How does it feel to be in love and live in a relationship? The answer comes in the movie’s best loved sequence. Actor Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is in love, and he is so happy that he wants to sing and dance in the rain. He’s like a little kid, splashing about in puddles. There has never been a greater expression of pure joy ever put on film.
Who would have thought when it was being made in 1951 that Singin’ in the Rain would become known as the greatest musical of all time. The props and sets were simply taken from anything they could find around the MGM lot and much of the footage for the opening silent film was taken from Kelly’s The Three Musketeers. If you watch closely, you’ll notice a short moment when a woman comes out to greet Kelly. This is not Jean Hagen. The movie started without any script. Screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden were simply approached with a handful of existing songs, and told to write a musical screenplay that could feature all of them. Amazingly, Green and Comden were able to create a wonderful story about the coming of sound to Hollywood.
The movie opens at a movie premier in 1927. The film is the latest from the popular acting duo of Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). Before the film Don is asked to tell his story from the beginning. It is charming to listen to his description (“dignity, always dignity”) and then to see the truth of the matter (literally bending over backwards and over a bar to get his break). The movie is another smash success, but an even bigger success is Warner Bros.’ The Jazz Singer, the first talking picture. Lamont and Lockwood’s next project is halted, while the studio can prepare for sound. They have high hopes for the film, but there is one big problem: Lina’s voice. It’s a voice that makes dogs howl, and no amount of speech coaching is going to change that.
Meanwhile, Don has met Cathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), a young aspiring actress he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about. In one of Hollywood’s most romantic looking scenes, Don romances her on an empty sound stage, using movie magic to create the mood. It’s an excellent technique, giving the scene a reason to look false.
While Don is falling in love, his acting career threatens to fall apart. A disastrous screening of the new film has one audience member saying that she never wants “to see that Lockwood and Lamont again.” But Don’s friend Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) has an idea: turn the movie into a musical and have Cathy dub her voice for Lina. The plan is perfect, as long as Lina doesn’t find out about it.
The movie’s song and dance numbers are second to none. The “Singin’ in the Rain” number itself is probably one of the five greatest movie scenes ever. Running closely behind it is Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” number, which many people think is the better of the two. He fights with a dummy; runs into a brick wall; gets hit in the head with a board; runs up and flips off the walls; knocks himself down many times; and finally crashes through a fake wall. He basically kills himself, all for the sake of making us laugh. O’Connor wore padding under his costume, which lessened some of the damage, but still spent the entire next day in bed. Then Kelly had the unenviable job of telling him that the footage could not be used. After doing the sequence over, O’Connor then spent the next three days in bed.
The movie’s other numbers are equally impressive. “Moses Supposes” is a phenomenal bit of tap dancing; “Fit as a Fiddle” is vaudeville at its best; “Good Mornin'” will stick in your head for days; and “The Broadway Melody Ballet” is just as big of an accomplishment as the ending ballet of An American in Paris.
Gene Kelly is an incredibly talented actor. Everyone knows he can sing and dance with the best of them, but watch his facial expressions as he is singing and dancing. He always seems to have an amused look on his face and you can really tell that he enjoys his work. All the actors in this film are just as confident, and it’s amazing considering how hard the dancing must be on its own. It’s hard to believe that Debbie Reynolds had no dancing experience until just three months before making this film.
Just as impressive of a performance is delivered by Jean Hagen, who got the raw end of the deal when it came to the casting. However, she brilliantly creates one of the dumbest, most annoying and most disliked characters in movie history. In real life Hagen had a beautiful voice, and, ironically, in the scene in which Cathy dubs Lina’s singing voice, it is Hagen’s voice we hear. Her hard work didn’t go unnoticed and she earned one of the film’s two Oscar nominations. Proof that the Academy is often wrong, Singin’ in the Rain’s only other nomination was for musical score. At least Donald O’Connor was able to win the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy.
The Academy may not always be right, but there is one judge that always gets it right: Time. Singin’ in the Rain has stood the test of time, and will be around for a long time to come. So next time you feel like playing in the puddles, be my guest. Just remember to sing. I give it an A+.