The ultimate Movie Musical
"Singin' in the Rain" is a prime example of the classic Hollywood MGM Movie Musical of the 1940s and 1950s. Each movie studio was known for making films with a certain personality or genre, and in the 1940s and 50s, MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) was the king of the Movie Musical.
“Singin' in the Rain” is considered by many to be the best Movie Musical of all time, and has even made it onto many “Top Movies of All Time” lists (musical or other). It features bold colors, fantastic costumes, catchy songs, great performances, a fun story, and truly incredible dancing.
This film was part of the famous “Freed Unit” at MGM, headed by Arthur Freed, a producer of musicals who advanced the look of musicals from being old-fashioned and repetitive, to something new and modern. In addition to producing, he was also a songwriter, and “Singin' in the Rain” features his songs. The script of the film, written around Freed’s songs, was written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (known as Comden and Green), a very successful writing duo, who wrote lyrics and screenplays for some of the most successful Hollywood musicals and Broadway shows of the mid-20th century.
The only thing I feel I should mention about the plot before you watch, is that it takes place in 1927, just before “talking pictures” came into existence. Prior to 1928, all films were silent. In 1928, the first “talking picture”, called “The Jazz Singer”, starring Al Jolson, was released, and films changed forever. Recording sound was technically difficult and clumsy at first, and this is pretty much the basis of “Singin' in the Rain”. I’ll talk more about this in the “TO READ AFTER WATCHING” section below, so I don’t spoil any of the fun of this film for first time viewers.
“Singin' in the Rain” was co-directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. Stanley Donen was a very successful Hollywood director, who has directed many classic films (several more will be suggested on this blog). He died in 2019.
Gene Kelly, along with co-directing “Singin' in the Rain”, is the star and choreographer of the film. He is one of the greatest onscreen dancers of all time (along with Fred Astaire, who we’ll also watch and discuss), and is one of Hollywood’s greatest talents. In this film he plays film star “Don Lockwood”. Kelly was known for combining his athletic dancing style with classical ballet, and he transformed and modernized the Movie Musical. He was very good looking, masculine, and had that “every man” quality about him. He was extremely likable and relatable, and even had a scar on his left cheek. His image helped change the public’s perceptions of male dancers. He was nominated for a "Best Actor" Oscar for the musical "Anchors Aweigh" in 1945, and won an honorary Academy Award in 1952, for his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film. That happened the year following the hugely innovative and award winning, "An American in Paris”, one of his other greatest musicals, in which he starred, choreographed, and directed a musical sequence. That film won a "Best Picture" Academy Award, and it will be added to this blog in the future. Gene Kelly is ranked number 15 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years...100 Stars” men's list of the "50 Greatest American Screen Legends”. A dancer, actor, director, singer, and more, he is without a doubt one of Hollywood’s most talented and great stars. He died in 1996, at the age of 83.
Debbie Reynolds, who plays “Kathy Selden”, who was only 19 at the time, and “Singin' in the Rain” was her first leading role, and it made her a major star. She was a former, “Miss Burbank” pageant winner, who did not know how to dance. She had to learn for this film and was taught by the best - Gene Kelly. She did a great job, as you will see in the film. She had a wholesome “girl-next-door” look, along with a no-nonsense attitude. She was a big star in the 1950s and 1960s, and more recently played Grace’s mother on the TV Sit-com “Will and Grace”. She was a favorite of the tabloid magazines, which were filled with stories of her husbands, divorces, and personal life. She was nominated for a “Best Actress” Oscar in 1964 for the musical, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown". Her daughter was actress and writer, Carrie Fisher (best known as “Princess Leia” in the “Star Wars” films), who died unexpectedly on December 27, 2016. Debbie, who told her son on that day, “I want to be with Carrie”, died the very next day, on December 28, at 84 years old.
Donald O’Connor, who plays “Cosmo Brown”, was a musical and comedy star, mostly in the 1940s and 50s. He was a top notch tap dancer, and what used to be called a “hoofer” (a true, serious dancer). He worked until the late 1990s, mostly doing television. His musical number “Make ‘Em Laugh”, part of which was improvised, is one of movie musical’s all-time classic scenes (as is Gene Kelly’s “Singin' in the Rain” from this film as well).
Jean Hagen, who is brilliant as “Lina Lamont”, was nominated for a "Best Actress in a Supporting Role" Academy Award for her role in "Singin' in the Rain”, and she just about steals every scene she's in. An actress with quite a range, her performance in this film is her best remembered role, and a departure from most parts she played. She worked from 1949, up until her early death in 1977. She was 54 years old.
Cyd Charisse, in my opinion the greatest of the female onscreen dancers, appears in “Singin' in the Rain” in the “Broadway Melody” musical number. Our first look at her begins with her famous legs which seem to go on for days. She also dances in the “veil” section which looks so simple, but was very complicated to do, requiring strong wind machines timed to make the fabric go in the directions they wanted at the exact times. It paid off, as it is magical to watch. Cyd came from a ballet background, and “Singin' in the Rain” made her a star. Known for her long legs, she graced many important Movie Musicals in the 1950s with her presence several of which will be on this blog. She stopped dancing in the late 1950s with the decline of the Movie Musical, but continued to appear in films in the 1960s, and later in television. She was married to her second husband, singer Tony Martin, for 60 years, up until her death in 2008. I had the luck of meeting her twice, and she was very nice and a real class act.
Another actress to point out, who has a very tiny role in “Singin' in the Rain”, is Rita Moreno. She is seen in two scenes as “Zelda Zanders”, a flapper screen star. Rita would later become a very big star, winning a “Best Supporting Actress” Academy Award for her role in the musical, “West Side Story”, which will be recommended on this blog. I will talk more about Rita at that time.
The gorgeous costumes in this film were by one of the great Hollywood costume designers, Walter Plunkett. Other notable films he designed costumes for include the masterpiece,“Gone With the Wind”.
They don’t make movies like this anymore. It is a feast for the ears, the eyes, and the heart. Enjoy "Singin' in the Rain” - a film bound to put you in a good mood!
YOU CAN STREAM OR BUY THE FILM ON AMAZON:
OTHER PLACES YOU CAN BUY THE FILM: Ebay Deep Discount
TO READ AFTER VIEWING (contains spoilers):
BRIEF INFORMATION ABOUT THE TRANSITION FROM SILENT TO SOUND
The Silent Film Era (approximately 1913 through 1928) is considered by many to be the “Golden Age” of cinema. Directors during that period were inventive and creative with the technology of the time, so much so, that many films from the Silent Era are among the most artistic films ever made. Film is a visual medium, and early filmmakers certainly exploited that in a most creative way. Their discoveries unknowingly created the tools and techniques still used in making films today, including editing, cross cutting, close-ups, tracking shots, dissolves, panning, slow motion, special effects, and so much more.
Along with silent films, the first movie stars were born: Theda Bara, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, William Haines, Marion Davies, Lon Chaney, Ramon Novarro, John Barrymore, Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, Rudolph Valentino, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, William S. Hart, Lillian Gish, Louise Brooks, John Gilbert, the list goes on and on. They were household names worldwide, among the most famous people on earth at the time, and we’ll be seeing some of their work in the coming weeks. Seeing as there was no spoken dialogue in silent films, there was a wide range of acting styles - everything from broad over-the-top pantomime, to a more subtle style in which was all about the eyes.
Keep in mind that while the actual films themselves were silent (there was no sound track), when these films were shown to audiences they were accompanied by anything from a live piano or organ in smaller theaters, to a live symphony in larger ones.
The 1928 film, “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson, is noted as being the first “talking” picture. It was the first time an audience heard and saw someone sing and speak on film. Many thought sound would just be a craze and fade away, but it didn’t. More and more sound films started to be released, and sometimes studios would even release a silent and a sound version of the same film. Sound recording technology was very cumbersome at first, and as a result, the earliest sound films were often stiff and limited in their shots.
The coming of sound had a major effect on actors. It ended the careers of many huge movie stars for various reasons. In silent films, actors could (and would) emote to live music and directions being shouted from the director while actual filming was taking place. Suddenly no more live music to emote by, no more directors guiding them while performing, and suddenly they had dialogue. Many felt limited and stiffened by it. Another costly effect on actors, was that before sound, unbeknownst to audiences, many stars were from foreign lands and had thick accents. This created problems for many actors. You couldn’t have a cowboy with a German accent, for instance. And even if an actor or actress didn't have an accent, sometimes their voice didn’t match their image, and audiences didn't take to hearing them speak (as personified in the "Lina Lamont" character in "Singin' in the Rain”).
The scenes in “Singin' in the Rain” about the advent of sound are pretty true to form. It is even said that the kissing “I love you” scene is a parody of “His Glorious Night”, one of John Gilbert’s first sound films. John Gilbert was a major silent film star, and one of many that did not survive the sound era.