My Hall Of Fame
#5 Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
Director-Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Running Time-103 Minutes
“What’s wrong with the way I talk? What’s the big idea? Am I dumb or something?”
Singin’ In The Rain is the story of a silent film actor (Gene Kelly) that has to make an adjustment to talking pictures, even though his perennial co-star (Jean Hagen) has a voice that makes one’s hair curl. Luckily, he has his loyal friend (Donald O’Connor) and his young love interest (Debbie Reynolds) standing by him in his time of need.
It is amazing to me that a movie can become so much more popular as time goes on. In 1952, Singin’ In The Rain was the tenth highest grossing movie of the year, and was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress (Jean Hagen) and Best Original Music Score (Lennie Hayton). It lost both awards, but here we are 60 years later and the American Film Institute has ranked it the #1 “Best American Musical” and #5 “Best American Movie” of all time. How is this possible? Is it possible it’s just good luck?
In 1952, Gene Kelly was the most popular he had ever been. Between 1945 and 1949, he made three successful musicals with Frank Sinatra, in Anchors Aweigh (1945), Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) and On The Town (1945), as well as appearing with Judy Garland in The Pirate (1948) and Summer Stock (1950). Then in 1951, Kelly starred in the Vincente Minnelli musical An American In Paris. It won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and is still considered one of the greatest romance musicals of all time. Also in 1951, Gene Kelly was awarded an honorary Academy Award: in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film. It would be the only Oscar of his career.
Then he decided to make Singin’ In The Rain, a musical not based on anything except a handful of songs that MGM already owned. Almost every song in Singin’ In The Rain had already appeared in a musical, since 1929. The movie was actually written around the songs, instead of the songs being written into the story.
“The price of fame. You’ve got the glory, you gotta take the little heartaches that go with it. Now look at me: I’ve got no fame, I’ve got no glory, I’ve got no big mansions, I’ve got no money! But I’ve got – what have I got?”
One major advantage to writing a script around songs is that you can use a wide variety of musical styles, hence the assortment of supporting talent around Gene Kelly. Donald O’Connor is not a widely popular screen actor, but his comedic presence, combined with his amazing dancing ability, made him the perfect choice to play Cosmo Brown. He is the comic relief every moment he is on the screen, and it works beautifully. You can see the enjoyment that he and Kelly get from playing off of each other, and unlike like many of Kelly’s other dance partners, O’Connor holds his own and does exactly what he is supposed to do: support the leading actor.
Then there are the ladies of the movie. Debbie Reynolds was young and full of spunk; therefore she was perfect for this role. Although she wasn’t the dancer or singer of the same caliber as Kelly or O’Connor, she is still able to hold her own with the guys, and her acting is perfect. She was exactly what the part needed.
Without Reynolds being an established dancing threat, directors Kelly and Stanley Donen made sure there would be an opportunity to have a female partner for Kelly. Enter Cyd Charisse. Without ever speaking in the movie, Charisse and Kelly light up the screen with their sexuality, in one of the most beautifully sensual dance scenes ever captured on film.
Last, and most certainly not least, is the amazing Jean Hagen. Her performance in Singin’ In The Rain is nothing short of spectacular, and should always be remembered. My favorite thing about her role is that the story calls for Debbie Reynolds’ character to be the screen voice for Hagen’s character. Instead of Reynolds’ voice for the spoken lines, it is Hagen’s real voice, and in some of Reynolds’ songs they use a voice double. I love that.
“If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain’t been in vain for nothin’. Bless you all.”
It just goes to sow that sometimes movies can be great, even when they are put together from different discarded pieces. Now, when we look back we can enjoy the movie for everything that it means to us. It also acted as an end to the Gene Kelly musicals. Of course he continued to act, sing, dance and direct, but his signature style soon disappeared from the screen. Singin’ In The Rain may have marked the end of an era, but it has left a lasting impression on the audiences who love it, and even today when we walk through the streets in the rain, we all have that slight temptation to start dancing. At least, I hope I’m not the only person who feels that way.
“Well, if it isn’t Ethel Barrymore.”
I also want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that next Wednesday, August 22nd, Singin’ In The Rain will be back in theaters for one final day. Don’t forget to get your tickets and enjoy the “Greatest Musical Of All Time” on the big screen!