Movie Review: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Sometimes you just have to go back and revisit a classic, if only to remind yourself of what made you fall in love with the film in the first place. I’ve been a fan of Singin’ in the Rain for a few years now, but that doesn’t mean I rewatch it as often as I probably should. But that distance I put between my last viewing and my most recent one made it feel like watching it for the first time again.
It’s 1927 and Hollywood’s golden movie duo, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), are threatened with a potentially career-ending situation — the world’s first “talkie”, The Jazz Singer, is released to rave reviews and audience accolades. Don fears that his limited acting ability will be revealed if he’s required to actually recite dialogue while Lina, his obnoxious co-star, has a high-pitched voice that would grate on anyone’s nerves. When Don shares his concerns with his longtime friend, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) and his lady love Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), they both convince Don to make his next feature (a costume drama set during the French Revolution) a full-out musical to show off Don’s talent in the singing and dancing department. The only problem — Lina and her voice.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Hollywood films that mock or satirize fame (think Sunset Blvd. or All About Eve). How clever to take an actual event from film history (the 1927 release of the first “talkie”) and use it to propel forward a musical about an actor trying to make it in a rapidly changing film industry. As Debbie Reynolds’ Kathy tells Don at one point, “The personalities on screen just don’t impress me. I mean, they don’t talk, they don’t act. They just make a lot of dumb show.” With the advent of “talkies” the possibilities for film were endless and, back in the those old studio days, when actors were trained to be triple threats (acting, singing, dancing), someone of Don’s calibre was bound to prevail. With its witty dialogue, vibrant set pieces and sly winks to real-life Hollywood situations (Lina Lamont as a a thinly veiled Jean Harlow, who had her own real-life struggle from silent films to “talkies” when her unique voice was finally heard), Singin’ in the Rain is that Hollywood classic that deserves its praise. All things considered, it has aged remarkably well.
Gene Kelly is incredible to watch — why I haven’t seen more of his work by now is mystery. Here was a Hollywood star who was the complete package: he could act, dance and sing. And not just “with the best of them” …more often than not he was the best of them. His natural (and completely genuine) charm and charisma carry the film above other musicals with dashing male leads. Kelly had that special extra something that just made him so damn likeable.
The same can be said for Debbie Reynolds. As the young and fresh-faced Kathy, Reynolds is impossibly cute, chipper and can definitely carry a tune. As for Donald O’Connor as Cosmo Brown — what an incredibly talented dancer. His physical abilities are abnormal — who knew the human body could run up a wall like that?
The lethal combination of Kelly-Reynolds-O’Connor is a triple threat and Singin’ in the Rain benefits largely from their talent and screen presence. And, while not all of the songs are entirely memorable, these three actors manage to make you forget that the song wasn’t an instant classic.
Singin’ in the Rain was a marvel of cinema when it was first released — with a heavy emphasis on the use of Technicolor cinematography and vivid production design. It’s fitting that a film about the massive changes Hollywood underwent in the good ole’ days also benefitted from the use of the latest technologies that were re-vamping Hollywood once again in the 1950s.
But, in the end, what really helps Singin’ in the Rain soar is its quick and breezy ability to tell a fun story about movies — and remind us why we love them so much in the first place.
A Gallery of Images from Singin’ in the Rain