Singin’ in the Rain-1952
Director-Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Starring-Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds
Scott’s Review #874
Reviewed March 4, 2019
In the over-saturated field of musicals released during the mid-twentieth century Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is the one having most to do with the entertainment industry itself. The battle between the transition of silent pictures to “talkies” is the basis of the story, giving the film an important, along with a fun, subject matter. Likable stars and sing-along tunes make the film memorable and decidedly All-American, though perhaps not the greatest in the crowded musical field.
During the late 1920s, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a famous and well-regarded silent film star. His co-star and studio created romantic attachment are Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), an annoying and shallow leading lady with a harsh singing voice. As more successful “talkies” (films with sound) are produced Don finds himself smitten with musical chorus girl Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). The plot to dub Lina’s voice with Kathy’s leads to comical chaos and an idea to create a new musical amid a blossoming romance between Don and Kathy.
The fun and frolicking Singin’ in the Rain is lightweight but never silly nor superfluous thanks to the overriding message of the change in Hollywood priorities. Critically acclaimed from the get-go this is unsurprising since Hollywood loves stories about Hollywood especially since the film was made only a little more than two decades since sound-laden films overtook the world. Furthermore, in 1952 television was making its debut to legions of fans and the accessibility presented a serious threat to the cinema in general making the subject matter even more relevant.
Kelly and Reynolds make a nice enough pair, but I never thought they completely knocked it out of the park either from a chemistry perspective. One slight knock is the lack of any hurdles preventing the couple from an inevitable union. Lina is the clear foil and ultimately played for laughs so she is no serious threat. The plot-driven conflict involving Kathy’s initial dislike of Don because she values stage over film is cute, but ultimately revealed to be a sham since she has been a fan of his all along. Sure, the musical is a comedy, but better hurdles might have made for a more interesting story.
Nonetheless, Singin’ in the Rain is sheer pleasure and a largely non-threatening experience. The hi-jinks involved as the characters strive and struggle to put on their production are comical and Lina’s New York accent and shrill singing voice threaten to steal the show from the more grounded central characters. The musical numbers are a dream especially favorites like “Make ‘Em Laugh”, “Good Morning”, and the epic title song.
Through no fault of the film’s title musical number “Singin’ in the Rain” will forever not be associated with this film for me, but rather with the dark and cerebral A Clockwork Orange (1971). As the villain beats and rapes his victim by cheerily singing this tune the song will forever hold a much darker association for me.
The dramatic final act is the highlight as a lavish premiere of The Dancing Cavalier is unveiled to a live theater audience hungry for something good. When the crowd chomps at the bit for Lina to perform live the big reveal of Kathy being the truly talented singer is displayed a la the wizard in The Wizard of Oz style as Don and Kathy ultimately kiss and ride off into the sunset together in grand show biz fashion.
In the crowded genre of the 1950’s and 1960’s musical productions that ravaged American cinema at the time, I mostly choose to watch West Side Story (1961), Gypsy (1962), The Sound of Music (1965), and Oklahoma! (1955) for pleasure, but Singin’ in the Rain (1952), an earlier gem is worthy of value especially for the memorable musical soundtrack it offers. The story is light and harmless but also relevant and most importantly highly entertaining.
Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Jean Hagen, Best Scoring of a Musical Picture