#5 “Singin’ in The Rain”
Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Screenplay: Adolf Green, Betty Comden
Stars: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen
Original Release Date: 11 April 1952
Oscars: None, two nominations . Seriously, only two. WTF.
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 100% Berardinelli: 4.0 stars (#44 All time)
Metacritic: n/a Ebert: 4.0 (Called it the best movie musical ever made)
IMDB Top 250: #86
Singin’ in the Rain is pure cinematic joy. It’s the ultimate feel good film; funny, sad, corny, sappy, peppered with the greatest song and dance routines ever committed to film. I am often asked what movies are close to the top of my list and when I mention this one, I am stunned how many people have not seen it. Here is a great film to see for the first time on Christmas Day.
At the time of its release in 1952, SITR was a moderate hit, receiving decent reviews and box office success. It was not hailed as a classic. But over time, it has aged perfectly and continues to entertain. It has become the defining movie of its genre.
The movie takes place in 1927 at the dawn of the talkie, the greatest revolution ever in film. Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a former vaudeville performer who has made it big as a romantic silent film lead with Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). Don is slick and polished and cool and Lina is smart as a ham sandwich. The big problem is that talking films are coming and Lina, when she speaks, sounds as pleasant as a dental drill.
The film was pieced together and plundered from songs and sets in the studio’s archives and many don’t realize that most of the songs, including the title are reworks of earlier songs.
Gene Kelly and co-star Donald O’Connor were veterans of Song and Dance, but the demure, perky Debbie Reynolds as the love interest Kathy was not. She trained with the her male leads for months, only 19 at the time, and was soon able to go toe to toe with them, especially in the number “Good Morning”.
The dance routines are breath taking and to this day, awe-inspiring. Fit as a Fiddle, Moses Supposes and Good Morning are a combination of jaw dropping tap and acrobatics that have never been duplicated. But it’s Kelly’s splashing heedless joy of the Singin’ in the Rain and Donald O’Connor’s Make ‘em Laugh that are arguably the two best song and dance routines every filmed.
Make’em Laugh is O’Connor singing, dancing, contorting his face, climbing walls and pulling off tricks that defy the imagination. Its one of those scenes that you can watch 10 times in row and never it will never grow old. As Roger Ebert pointed out, it was painstakingly rehearsed but it looks like he is making it up as he goes along.
The endearing love story is timeless. But the laughs come from the movie within a movie and a desperate Lockwood and hapless Lamont try to make their first talkie. Lina is so unskilled that she cannot remember where microphones are hidden.
I went back and forth a lot on which musical I wanted to place higher on my list, this or West Side Story (#8). My attachment to West Side Story is largely sentimental. It is by all measures a great film but takes a back seat here.
If you are a lover of film, song, dance, comedy, romance or just feeling good, then this is your movie.
Cosmo: “Lina, she can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat.”
Donald O’Connor was a four pack a day smoker at the time this movie was filmed. Make ‘em Laugh was such an exhausting experience he was bed ridden for three days. Technical problems led to the destruction of the film and the scene had to be reshot. O’Connor said that by the end of the second shoot, “my feet and ankles were a mass of bruises”.
The dance sequence for Singing in the Rain took an entire day to set up. Gene Kelly who was sick at the time, insisted on doing a take. He improvised almost all it and that first take was the only one shot and it is what you see in the movie.
Voted 4th greatest film of all time by Sight and Sound Magazine (considered the definitive 10 Best list) and 5th by the American Film Institute.
Only two songs, Make ‘em Laugh and Moses Supposes were written for the film. All others were pulled from archives and the screenwriters wrote the story around the existing songs. Even Make’em Laugh is largely considered a re-write of “Be a Clown” from The Pirate (1948).
Largely unappreciated at the time of its release, it was nominated for only two Oscars and it did not appear on any critics Top 10 List of 1952.