For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!
“Singin’ In The Rain” is sadly the last musical on the list. It is a musical comedy about making musical comedies set in the late 1920’s during the film industry’s transition to sync sound. We have seen other films like this on the list before. In fact, there is really nothing new about this film at all except for one thing. This single film encapsulates a huge spectrum of subject matter tackled by many films before it, but does it with some of the most expansive and ambitious song and dance routines ever filmed.
Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a star of the silent era. He and his costar, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), and fellow vaudevillian, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), are darlings of the screen. With the release of “The Jazz Singer” studios are scrambling to make sound pictures. This wouldn’t be an issue, but Lina doesn’t have the voice for sound pictures- tinny and grating. Her voice and career will never make the transition out of silent films. Luckily Don meets Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), a struggling young actress. He hitches a ride with her as he is escaping a group of adoring fans, and runs back into her at the party for their new film. She is part of the group of girls passing out sweets and singing and dancing at the party. She disappears as quickly as she came into the story.
Don and Cosmo must turn their latest picture, “The Dueling Cavalier,” a silent melodrama, into a sound picture. Cosmo refers to Lina as the triple threat, she can’t act, sing or dance. He reminds Don that when all else fails, make ’em laugh. O’Conner’s performance during “Make ‘Em Laugh” is silly, overt and wonderful. This number, which could have been seen as a throwaway number does not further the film, it is only there to cheer up Don. The acrobatic and comedic feats that O’Conner achieves makes it one of the more memorable in a film filled with memorable musical numbers. Don stumbles into Kathy performing as background talent in an adjacent soundstage. Though the tabloids continue to write about the entirely fictional love affair between Lina and Don, and the studio encourages the story because it makes for sensational publicity, Don falls for Kathy.
The production of “The Dueling Cavalier” commences, and as expected Lina is a disaster. Her lessons with dictation coach have failed miserably, while Don and Cosmo turn Don’s dictation lessons into a song and dance routine. When a test audience screens the picture, the crowd walks out – vowing to never watch another Lockwood and Lamont picture. Cosmo, Don and Kathy stay up worrying about what can be done about the national release just weeks away. They resort to what they know best, performing, and come up with a plan to turn the picture into a musical comedy called “The Dancing Cavalier.” They celebrate the idea with “Good Mornin’,” a song near to my heart- my mom woke me up singing this song for years. Cosmo proposes that Kathy sing and speak for Lina, with clever dialogue recording and lip-synching, no one should ever know the difference. Don leaves to go home in the pouring rain, giving us one of the most iconic musical numbers ever set to film, “Singin’ In The Rain,” a hopeful moment set in the face of systemic control and change.
After the rewrites for the film are in place, production begins in earnest. Lina gives the physical performance, and Kathy records the tracks to be dubbed in. After our last musical performance, The “Broadway Melody Ballet,” the night of the premiere has arrived. The opening is a success, and the film looks like it will be a smash hit. Lina can’t help herself, and when the curtain call comes she runs out to speak to the crowd. They are dumbfounded by her voice, and hoping it will be better, ask her to sing. She panics, and they set up Kathy behind the curtain to sing while Lina lip-synchs to a dead microphone. During the song, Don and Cosmo raise the curtain to reveal the ruse, upset that Kathy isn’t able to get her due. Kathy gets her glory, Lina’s a laughing stock, and the end shows Don and Kathy, a happy couple – looking at the billboard for their new musical together, “Singin’ In The Rain.”
“Singin’ in the Rain” is a deceptive masterpiece. It feels light and easy. It is thoroughly watchable with songs that are the ear-wormiest of earworms. But don’t let this charming film fool you. It is surprisingly multilayered, and the more you peel back those layers the more and more complex it becomes. This film gives everything that a musical lover expects- satisfying dance routines, great songs, funny side characters, and a little love affair. The actors are fantastic, Gene Kelly stretching his artistic muscles, Debbie Reyolds showcasing her amazing talent, and Donald O’Connor brilliant in showing off his vaudevillian talent. This film goes a little further to make an interesting statement on a transition within a young popular artistic medium. Finally, it not only doesn’t hide that it is a movie, but revels in it.
In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns: