VINTAGE REVIEW: Singin' in the Rain




Today, NCM Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies were teaming up for special screenings for the classic film Singin' in the Rain.  The event is in honor of the 1952 film's 60th anniversary and its first release on Blu-ray disc coming next Tuesday.  Locations across the country screened the film twice, a 2:00pm matinee and 7:00pm evening show.  The special screening was accompanied by a brief retrospective interview with Debbie Reynolds hosted by TCM personality and host Robert Osborne offering behind-the-scenes reflections and some history on the film's production and acclaim.

I was lucky enough to attend today's special event through press passes courtesy of NCM Fathom Events.  It was my first time seeing this beloved musical and I was not disappointed.  Here's my "vintage review," life lessons and all for Singin' in the Rain.  Co-directed and starring Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain is commonly regarded as the greatest Hollywood movie musical.  It topped the American Film Institute's list of movie musicals and was most recently their #5 overall greatest film of all-time.  

I completely agree and they will get no complaint from me.  I'm not a movie musical guy AT ALL, but I couldn't help but be immensely entertained by this film.  Co-starring Donald O'Connor and then 18-year-old newcomer Debbie Reynolds, the film started out as a mild success that saw its greatness and reverence grow with time.  That iconic imagery of Gene Kelly twirling, tapping, stomping, and splashing around lamp posts, puddles, and night sidewalks while crooning the title song is fixed in Hollywood legend, but the film has a lot more going on than just that one song-and-dance number.

Set in during Hollywood's feverish transition from silent films to "talkies" in the late 1920's, Gene Kelly plays silent film star Don Lockwood.  Rising through the ranks as a background musician and a stuntman with his best buddy Cosmo Brown (the incredibly comedic O'Connor), Lockwood has become a leading man contracted and attached to actress Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen).  She's a high-pitched floozy of a leading lady that plays up their supposed "romance" together in the public eye.  They two feed off of and play up their stardom every chance they get, for the good of business working for studio boss R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell).

Feeling in a bit of career rut playing the same pantomime ham of an actor in silent films, Don's self image and talent gets challenged by a straight-talking young singer-dancer-actress, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), who doesn't think much of him.  Meeting a woman that really tests him catches his eye and they soon become a item, much to the dislike of Lina who was shown up and humiliated once by Kathy.  

While Don and Lina attempt to shoot their latest movie in full sound for the first time, poor technology and Lina's high pitched voice cause the film to flop with audiences at an advance screening.  Needing a quick turnaround fix for the film and their careers, Don and Cosmo plot to get Kathy's career her big break and save the picture.  They convince the director to replace Lina's dialogue and singing with Kathy's and getting her full screen credit.

It's from these steps in Don and Cosmo's friendship, the movie-making process, and the growing romance between Don and Kathy that Singin' in the Rain's brilliant musical numbers are weaved into the story and jump off of the screen.  Co-director Stanley Donen (On the Town, Funny Face, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Charade) and Gene Kelly masterfully blend the songs of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown into their movie-within-a-movie.  Those great songs (the great title track, Make 'Em Laugh, Moses Supposes, Good Morning, Broadway Melody Ballet, and many more) are what gets remembered first forSingin' in the Rain, but many forget that there's a legitimate movie going on underneath, with drama, humor, and artistic merit.

The performances are amazing across the board, from the leads to the little role players in between.  Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor are incredible dancers but they also carry great acting and screen presence outside of the singing and dancing.  Debbie Reynolds will catch your eye as well as she catches Gene's in the movie.  Singin' in the Rain is nothing short of a performance miracle when you consider all of the physical talent required to play these roles.  They don't make actors and actresses this talented anymore.  I don't care how good you think contemporaries like Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Lopez sing, act, and dance.  They can't compete on the scale of the Singin' in the Rain trio.  

Current movie fans will see a lot of influence this film had on Best Picture winner The Artist and Jean Dujardin's Best Actor character from last winter.  Where some movie musicals stop their plot for prescribed song-and-dance numbers, I was constantly impressed by how well those pieces fit with the flow of the movie being told alongside the musical in Singin' in the Rain.  

I was also impressed by how unique each set piece was.  From the classic title song to the flowing veil of Cyd Charisse and the vaudeville moves of Donald O'Connor, each scene captures your eyes as well as your ears like few movie experiences ever have and possibly ever will.  The full color and sound restoration undertaken by Warner Brothers is perfectly suited for Singin' in the Rain's upcoming first-time release on Blu-ray next week.

LESSON #1: THE IMPACT OF THE TRANSITION FROM SILENT FILMS TO "TALKIES"-- With the breakthrough of the full sound of The Jazz Singer in 1927, the sweeping technological change that hit Hollywood had a huge impact.  It started and ended careers.  Other than the introduction of color soon after, no change has ever hit Hollywood so dramatically since.   

LESSON #2: DIGNITY, ALWAYS DIGNITY-- Don Lockwood's personal motto and mantra that he lives by as an actor and star also represents something all of the film's character either value and strive to maintain or lack and seek to earn.  The parallels of tabloids then and those now, amped up today by television like TMZ and internet bloggers, are clearly seen.  Dignity may seem old-fashioned or impossible to maintain, but it's worth striving for in the public eye and for personal legacy.

LESSON #3: THE TROUBLE OF HOLLYWOOD GOSSIP AND RELATIONSHIPS-- Speaking of tabloids, call it public curiosity or wishful thinking, but supposed Hollywood relationships pop up all the time, especially among movie co-stars, both then and now.  In Singin' in the Rain, the studio feeds false buzz about a non-existent romantic connection between Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont to sell more tickets.  Whether the relationships between co-stars are real (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton shared 11 films together), fake (people always hoped for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan), or scandalous (Angelina Jolie stealing Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston during Mr. and Mrs. Smith), the gossip is endless and nauseating.

LESSON #4: GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE-- Connected to the dignity and self image of Lesson #2, each of the actor and actress characters in Singin' in the Rain are out to get their credit as stars in their own way.  Don wants legitimacy as more than a silent film star.  Cosmo comedically gets credit for helping the film more and more.  Kathy wants credit for her singing work, while Lina wants to steal it.  Humility to not need recognition is fine and dandy, but, at this level, people should get due credit for their hard work.