Movie poster: Singin' in the Rain
Movie poster: Singin’ in the Rain

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. 

Scene from Singin' in the Rain

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. 

  • Ron grew up in Southeast Baltimore, spent three and a half years liv­ing in the High Desert in California, and came to Winchester when his VW Beetle broke down here on a cross-coun­try dri­ve to Vermont. He has lived here and worked as a social work­er since 1973. Though he retired in 2013, he remains active as a com­mu­ni­ty vol­un­teer on var­i­ous boards, coali­tions, and com­mit­tees. His pas­sions include the woods and nature, music, books, and clas­sic movies (espe­cial­ly Laurel & Hardy).