Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Director: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
Cast: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell
Plot: Actor Don Lockwood and musician Cosmo Brown befriend young actress Kathy Selden – the three of them come up with an idea to save the upcoming production of a talkie that threatens to be an epic disaster.
In the light of recent events, by which I’m referring to the death of Debbie Reynolds, I thought it would be fitting to pay a tribute to this iconic actress by writing a review of one of the most well-known movies she’s starred in: Singin’ in the Rain. Spoiler alert: it’s one of my favourite films.
I’m not very enthusiastic about modern musicals but this one is an exception as it represents an example of classic Hollywood films that featured masterful performances and set the trend for following productions of the same genre.
Singin’ in the Rain is set at the end of the 1920s, specifically in 1927, which was a watershed moment in the history of cinema as it marked the introduction of sound in movies. The main character is Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), an actor who works for the fictional studio Monumental Pictures during the era of silent cinema. At the beginning of the film, it is revealed through a flashback that Don had to struggle to the top, and by the time the story starts he has become a star of the silent film industry in Hollywood with the support of his friend, musician Cosmo Brown (Donald O’ Connor) —who is also one of the main characters in the story. All of Don’s certainties about his career are put to the test when he meets young theatre actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), who openly criticises the industry and Don ‘s acting skills, which leads to Don being completely fascinated by the only woman who seems to be immune to his charm.
The film conveys the feel of a bygone era, with its fashion and music; most importantly it portrays the transition from silent movies to talkies through the predicament the actors of Monumental Pictures find themselves in when Simpson, the producer of the studios (Millard Mitchell), decides to produce a talkie (‘The Duelling Cavalier’) following a spurt of enthusiasm around the first experiments with sound. This leads to considerable trouble as the actress starring opposite Don – Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) – has a shrill voice which has gone unnoticed while she’s starred in silent films, but turns out to be a major setback in a talkie. As opposed to Lina, Kathy has a melodious singing voice – so much so that Don convinces her to dub Lina and turn the talkie into a musical.
I really appreciated the simple yet entertaining plot, as well as the singing and dancing that made for the main attraction of the film. The performance skills of the main cast were truly remarkable, particularly Reynolds’ soothing, melodious voice; not to mention Kelly, O’Connor and Reynolds’ musical numbers. Having said that, it is interesting to note how in some numbers Reynolds was actually dubbed. For instance, in the scene where we see Reynolds dubbing Lina in the Dancing Cavalier, the voice we hear is actually Betty Noyes’s — so we have Noyes dubbing Reynolds, who is in turn dubbing Lina.
Watching this film made me appreciate the well-rounded training and the versatile personalities the actors could boast. Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor made for a funny and entertaining duo – not to mention their dancing was perfectly choreographed and timed. Some of the most beloved songs featured in the film include Kelly’s performance of ‘Singing in the rain’ – while he is drenched and dancing in the street – and the catchy tongue-twister ‘Moses Supposes’. ‘Good Morning’, performed by Kelly, Reynolds, and O’Connor is also one of the gems of the film.
Classic Hollywood movies conveyed very clear messages, and this film was no different – it showed a clear-cut difference between the goodies and the baddies – or to be more precise in this case, between characters like Kathy (who is talented yet humble) and divas like Lina, who is a mediocre actress but self-involved, entitled and at times downright ridiculous. The film also showed a neat ‘they all lived happily ever after’ kind of ending, which could be considered a little cheesy and clichéd, but was nonetheless one of the merits of the film in my opinion – I must admit that sometimes I miss this kind of feel-good Hollywood movie, back when the characters portrayed a carefree and much more simple world. The film is considered the most successful musical in the United States and its musical score was nominated at The Academy Awards. Most of the songs featured in the movie were composed by Arthur Freed for previous pre-code films — specifically musical and romantic dramas — but were later used in ‘Singin’ in The Rain’. The status of this film in the American Film Industry is also proved by its nominations – such as the Academy Awards nomination as best Supporting Actress for Jean Hagen – and it is listed among the ‘Greatest 100 movies of all time’ by the AMC.
The great relevance this film has in the US film industry doesn’t surprise me and I think it is well deserved, so at a time like this where La La Land is the biggest critical hit on the planet and we’re all mourning the loss of Debbie Reynolds, I implore you to take a look back at this incredible film.
For all of these reasons and for its iconic status in American cinema, I give this movie a …