Film review, by Jason Day, of Singin’ in the Rain, the classic musical about Hollywood during the switch from silent to sound movies. Starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.
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Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) has risen through the ranks of silent Hollywood, from a stuntman to a leading star, usually co-starring with the beautiful Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) and accompanied by his ever faithful, piano playing pal Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor).
Off-screen, he loathes Lamont who is precious and bitchy but carries a flame for him. She also has a dreadful, squawking ‘Noo Yawk’ accent that looks set to derail both of their careers as Hollywood becomes ‘wire for sound.’
A chance meeting with singer/dancer Cathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) sparks his own personal interest in the new medium and all of its possibilities. But how does he deal with Lamont, who threatens legal action if Cathy doesn’t voice double for her?
Review, by @Reelreviewer
It’ll never amount to a thingSupporting character on the novelty of sound cinema in Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
They said that about the horseless carriageCosmo (Donald O’Connor) responding to the above statement.
Long-held to be one of the finest Hollywood musicals from the classic period of musicals (1930’s – early 1950’s), this peppy piece from the dream team of Stanley Donen (director/choreographer), Arthur Freed (producer) and Gene Kelly (star/co-director/choreographer) never ceases to dazzle and entertain.
Anyone who has read my reviews will know that my cinematic heaven is silent cinema and musicals are my hell. So watching Singin’ in the Rain – a fun and frothy piece that, rather brazenly, celebrates the end of the silent film in glorious technicolour and a riot of song and dance, was always going to be problematic for me.
Although I appreciate the merits of some of the classic period – A Star is Born (1954) and My Fair Lady (1964) are lavish and, thankfully, mostly dramatic – and recent blockbusters such as La La Land 2016 and The Greatest Showman (2017) are lush and lyrically whip-smart.
Overall, I loved Singin’ in the Rain. I enjoyed it.
The music, the whopping, gorgeous cinematography from Harold Rossen, the perfect dancing, the sweet and endearing performances – it’s all stunning. There’s nothing to reproach there.
But despite all of its multitudinous merits Singin’ in the Rain, with its frequent and rather innacurate digs at silent cinema, seems more like a sarcastic satire – Stingin’ in the Rain, if you will.
Yes, it is on target with some of its swipes – the melodramatic titles of the films, the hysterical reactions of fans when their stars arrive, the laughter from audiences as they hear the strange voices of their idols that don’t match studio PR and their own fantasies – but silent film wasn’t all dodgy, archaic cinematic practise.
No, actors didn’t emote with hand flailing, eye rolling frenzy (most in the 1920’s were skilled enough to underplay the camera), the camera wasn’t always rooted to the ground (mobile camera existed and was used effectively; cross-cut editing also helped create the illusion of movement) and there were deeply serious and avante garde films were released, especially in Europe.
It’s as if it’s saying “Up yours, silent cinema”!
The film goes on! “Acting is all about words!” screams an incorrect and naive Cathy as she grooms Don away from the pleasures of the silent screen, referencing Shakespeare and Ibsen.
Put it down to the folly and energy of her youth but no – you are wrong! Acting, especially cinematic acting which, at this point in history, was not filmed theatre but something very different – is also about the movement and intonation of face and body.
The closeness of the film set and camera more than the distant stage are able to fully capture those tiny gesticulations and expressions, to show and record the intense, hidden emotional range that audiences in theatres generally miss.
Cinema acting is more than words, Cathy, it always has been.
I don’t mean to get all Norma Desmond about this, but the silent cinema produced some towering achievements that still, even a hundred years or so since their initial release, stand the test of time. (You can see my blog site for more about these films). Was there anything wrong with silent screen?
At least Kelly has tumultuous charm in the lead role, as all three principles do. After all, there were no more acrobatic and aerobic dancer-actors in 1950’s Hollywood than he and Donald O’Connor.
Where Kelly is high on muscular, athletic, toothy-grinned charm, rubbery-faced, spring jointed, wall-walking O’Connor for me is the undoubted star of the show.
Reynolds is beyond cute and in perfect voice and the movie mad her a box office star at the age of 20. Apparently, during rehearsals for this movie, Reynolds danced for so long (from 8am to 11pm) that her feet bled. Her physician ordered her off set to recover, against the wishes of MGM doctors.
The much loved and oft imitated umbrella in the rain dance is still as cleverly arranged and entertaining as when the cameras first rolled.
Better yet is the incomparably smoky, smouldering Cyd Charisse (she of the mile long legs) in the ‘Gotta Dance’ number. This is sexiness in censorship bound cinema par excellence. Staged as a silent ballet, no dialogue, exaggerated physical acting – a stunning scene befitting the word ‘monumental’ of the producing studio’s name.
So, Singin’ In the Rain then – eschewing dialogue as it does here – is it a ‘musical silent film’?
Is it more respectful of its parent that I think?
A commemoration rather than assassination?
Although I will forever grumble about this, I leave the final analysis up to you!
Cast & credits
Directors: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly. 1hr 43mins/ 103mins. MGM. (U)
Producer: Arthur Freed.
Writers: Betty Comden, Adolphe Green.
Camera: Harold Rossen.
Music: Lennie Heyton.
Sets: Randall Duell, Cedric Gibbons.
Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse, Douglas Fowley, Rita Moreno.