Tuesday, December 3, 2013

CMBA Film Passion 101 Blogathon: "Singin' in the Rain"

I was 10 years old when I remember seeing Gene Kelly for the first time, and I was not impressed.

It was 1967, and Kelly was the star of a musical TV version of "Jack and the Beanstalk," and he was just so ... so ...smarmy. I felt like he was talking down to me, and I was 10! Besides, I was much too sophisticated for a story like "Jack and the Beanstalk," musical or no. "The Monkees" and "Batman" were more my speed.

Soon after that I had the opportunity to see "Singin' in the Rain" for the first time, and I was skeptical.

Another musical with Gene Kelly? Puh-leeze.

But this was at a time in my life when I was starting to pay attention to what people considered good movies and why, and also starting to recognize performers, so I gave it a shot.

In many ways, "Singin' in the Rain" was an introduction for me -- an introduction to big-studio moviemaking, an introduction to what Hollywood was like in the late 1920s and an introduction (or a re-introduction) to the greatness of Gene Kelly. This movie alone didn't spur my interest in film history, but it was one of the things that helped ignite it. I knew "Singin' in the Rain" wasn't a documentary by any means, but I also realized that there were real stories behind this one and I wanted to learn more. I'm still learning.

Beyond that, on a purely emotional level, "Singin' in the Rain" radiates joyousness and unlimited possibility. It's a perfect fit for Kelly's athletic, exuberant dancing style. He's Don Lockwood, joyous star of silent movies, making a mint on routine swashbuckler films that don't particularly tax his talent. He rose through vaudeville, performing in tank towns with his pal Cosmo (Donald O'Connor) before coming to Hollywood:



(Gene Kelly never had a better dancing partner than Donald O'Connor.)

When sound movies enter the picture, Don's secure screen persona is jeopardized, and for the first time, really, his ability is tested. Also being tested by the transition, and failing, is Don's screen lover Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), whose voice shatters microphones and whose egomania is positively Kardashian-ian ("I make more money than Calvin Coolidge -- put together!"). Starlet Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) is hired to dub Lina's voice, and she and Don fall in love.

The film's script, by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, is incisive and funny, and even more of a wonder when you consider what they were given to work with -- reportedly, producer Arthur Freed just told them to write a movie called "Singin' in the Rain" and to include all his songs. "All we knew," Comden said later, "was there would be some scene where someone would be singing, and it would be raining."

And as good as the script is, "Singin' in the Rain" tells its story almost exclusively through the musical numbers directed and choreographed by Kelly and Stanley Donen. Think about it -- "Good Morning," "You Are My Lucky Star," "Make 'Em Laugh," "Singin' in the Rain" and the "Broadway Melody" ballet, which introduced the 10-year-old me to Cyd Charisse and moved my puberty up by at least a year.

And then there's my favorite scene in the movie, the only dance number in film history built around an elocution lesson:



If you don't have a smile on your face when you watch that, I don't want to know you. You can see the friendly competition between Kelly and O'Connor -- you have to believe that dancing with each other made them both better.

Released in the shadow of Kelly's Oscar-winning "An American in Paris," "Singin' in the Rain" didn't get much attention when it was released in 1952. But it's a more streamlined movie, with genuine comedy and iconic moments. Just show the still of Kelly, with an umbrella, on a lamppost to someone and ask them what movie it comes from -- they'll tell you it comes from the movie with the scene where someone would be singing, and it would be raining.

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for the fun memories. And I think Kardasian-ian should be the word of the week!

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  2. David,

    SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is one of my top musicals of all time along with WEST SIDE STORY and ON THE TOWN. I love your comparison of Lina Lamont to the Kardashiansl but to be honest, I think that is being really harsh on Ms. Lamont! Thanks for sharing this look back. good stuff!

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  3. I can't say I blame you on Kelly's smarminess-- despite his skill, he can be hard to warm up to sometimes. But Singin in the Rain was often played in our household growing up, and converting people to its joys have been a longtime goal. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. A couple of years ago I saw "Singin' in the Rain" at a jam-packed theatre with an audience of fans laughing together and clapping together. The best part was afterward seeing a young woman smiling as her boyfriend said "I didn't think I would like it, but what a great movie!" Gene and the gang worked their magic again.

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  5. Gene's dance in the rain must be one of the most iconic of all celluloid musical numbers (even if people don't know the movie as you noted). However, for me, the best part of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is Donald O'Connor. He is such a good comedian that many people--inlcuding me when I was younger--are surprised to learn he was also a dancer (Danny Kaye experienced a similar problem). But, as proven in the clip you included, he could hoof it with the best!

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  6. Wonderful memories! Personally, I have always been a defender of Lina, but that's another story. Love your comment about Cyd Charisse and your - ahem - maturity! You couldn't have picked a better film to be enchanted by - not only is it perfection as a 1950s musical, it also pays tribute to that important era when sound took over.

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  7. I adore this movie. Last year I was able to see it on the big screen and it was FA-BU-LOUS!

    Jean Hagen is my fave character, but my fave scene is the "Singin' in the Rain" dance number. I love the way Gene Kelly OWNS the set in that scene.

    A wonderful tribute. Thanks for sharing these memories with us. :)

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  8. What a great post, David. Absolutely beautifully written. (As always.)

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  9. You remind me that it was the "Singin' in the Rain" sequence in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN that warmed me up to Mr. Kelly. That has to be the most joyous singing and dancing ever recorded on film. It makes me want to go out and dance in the pouring rain, and I hate pouring rain.

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  10. Another wonderful post! Agree with you that O'Connor paired with Kelly made them both better, which is astounding. LOVE the poster you chose to feature. "Fit as a Fiddle" is absolutely wonderful as is "Moses Supposes," but the latter seems to get most of the attention. When the two do that crouched-step seqeunce in "Fiddle" my mouth always drops open.

    I'm a huge fan of MGM musicals but have to say I never connected with SIINGIN' IN THE RAIN as I did several others. However, I had the opportunity to see it in a theater last year and it struck a cord it never had before. I laughed till I cried!

    Really enjoyed reading this.

    Aurora

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  11. Singin' in the Rain is the greatest movie musical of them all...and the reason for this is because it's a musical about movies. (Anyone who disagrees with my statement that it's not the greatest movie musical...I shall simply have to ask you to step out aside.)

    Wonderful write-up, David. First-rate.

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  12. "If you don't have a smile on your face when you watch that, I don't want to know you. "

    Ha! My sentiments exactly!

    "so ...smarmy."
    Yes, sometimes he can be. But a minor flaw in an otherwise great performer. You're the first to admit that who is also a fan, I think. :)

    Cheers,

    Java

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  13. David,
    While I'm not the biggest fan of musicals, I can see why you would enjoy SITR and become a fan of the genre after seeing the brilliance of Kelly.

    I have a Kelly bio sitting on my shelve that you just reminded me that I need to read. I'm quite interested in learning more about this talented man's life.

    A fun read as always, David
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