For the most part, I find musicals to be the goofy branch of film with flimsy plots interrupted by silly songs. Yet, in my eyes, there has been one musical I could only love from the start: Singin’ in the Rain. Now, what on earth made a sarcastic kid like me love Singin’ in the Rain? It was the iconic musical numbers and catchy tunes. It was Gene Kelly’s dance moves, Donald O’Connor’s one-liners, the sweet charm of Debbie Reynolds and how we love to hate Jean Hagen’s character. It had to be the whimsical and slapstick comedy that gets me laughing every time. And the depiction of the early film industry in transition captivated me and was my first introduction to film history.
After working his way up from the bottom with his friend Cosmo Brown (O’Connor), Don Lockwood (Kelly) is a big film star in Hollywood. He and his co-star, Lina Lamont (Hagen) let the papers believe they’re an item, but Don can’t stand her. While escaping his overly affectionate fans on the way to a party, Don meets Kathy (Reynolds), who scoffs that film acting is “making a bunch of dumb show” as she claims to be a real actress. However, she’s just a chorus girl, popping out a cake and all, but Don could help her make it into film.
As movies are being pushed from silent to sound, Don and Lina’s current picture is about to change. They and their director discover all the new challenges that come with bringing dialogue to a film, and it’s a great bit of comedy. Only, their film isn’t supposed to be a comedy, and Lina’s voice is shrill and meant for silent film. Don and his gang have to get inventive, turn the film into a musical and appease Lina along the way to save the film.
Though some of the musical numbers feel shoved in, I find them so enjoyable that I do not care. Good Mornin’ is just a happy tune I love to have stuck in my head. Moses is an oddly catchy way to make us appreciate the work of a diction coach. Others have such elaborate dance numbers and well designed sets that my eyes can’t keep up with my ears. And Singin’ in the Rain is the one scene and song that every musical film should strive to achieve.
Yes, I will talk about that unforgettable iconic scene. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you have to be familiar with the scene. After dropping Kathy off at home, and getting a great kiss at the door, Don decides to stroll home, despite the pouring rain. As a kid, I saw this and thought he was just weird or nuts, or didn’t mind getting wet, but now I understand that he’s just so happy and in love that no matter how many gallons of water are pouring down on you, it can’t bring you down. “Come on with the rain, I’ve a smile on my face!” If the lyrics don’t convey his happiness enough, the way he dances down the street will. It starts with just a casual stroll, swinging his umbrella and it gets bigger from there, clicking his heels in the middle of the street, swaying from the lamp post and splashing in big puddles like a nutty kid. And in the end he gives his umbrella to a man who will use it.
The Make ‘Em Laugh sequence is one of my all time favorites in any musical. O’Connor goes through a zany routine full of dancing, hilarious gags and some astoundingly physical comedy. For the full number he doesn’t slow down, twists his face in knots and spins in circles on the floor like Curly in The Three Stooges. But the kicker is his grand finale is when he runs up a wall and does a somersault, not once, but twice and then ends in a side splitting frenzy through a third wall.
At the Oscars, Singin in the Rain was not completely forgotten. It was nominated for best scoring for a musical picture and Jean Hagen was nominated for best supporting actress in her role as Lina. What I find funny is that in 1952 Singin’ in the Rain was counted out of the best picture race, but today considered one of the best films of all time, while The Greatest Show on Earth is often considered the most overrated best picture winner of all time.
When introducing kids to film history, Singin’ in the Rain is at the top of the list. All of the challenges about turning silent films into talkies are brought out in hilarious and memorable ways. There’s nothing like being able to have a fight while filming, as long as you can look happy and in love and then having a leading lady with the looks for film but a voice like a banshee.
“I don’t go to the movies much. If you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.”