It’s the best musical, or so they say. And they say a lot of things, I guess, but sometimes you have to admit that they’re probably right. Singin’ In The Rain slaps you in the face with its sheer exuberance from the get go, and it’s packed to the brim thereafter with wit, wonderfully-choreographed routines, infectious, upbeat performances (with great chemistry between the cast members to boot) and memorable songs, most of which were written by MGM producer Arthur Freed and his long-term writing partner Nacio Herb Brown. Many of those – including the title number – appeared in earlier Freed-produced musicals, so this film serves as a ‘greatest hits’ of sorts, though I’m fairly sure most (if not all) have benefitted here from the magic touch of the perma-grinning Gene Kelly – a man whose smile used to be viewable from deep space – as well as his effervescent and charismatic cohorts Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds.
There are four clear highlights: O’Connor’s slapstick run-through of Make ‘Em Laugh (an original number, though one that’s very similar to Cole Porter’s Be A Clown from an earlier Freed musical); the aforementioned trio peppily bouncing through Good Morning; the extended Broadway Melody, which is top quality filler for the fictional film that is being made in Singin’ In The Rain and top quality filler for Singin’ In The Rain itself; and finally the title routine, in which Kelly twirls his umbrella and latches onto lamposts in a downpour of milk and water. The actors always look full of energy and enthusiasm during these demanding scenes, so it’s hard to gauge just how much work they were putting in for each number, as it always looks like they’re fresh and on the first take when presumably that was not the case; Kelly famously had a fever when performing his most famous routine, but he looks as if he’s just had a great night’s sleep and completely convinces as a man who is giddy from the first flushes of love.
Hollywood loves nothing more than a picture about Hollywood, and typically this film celebrates the golden era of musicals through its hummable selections while also poking gentle fun at an even earlier period, prodding away at the star system, the contractual wranglings, the careful management of public image and the abilities of some of cinema’s most celebrated performers. For example look no further than poor old Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen): a silver screen star who is besotted with a man who doesn’t love her back, her career’s about to wind-down because we’re at that precise point when silent films transitioned into talkies, and her high-pitched, squealing voice is a no-no. The one disappointing aspect of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s story is that Lina doesn’t get to enjoy a happy ending, and is instead forced to flee a theatre after a very public humiliation. What happens to her? I’d hate to think of Lina guzzling a bottle of bourbon in a cavernous Beverly Hills mansion in the post-war years, and that’s entirely plausible. But the film doesn’t care about her and it doesn’t think we should care either, so it ends with Kelly’s aging actor Don Lockwood flashing a grin towards the new, younger female co-star. Yup, it’s Reynolds’ fresh-faced Kathy Selden who predictably takes Lina’s place, waltzing into her own ten or twenty years in the limelight. Oh, Hollywood.
Directed by: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen.
Written by: Betty Comden, Adolph Green.
Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse.
Cinematography: Harold Rosson.
Editing: Adrienne Fazan.
Music: Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown, .
Running Time: 103 minutes.