Today Reel Classics will look at a film that the American Film Institute has voted to be the #1 movie musical in American film history—Singin’ In The Rain. The movie stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds. The supporting cast includes Jean Hagen, Cyd Charisse, and Rita Moreno.
The story is set in Hollywood in 1927 at the height of the silent films. Two of the biggest stars (and one of the most glamorous couples) are working on a blockbuster film for Monumental Pictures. All the movie magazines and gossip columnists go on about this lovely couple, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), and the couple plays it up for publicity. In reality, Lockwood sees Lamont as vain, shallow, and spoiled. On the other hand, Lina Lamont believes what the columnists say and thinks her co-star is madly in love with her (despite his denials).
At the première of their latest film, The Royal Rascal, Don shares with the crowd his story and states his motto is “Dignity, always dignity.” The film then provides a flashback of his real life as a vaudeville performer with his partner and best friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) dancing and doing stunts on stage. He runs from the crowd and jumps into a passing car driven by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). She recognizes him as a movie star and proclaims to be a stage actress herself while criticizing his efforts as an actor. She drops him off and they go their separate ways.
Later, at a party for the cast and crew, Don is surprised to see Kathy pop out of a cake and reveals to Don that she is a chorus girl. He begins to tease her and she throws cake at him, missing and hitting Lina Lamont in the face. She then takes off. Alas, Don has become smitten with the young chorus girl and begins to search for her. Don’s friend Cosmo finally finds her and helps reconcile the couple. Don sings her a love song and she confesses that she really is a big fan of his. Romance blossoms.
While Don and Lina are working on their next major picture, The Dueling Cavalier, the studio head comes onto the set to announce that they are ceasing production. The Jazz Singer (with Al Jolson) had been released and was the first “talkie”—and a big hit. Now everyone is clamoring for talkies. So, the decision is made to redo The Dueling Cavalier as a talkie and musical and rename it The Dancing Cavalier. A major problem arises when it is apparent that Lina’s voice does not work well in talkies. It is “screechy,” and she has a very strong Brooklyn accent. Don, Cosmo, and Kathy come up with a plan to dub Kathy’s voice over Lina’s and this does not suit Lina very well.
The problem identified with Lina’s voice not “fitting” was not uncommon in the period of transition from silent to sound films. Many very popular and talented actors and actresses could no longer find employment in this new era. Not only did they have to act and look good, but they also had to sound good.
Singin’ In The Rain is filled with wonderful song and dance scenes, the most memorable being Gene Kelly’s performance in the title song. Another is the performance of Kelly, O’Connor, and Reynolds in the upbeat song “Good Morning.” The scene at the end of that routine where they fall over the sofa reportedly took 40 takes. Cyd Charisse, a well-known ballet performer at the time, had to adjust to wearing high heels and dancing to the jazz-flavored style of Gene Kelly in “Broadway Ballet.” That segment of the film took two weeks to shoot and cost nearly 20% of the entire budget.
Gene Kelly also directed the film along with Stanley Donen. When interviewing Debbie Reynolds, she told Kelly that she had no professional dancing experience, but she had been a gymnast, and that involved movement and stamina. She was only 19 years old at the time and was still living with her parents. This was not her first film experience, however, as she had previously appeared in several movies. Gene Kelly decided he could teach her the moves, and she was chosen.
Debbie Reynolds later shared that she had “learned a lot from Gene Kelly. He is a perfectionist and a disciplinarian… Every so often, he would yell at me and make me cry. But it took patience for him to work with someone who had never danced before.” Fred Astaire was working in a nearby studio and found her one day under a piano crying. He reassured her and offered to help tutor her. Years later, Debbie Reynolds reportedly stated that making Singin’ In The Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things she had experienced in her life. Many years later, Gene Kelly acknowledged he had not been the best to Debbie Reynolds — “I wasn’t nice to Debbie. It’s a wonder she still speaks to me.”
Donald O’Connor also suffered some during the making of this film. Gene Kelly asked O’Connor to revive an old skit he used to perform where while dancing, he would run up a wall and do a somersault. At the time, O’Connor was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day, and the effort was exhausting. He ended up in a hospital for a week suffering from exhaustion and carpet burns. Even more unfortunate for him, the footage was lost in an accident and he had to film it over again.
The role of Lina Lamont was actually written with actress Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday) in mind but was offered to Jean Hagen, Holliday’s understudy on Broadway. Those considered for the role of Kathy Selden included Judy Garland, June Allyson, Ann Miller, Jane Powell, and Leslie Caron.
Singin’ In The Rain was perceived by critics at the time as an enjoyable movie musical but not to be compared to the previous year’s release An American In Paris (an Oscar winner and also starring Gene Kelly). It received two Oscar nominations–Best Music and Best Supporting Actress (Jean Hagen). It didn’t win any. As with many other films we have reviewed, its prestige has risen with the passage of time. The American Film Institute ranks it as the fifth greatest American film and, as stated above, the #1 musical.
Another interesting bit of information about the creation of this film is that almost all of the songs in the film were written much earlier, and the writers built the storyline around the music. The plan worked, and the film earned $7.7 million on its release.
IMBD rates Singin’ In The Rain at 8.3 out of 10. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an audience score of 95% and a critic’s score of 100%.
I find this film to be fun, uplifting, and joyous (well, maybe not for Lina Lamont), and it has long been one of my favorites. It is streaming on many sites for a fee, but on my Roku, I found it for free on the Movieland.Tv site. The Clark County Library has two DVDs available. There is a single disc with the film and a second in a collection entitled “Greatest Classic Films Collection: American Musicals.” (Note: That collection also includes one of our previous Reel Classics—Meet Me In St. Louis).
Keep a watch out for the next edition of Reel Classics, and check out the trailer below.