical ever made. Period.
The story itself is pure cliché; two stars from the silent era have contrasting fortunes with the coming of sound. The male star sounds alright and turns to musicals, but the girl, in the words of Cosmo Brown, can’t act, sing or dance and has a voice akin to scraping claws down a blackboard. The guy falls in love with an aspiring ingénue, but she ends up merely dubbing the singing and dialogue of the female star so no-one knows her talent. But hey, this is Hollywood (twice over) and we know we’ll get a happy ending. If not, the patrons might just ask for their money back (no danger of that).
There are songs here that really aren’t that good, but sheer energy and enthusiasm gets them by (‘Moses Supposes’ and ‘Fit as a Fiddle’, for example). Likewise, ‘Make em Laugh’ so shamelessly rips off Cole Porter’s ‘Be a Clown’ as to be close to legal action, yet who cares when performed with such inexhaustible energy as Donald O’Connor. Quite ironically, the title song isn’t even the best number in the film, a title more deserving to either O’Connor’s aforementioned solo or the ensemble of ‘Good Mornin”’. Yet for pure iconography, Kelly’s solo in the puddles is matchless (especially considering he had flu on the day of the shoot), imitated so hilariously by Morecambe and Wise but undiminished to this day. Indeed, the performances are wonderful, from the fresh faced Reynolds suffering at nineteen under taskmaster Kelly to the walking energy ball O’Connor (who gets all the best lines), from Hagen’s splendidly garish Lina to Mitchell’s confused studio head pretending he’s still in charge. Nor can we forget the contributions of co-director Stanley Donen, Comden and Green for their wonderfully nostalgic yet barbed script, which skewers all those caricatures of the silent age (the European vamp with a new husband a week, the flapper with a string of rich old men who look like they’ve been resurrected from the dead) and MGM’s own period recreation, which captures the twenties flavour superbly. It’s so much fun, we actually regret being unable to see The Royal Rascal and The Dancing Cavalier, films out of the John Barrymore The Beloved Rogue tradition. When Reynolds kisses Kelly prior to the legendary title number, she tells him that “this California dew is just a little heavier than usual tonight.” Kelly replies “from where I’m standing the sun is shining all over the place.“ Watching Singin’ in the Rain fills you with its own form of cine-sunlight.