November 08, 2012

Singin' in the Rain

Singin' in the Rain (1952) is perhaps the best movie musical ever made. It's a clever satire of the movie industry during its exciting but traumatic and precarious transition from the silent era to talking pictures. The satire is always well-crafted but never mean-spirited, and it would have been the perfect movie musical, except for two laboriously overlong dance numbers in the second half of the film. (Both of which seem like obvious padding and represent the only real lapses in judgment of the directors, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.)

Unlike most musicals, the songs don't seem incidental to the plot, and they're worked into the story sporadically and contextually (most of the time), rather than every five minutes whether it works for the movie or not. Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds head the cast. Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a silent screen star who sees star quality in the plucky girl-next-door Kathy Selden (Reynolds), whom he meets while running away from "adoring" fans trying to tear off pieces of his suit as souvenirs.

As Cosmo Brown, Don Lockwood's best friend and former Vaudeville partner (and a talented singer, dancer and musician in his own right), Donald O'Connor shines, like an early version of Sean Hayes, but with far more mock innocence. He's this movie's comic relief, always ready with a comical expression or a good quip to deflate the pomposity of the studio execs or disarm the stupidity of the movie stars. He would have saved just about any movie from total destruction, except Singin' in the Rain has the graciousness not to be self-important, so it doesn't need saving. There's no dewy-eyed sincerity here: instead, it's a glamorous, exquisite jab at the falseness of Hollywood personalities and the tomfoolery of showbusiness.

Jean Hagen plays Lina Lamont, a popular actress because of her beauty, who possesses a shrill, unsophisticated speaking voice that's sure to ruin not only her career but also her studio (called Monumental Pictures), once it begins producing "talkies". Enter Debbie Reynolds, whose beautiful singing and speaking voice is dubbed over Lina's crowing, to give the endangered star some legitimacy in the new wave of sound.

The best songs in the film are O'Connor's rendition of "Make 'Em Laugh," "Good Morning" and the titular number, done with style and joyous aplomb by Gene Kelly, who is ever the performer's performer. Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed contributed most of the songs. The choreography is mostly smart, although one does grow weary of watching Gene Kelley tap dance after a while.

Rita Moreno appears in a bit part. With Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse, Douglas Fowley, King Donovan, and Madge Blake.

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