Few films make me feel as truly, deeply happy, as 1952’s Singin’ In The Rain. Easily one of my all time favourites – probably somewhere within my top ten – it’s a total joy to watch from beginning to end, and is my go-to film for when I’m ill, or just in general need of cheering up. Having recently revisited the picture on its crisp and colourful transfer to Blu-Ray, now felt like a good a time as any to write about why I think it’s not only the greatest musical ever made, but why it’s one of the best films ever made.
For me, one of the reasons Singin’ In The Rain is so appealing, is that it is about one of my main passions in life – cinema. Telling the story about a group of silent film stars, who have to make the transition into talkies – the biggest change to the medium since it came into being – it may take a sharp and satrical look into the world of ego filled celebrity, but it also portrays the real life fears and technical problems that most studios faced during the time.
One of the movies most wondeful and most hilarious sequences – of which there are a vast amount – is the moment where Don Lockwood (a career best Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (played by the purposefully grating, but nevertheless fabulous Jean Hagen) shoot their first all speaking feature, The Dueling Cavalier. Lamont, struggling to remember to talk into the hidden microphone, causes the director of the feature great frustration, to our amusement.
It’s a brilliant scene, that has become more funny with the passing of time, as the technical advancements in the film industry today, make the big metal microphones hidden in bushes seem even more laughable. As perfect as this sequence is though, it turns out to be just the set-up for the punchline, which occurs during The Dueling Cavalier’s premier, in which we see the resulting mess get laughed at for all of its crude sound work. As each technical error after the other occurs, reaching its pinnacle once the film and sound become out of sync, I’m usually at the point of proper guttural laughs. Yet, there’s still that underlying truth about the technological trials and tribulations that come with film-making, which gives the film a knowing edge.
What I think elevates Singin’ In The Rain over other musicals, is primarily the large amount of laughs running through it. From the very beginning, when we’re introduced to Lockwood and Lamont at a premiere, and Lockwood begins to recount the story of his rise to fame, we quite clearly see that what he says happened and what actually happened are two different things; it quickly becomes apparent that the film has a wicked sense of humour, that rather intelligently sees the actors take the piss out of themselves and the falseness of their profession.
In a way, this makes Singin’ In The Rain seem years ahead of its time – a self referential, fourth wall breaking musical, that works on multiple levels. Of course, it’s difficult to talk about the comedy in the picture without mentioning Donald O’Connor, who makes up one third of the film’s leading threesome with Gene Kelly, and the terrific Debbie Reynolds.
Whilst his co-stars play it somewhat straight, O’Connor is given free reign to be as silly as he likes and is one of the many highlights in the film. Everytime he’s on screen, it’s impossible not to laugh as he gets some of the scripts best lines, but more than that, it’s the remarkable control of his facial features, as well as his masterful physicality that make his performance such a joy to watch.
Even though there are reports from the set that O’Connor and Kelly didn’t really get on – O’Connor apparently thought Kelly was a bit of a tyrant – you would never guess it while watching the film. The two actors have a great chemistry, especially when their act is rounded out by Reynold. When they’re together, they’re such a great cinematic triple threat that it’s hard to imagine any tensions, but then it would appear that there’s a lot about Singin’ In The Rain that isn’t what it seems.
Other than the comedy, Singin’ In The Rain has some great songs, as well as dance numbers to go along with the laughs. Watching the film, I’m always taken aback by the dance routines and how effortless the cast make it all seem. I struggle to do half hour on the treadmill at the gym, yet Kelly, Connor and Reynolds make the tapping and jumping around in suits and heels, look like a walk in the park.
Stories from the set reveal the blood, sweat and tears that went into these sequences though. Debbie Reynolds was supposedly made to cry when Kelly insulted her dancing skills, or rather lack of. After the Good Morning sequence, Reynolds actually burst some blood vessels in her feet, and had no choice but to be carried into her dressing room in agony.
That fantastic trick O’Connor does in the Make Em’ Laugh number, which sees him run up a wall and do a somersault, looks ridiculously easy to the point where I think I could do it – I probably won’t attempt it though. O’Connor actually ended up bed ridden for a week after performing the stun, exhausted and carpet burnt. What was perhaps more painful for the actor though, was the fact that he had to do it all again after an accident ruined the original footage.
Gene Kelly himself was very ill the day they were to shoot the film’s most famous scene, where he dances, and indeed sings in the rain. With an extremely high temperature, the leading man worked through his illness to shoot the scene in one take, and watching it today, you’d never even guess he was suffering.
The fact that these scenes were so physically demanding of the performers, yet they never even seem to break into a sweat, is just part of the film’s magic. I suppose it all goes back to what Don Lockwood says at the beginning of the film – “Dignity. Always Dignity”.
Whilst the music in Singin’ In The Rain really speaks for itself – although many people have mistakenly assumed that the title song was made for this, when it was actually its sixth big-screen outing since 1929 – one aspect of the film that really blows me away, every single time I watch it, is just how good it looks.
It may be a story based around sound in the movies and as a musical, the music is important – but it’s a highly visual piece of cinema that is as stunning to watch, as it is enjoyable to listen to. It’s vibrancy is almost overwhelming at times, especially in the movie’s massive final number, Broadway Melody, which has your eyes darting around the screen as they frantically try to take it all in.
It’s the softer moments that really stand out though, as Lockwood begins his courtship of Kathy in the comfortable surroundings of a film set. With the ‘mist from the nearby mountains’ and a backdrop of a false backdrop of a purple sky, Singin’ In The Rain achieves one of its most beautiful moments throughout the film – perhaps only topped by the ballet dance toward the end of the picture, which makes a return to the purple colour scheme.
Is it any wonder why I love Singin’ In The Rain as much as I do? Not only is it visually alluring, with stunning costumes to go with it, but it boasts a huge catalouge of memorable, toe-tapping musical numbers. What I really love though, is that if you were to take away the songs and dances, you’d still have a decent comedy leftover.
Singin’ In The Rain is an all-singing, all-dancing, laugh-a-minute, musical masterpiece, that transports you to a time when cinema wasn’t all doom and gloom, but an opportunity for pure escapism. A perfect storm of humour, song, and dance, it’s the film’s vibrancy and good natured fun that has made it stand the test of time, and hopefully, it’ll be enjoyed by generations to come.