Today! Because what do you think I am? Dumb or something?
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, Cyd Charisse, Millard Mitchell, Rita Moreno, Douglas Fowley, Kathleen Freeman, William Schallert (x3), Bobby Watson
The quintessential movie musical, Singin’ in the Rain is as damn near a perfect movie as was made in the 1950s, if you don’t mind all the singing and dancing. And as we’ve already covered, I’ve clearly got a thing for musicals – more of a thing than I previously knew existed in this bag of preferences and whims. The entirety of that decade only landed 14 movies on this list (if you include 1950, and not 1960 – decade rules, amiright?), which is one fewer than 1991 scored by itself, and that isn’t even the most honored year. Do I need to watch more films from the ’50s? Almost certainly. But also, did they just not make my kind of films in post-war America for a long time? Also probably true! Goddamn Eisenhower!
And as much as I enjoy a good breaking-into-song-for-little-apparent-reason in my cinematic dramas, the 1950s style of musical is largely too sound-stagey and carbon copy for me. Oklahoma and The King and I and that sort are fine, but they never feel even remotely authentic. What works for Singin’ in the Rain is that it’s a movie about movies (my beloved sub-genre), so the sound-staginess of it doesn’t detract. It’s also a period film – set in the late ’20s at the advent of sound in motion pictures – so it has that added layer of movie studio phoniness to camouflage the seams a little more. Musicals are always going to be somewhat unnatural – the only hope with a movie musical is to make it feel less like you’re in a live theater. Cinematic verisimilitude is considerably different for musicals than for virtually any other type of film.
But the other thing that really sells Singin’ in the Rain is the comedy – most musicals inherently know that the breaking up of the plot with songs is going to wreck momentum, enough so that full blown comedy as a plot is a massive, uphill fight. Think about it – how many really funny movie musicals can you think of? A couple, sure, but for the most part, there will only be some light jokes here and there, while the songs remain pretty serious. Even to go back to the era (roughly) – the Marx Brothers movies have tons of songs in them, but rarely are the songs funny, so they need to get the jokes back on track whenever those scenes end. Now, those movies aren’t really musicals in the same sense of the word – more often they are songs being sung by actors playing singers in the films (not exclusively, but most of the time), as opposed to a real musical, where otherwise normal characters break into song, and no one acknowledges this as strange behavior. Singin’ in the Rain is a musical, undoubtedly, but it also manages to deftly maintain a pure comic pace and story. The songs are almost incidental to the overall film – sure, the title number is amazing, but otherwise most of the memorable sequences in the film are the comic bits.
I mean, mostly. “Make ‘Em Laugh” is Donald O’Connor at his absolutely brilliant best, and “Good Morning” has stuck around as a standard, but the interplay between Kelly’s movie star Don Lockwood, O’Connor’s sidekick Cosmo, and Reynolds’ feisty up-and-comer Kathy drives the film. And as great as this trio is, leading the way almost throughout, it doesn’t even touch the true MVP, Jean Hagen’s Lina, the only Oscar-nominated role in the film. She embodies the entire conflict of the film – can silent movie stars make the transition to sound? – with hilarious outcomes.
And while it has become a beloved classic – named the 5th best film ever made by the AFI in 2007 – in its day it was relegated to two Oscar nods (Hagen, and Music), O’Connor winning Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical at the Globes (It lost Best Comedy/Musical to something called With a Song in My Heart!), and a DGA nomination for Donen and Kelly. But nothing for Best Insanely Long Scarf, for Cyd Charisse’s dance number costume affectation? If none of the above has sold you on watching this movie, seriously, tune in just for this scarf. It’s completely mind-blowing.
And the only new club member we get from Singin’ in the Rain is William Schallert, playing a very minor role here, but appearing in a large capacity some decades later in #331 Twilight Zone: the Movie and #266 The Jerk. Spotlight!