Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Review by BP Flanagan @manlikeflan

Directed by

Gene Kelly Stanley Donen

Starring

Debbie Reynolds Donald O'Connor Gene Kelly

Anticipation.

So ingrained in pop culture, this re-release can hardly offer anything new.

Enjoyment.

So moment to moment perfect that it’s like I’ve left my body.

In Retrospect.

Gotta dance!

Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s timeless musical remains an effervescent, life-affirming wonder.

Hollywood is always in a state of duress. Before our current anxieties about the industry’s death at the hands of streaming, it was 3D. Before that, television, 3D again, and the Daddy of them all: sound. It’s hard to believe that what takes up half of our sensory experience with film could be seen as its death knell, but that anxiety is exactly what Singin’ in the Rain pokes fun at, brilliantly as ever on this re-release.

Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s musical – worshipped by lovers of the genre, lionised by greatest film polls, referenced so often in pop culture that it’s as familiar as our heartbeat – still possesses the power to impress. Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks type, who falls for Debbie Reynolds’ aspiring thespian Cathy, avoids his venomous co-star Lina Lamont, and hangs out with his best friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor). They deal with the challenges of the transition to sound in a number of comic set pieces centred on elocution, mic placement, and mimicry.

The toying with sound makes the viewer constantly aware of sound sources, from tap dancing shoes to megaphones and rustling leaves, to who gets to speak and when. Donen and Kelly bury their sound style deep within the film’s mechanism so that the theme is more than a plot diversion to take us to the next song. Those tunes, mostly cribbed from the early sound era, were the genesis of the film. Mega-producer Arthur Freed wanted a way to keep the MGM catalogue in use, and ordered a script from writing duo behind On The Town, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It’s a precursor to the Jukebox Musical.

In the Musical genre, songs either drive the plot forward, or pause on a feeling. Here, it’s the latter, music bursting from nowhere. With songs like ‘Moses Supposes’ and ‘Good Morning’, Kelly and Donan celebrate the sensation of feeling gassed. Gassed about living your dreams. Gassed about spending time with your best friends. When Don and Cosmo play human buckaroo by piling assorted pieces of furniture on an elocution specialist, while they tap dance in perfect synchronisation, it’s a Looney Tunes moment that would defy the laws of physics if not captured in a single master shot. No wonder Kelly and Jerry mouse made such good dance partners in Anchors Aweigh.

Their joy presents an interesting contrast with the characters on the fringes. Someone’s always excluded from Hollywood, and that’s what makes petulant, squeaky-voiced Lina Lamont so much more than the one-note gag that she initially seems to be. The humour increasingly comes at her expense, for her daring to hold back Don and Kathy from their OTP. When Don teams up with the Studio Boss to bring her down, the butt of the joke is the insecure actress. Singin’ in the Rain is the quintessential primer on the way Hollywood was, even in the way that it glosses over the less fortunate. We don’t get access to other side of tinseltown, Peg Entwhistle throwing herself off the Hollywood sign when she didn’t ‘make it’.

These questions add another dimension to the already dense filmmaking. The ‘Beautiful Girl’ montage features some of the most genuinely avant-garde visuals you’ll ever see in a Hollywood film. It takes the kaleidoscopic patterns of Busby Berkeley musicals and animates them with cut-out body parts and plastic colours. And then there’s Don Lockwood’s goosebump-inducing conception of a candy coloured ‘Broadway Melody’ featuring plenty of flapper dancers and an extraordinary, Cyd Cherisse featuring dream within a dream. This effervescent, life-affirming cinema remains an antidote to any ailment, illness, or woes about the state of Hollywood.

Published 17 Oct 2019

Tags: Gene Kelly

Anticipation.

So ingrained in pop culture, this re-release can hardly offer anything new.

Enjoyment.

So moment to moment perfect that it’s like I’ve left my body.

In Retrospect.

Gotta dance!

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