Singin' in the Rain
Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds
Directors: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
Though the song Singin' in the Rain was first performed in 1929 by Ziegfeld Follies dancer Doris Eaton Travis, today it is best remembered as the title song of the exuberant 1952 MGM musical starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds.
Kelly, who co-directed the film with Stanley Donen, stars as Don Lockwood, a movie star who began his career as a vaudeville performer and caught his first break in Hollywood as a stuntman. He's athletic, graceful and charismatic throughout the film, a star at the height of his powers.
Singin' in the Rain begins on a night in 1927 at the legendary Grauman's Chinese Theatre, where Lockwood's latest silent film is premiering. He walks the red carpet with co-star Lina Lamont (played with comic gusto by Jean Hagen), and a familiar Hollywood scene plays out: dazzling fashion, screaming fans, an inquisitive entertainment reporter and a relationship between the two stars faked solely for publicity.
Lamont doesn't get to speak before the public, and it soon becomes apparent why - she has a shrill voice and a rough accent that befits only a silent film star. This character flaw soon becomes a liability: 1927 is the year the first talking picture and smash hit The Jazz Singer was released. Lockwood and Lamont's studio comes under pressure to make the transition from silent film to talkies. Their attempts are fodder for comedy: there are pre-production elocution lessons, and later the cast and crew struggle to interact with the new technology and avoid a flop. 'I can't make love to a bush!' says Lamont, who protests having to speak into a microphone hidden in greenery.
This dramatic tension is compounded with a romantic storyline between Lockwood and a charming theatre-trained actress named Kathy Selden (Reynolds). Their relationship follows the Hollywood formula: two people meet under unusual circumstances and loathe each other. They chance upon each other again, and fall in love. Their courtship transcends formulaic dullness because of the musical numbers, elaborate sets and fantastic costumes. The world of the film feels expansive, though it appears most of it was shot on studio soundstages.
And it's a very funny film. O'Connor stars as Cosmo Brown, Lockwood's former vaudeville partner and best friend. His performance is a comic tour de force, requiring slapstick timing and agility. In particular, the number Make 'Em Laugh is a test of stamina and skill, with O'Connor playing the piano, running up walls, walking into planks of wood and falling off furniture, all while singing and mugging for the camera. The role earned him a Golden Globe.
Despite its charms, Singin' in the Rain was not a hit in its time. When it was released, the musical genre was beginning to decline in popularity and the studios were competing with the rise of television.
Over the years, however, critical appreciation for the film has kept it in the cultural consciousness. Each successive generation has the opportunity to fall in love with its Technicolor brilliance for the first time, and to hum the songs long after the film has finished.