I love musicals. As a kid, I grew up on films like Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, Newsies, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I also devoured the soundtracks for The Phantom of the Opera, Annie Get Your Gun, and Starlight Express (I know). With that sort of enthusiasm for you might think I’d have come across something starring Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, or Gene Kelly before I was in my twenties. You’d be very wrong. While I’ve always loved what I considered “Proper Musicals,” films that focused more on dance were to be avoided like the plague.
Still, it was only a matter of time until I finally broke down and watched one of the most famous musicals of all: Singin’ in the Rain. With Debbie Reynold’s death a not-so-distant memory, I wanted to watch what was probably her most iconic role. I’d seen her in Tammy and the Bachelor and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, but my memory of her in those roles is foggy–replaced on Tammy’s end with an image of Sandra Dee and in Molly Brown, the image of Harve Presnell in tight pants on a cliff. I wanted to hold a proper image of her in my mind again, and Singin’ in the Rain has definitely given me that.
Singin’ in the Rain focuses on a series of actors struggling to make the transition between silent films and the talkies. For star Don Lockwood, the trouble is that his constant costar has a voice like a honking goose and is convinced he’s in love with her. Fortunately and unfortunately for production company, he’s actually in love with young ingenue, Kathy Seldon–who longs to be an actress herself. When Kathy gets cast in Don’s latest picture, she and Don’s friend Cosmo come up with the perfect idea to save the less-than-stellar film. Of course, their plan entirely depends on Don’s costar remaining ignorant of their scheme.
Singin’ in the Rain is a film which genuinely sparkles during its first act. We’re first introduced to Don as an actor who’s entirely full of himself yet forced to play a part for his production company even off-screen. His lofty opinion of himself is subsequently shattered when he meets Kathy–a girl who’s not impressed with his suave ways and wants to take him down a peg. The duo eventually fall in love, but it’s their early quick-fire banter that shines so much more than their doe-eyed love songs later in the film. It was a blast to see Debbie Reynolds as Kathy hold her own against the charms of Gene Kelly. For most of the film, it’s her sweet, film star looks and fast footwork that carry her role, but in the beginning, she’s given the chance to prove she has personality to spare.
After the film moves past this initial setup phase, Singin’ in the Rain becomes much more about Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor dancing their hearts out and less about characterization and plot. While film musicals based on Broadway plays tend to have song and dance numbers that either advance the story or tell us something about the characters, most of the songs in Singin’ in the Rain do no such thing. They’re more about the spectacle of it all–which I found frustrating after a while. Pretty much the sole exception to this rule were the songs “You Were Meant for Me” and “Singin’ in the Rain” itself. “Singin’ in the Rain” comes fairly late in the film and was so refreshing by that point because it actually tells us how Don feels after realising he’s properly in love with Kathy. “Singin’ in the Rain” was probably my favorite song in the film for that reason alone.
My favorite parts of the film, on the other hand, were the scene where Kathy comes bounding out of the cake (not long after having a discussion about serious acting with Don) and the diction coaching scene with Lina Lamont. The diction scene was particularly hilarious because it reminded me so much of the “Would That It Were So Simple” scene from Hail, Caesar–which you might have noticed has been gaining popularity again with the whole Han Solo getting an acting coach news.
As for the acting in this film, Gene Kelly obviously stole the show. He was an absolute powerhouse as Don Lockwood and that’s why it was so impressive that Debbie Reynolds was able to keep up with him. She was only nineteen when she filmed Singin’ In the Rain, and she did an amazing job acting her part and singing. I’d love to see more of her early roles (which is a definite excuse to watch Tammy and the Bachelor again). Donald O’Connor was also great in his role. He reminded me strongly of the Marx Brothers as Cosmo. His acting was slapstick and VERY physical, and as the comedic relief in Singin’ In the Rain, he definitely carried his part in the film.
On the whole, Singin’ in the Rain is an entertaining film–even if it felt a bit long (regardless of its 103 minute runtime). It’s not a musical I’ll be watching again anytime soon since I’m still of the opinion there’s such a thing as too much dancing in a musical, but I’m not sorry I sat through it in the first place. If you like dance numbers (a lot of dance numbers) and looking at Gene Kelly, this is a film you’ll enjoy watching too.
What are your favorite movie musicals?
Image Source: Movie-Screencaps