The world first saw MGM’s blockbuster musical Singin’ In The Rain in 1952. It became an instant favorite of moviegoers and critics alike. This comedy-musical, directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, has been one of the most successful musicals ever. Although filmed in the 50’s, Arthur Freed, producer and lyricist, chose music in the tradition of early musicals. When Adolph Green and Betty Comden were asked to create a story to fit the music, they decided to take us back to the ‘Roarin’ 20’s’ – – 1927 in fact. It was the year the first “talkie” film, The Jazz Singer, would sweep the nation and change the film industry forever.
Singin’ In The Rain is a realistic style musical. Because the movie is about the film industry and the transition from silent films to “talkies”, the musical numbers fit in with the things going on in the movie. In most cases, the musical numbers were excerpts from the movies they were filming at Monumental Pictures, the fictional movie studio headed by R.F. Simpson (played by Millard Mitchell). At other times, the main characters, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), and Cosmo Browne (Donald O’Connor), break into spontaneous singing. As we all know, thespians tend to be a little bit crazy sometimes, so their musical outbursts are actually pretty close to believable.
This movie gives us a look at the Hollywood “studio system” of the late 20’s. They show how movie sets were lined up, one after another, all furiously working to crank out as many movies as possible. Satirical comments made by various characters point out how all of the movies were alike, the same basic stories with only faces and backgrounds changing. When the character Kathy Selden is introduced, we see an example of the animosity stage actors felt toward screen stars. Selden says they lack the talent of stage actors.
She felt the film stars were chosen for having a pretty face. Since they didn’t even talk, who would even know if they had real talent? Later, Selden’s opinions are given some validation when we see just how much talent Lockwood’s co-star Lena Lamont (Jean Hagen) had. At first, Simpson and the others scoffed at the idea of WB’s new talking movie. As soon as “The Jazz Singer” was released and they saw what a hit it became in it’s first week, Simpson closed the studio for a few weeks so he could get ready to start production of musicals. He, and all of the other studios, knew they had to start producing “talkies” or it would be the end for their companies.
This movie also shows how the studios controlled everything that the fan magazines printed. The public believed the things they read and actors went along with whatever story the studio had given. For example, Lockwood and Lamont’s fans thought they were a loving, happy couple. It was even mentioned that a rumor was circulating that they may get engaged. As we saw later, on the set for “The Dueling Cavalier”, Lockwood and Lamont were definitely not in love. Furthermore, Lockwood could barely stand Lamont!
After Simpson gave the okay to turn their new movie into a musical, there is a very comical look at the new problems associated with audio. First, they had a female star that had a horrendous voice. As if that weren’t trouble enough, they also found that microphone positioning would create a big mess. They had to find unusual ways to conceal the mics and still pick up audio.
Then they found that the mic would pick up every other sound near it as well. Since they could do nothing about Lamont’s voice, they used another woman, Selden, to do the voice work. Lamont lip-synced the movie and was eventually exposed when they attended the premier of their new musical “The Dancing Cavalier”. The movie has a storybook ending, the predictable kind where the guy gets the girl and they live happily ever after. It gives that happy ending feeling people have come to expect from romantic comedies.
This film has been called a musical masterpiece and makes many Top 10 lists. It’s a movie that has endured the years and will continue to be watched for years to come. “Singin’ In The Rain” had 14 hit songs and some of the top stars of its time. Not at all bad, even for someone who is not a fan of musicals … it’s filled with romance, energy and humor, not to mention the biggest draw of all – its even filmed in Technicolor!