By Marc S. Sanders
Reader, I’ve been having a hard week. My beloved puppy dog, Falcon, has not been feeling well and my family and I are so worried for him. It’s just been a long week having to deal with reality. Nevertheless, when I watch a classic musical like Singin’ In The Rain, it’s impossible not to smile and catch on to the energy that drives the film from the talents of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor. This trio are not just sensational dancers and singers. They’re adoring comedians that set a standard for facial expressions and endless entertainment variety.
A simple, but informative story sets the spine of the picture. Talking films like Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer are catching on in Hollywood movie houses and the silent pictures are quickly becoming archaic. Established talents like Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (a scene stealing Jean Hagen) are being threatened with becoming extinct unless they can adapt to the use of their voices in the romantic cinematic roles they are known for. Don will adjust. Lina is another story. Her alluring blond bombshell looks are recognized everywhere. However, none of that will line up with her natural, squeaky, ear piercing vocals. She’s a hopeless case for the best vocal coaches that money can buy. Don and Lina are star attractions with contracts to guarantee them work, but Lina’s voice could put the movie studio out of business.
Fortunately, Don just happens to land smack dab into the passenger seat of Kathy Selden’s (Reynolds) car. Kathy has the voice, and soon Don and his trusty songwriting companion and pal, Cosmo Brown (O’Connor), will realize the acting talent to boot. In the meantime, though, Kathy’s voice will dub in for Lina’s on screen. There are great gags at Lina’s expense as she tries to work with a microphone for the first time. This is Lucille Ball material of the finest, comedic polish.
In between all these story developments reside some of the greatest musical song and dance numbers to ever grace a screen. Few, if any, films have matched the rubber faced hyperactive quick steps of Donald O’Connor during his rendition of “Make ‘em Laugh!” What he does with this cutaway scene looks like a superpower of marvelous agility. Jim Carrey could never stand next to Donald O’Connor.
Gene Kelly’s accompaniment with O’Connor and their silly, tongue twisting “Moses Supposes” is magnificent to watch. You could be on your death bed, looking at this scene, and I truly believe you’ll think nothing is so bad in life while you watch this moment. The pair are masters with their physicality of jumping on and off desks and chairs, while they toss around a stuffy, glass eyed linguist caught in the middle of their shenanigans. Every prop and set piece are given functionality, be it a lamp shade, office supplies or stacks of paper. Then there are the lyrics. How do you so fluently utter words like “Moses” and “supposes” and every other imaginable piece of vocabulary that phonetically sound like them to seem like it is as natural as saying grace? And they do it all while bouncing all over the place with two stepping in perfect sync. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. These guys are functioning on one motor.
To add further compliment, I must emphasize that the camera pointed at these magnificent players hardly ever cuts away. There are long sequences where the guys are literally walking up walls and back flipping over. It’s all done in one shot. There’s only frequent edits away for a close up or another angle. Otherwise, Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor are defying the impossible to show breathless choreography. They seem to defy physics, and the props they use cooperate with every step, leap, run or jump taken.
The same goes for when Debbie Reynolds makes it a trio during another unforgettable number called “Good Morning.” The furniture pieces are choregraphed to work with the three dancers. All three race towards a sofa, step on to the seat cushions in unison and then walk onto the back of the sofa, allowing it to flawlessly tip over so they can continue their stride. Just writing about this, I think about how amazing and wondrous this scene is. Lightning in a bottle!
All of the material contained within Singin’ In The Rain is incredibly cheerful, full of color and humor and tremendously likable characters. Yet, it does not ever teeter on being hokey or cheesy. The musical doesn’t feel dated. This film transcends generations like The Wizard Of Oz or Star Wars. No matter the age, anyone should be able to like this movie.
I love the irony of the number “Singin’ In The Rain” that lends to the title of the picture. Just think about the word “rain.” Often it is associated with gloominess and sorrow and mood. However, the tempo of Singin’ In The Rain as a full length film invites happiness and glee no matter the situation. Gene Kelly’s clownish activity with an umbrella, a large smile and a rain soaked street corner becomes one of the most delightful moments ever to grace a screen. He stomps, skips and splashes in the large puddles while taking a leap on to a streetlamp just to express all of Don Lockwood’s glorious bliss and adoration for his new love Kathy Selden. A hat becomes its own character as gushing rain drains out of a storm pipe soaking Don’s head. The brim of the hat seems to develop its own form of jubilation.
I’ve read that Gene Kelly was a viciously strict co-director (with Stanley Donen) and choreographer on this film. Debbie Reynolds has testified to long sessions of endless starts and stops. It was tortuous at times. If just a toe or a hand was out of place in any of the choreography, Kelly would not stand for it. It had to be perfect. I can’t imagine Kelly in a demanding or authoritative capacity. He is just so cheerful and lovable on screen and so is the entire company of performers. I guess the contrast with his character lends to how impressed I am with the final product. However, to make a picture like Singin’ In The Rain this exact and eye popping requires astute examination. The assembled rhythm of the three dancers and the chorus behind them at least matches some of the most refined military assembly marches I’ve ever seen.
Watch Singin’ In The Rain for a glimpse into the evolution of Hollywood and cinema. Watch it for a simple, yet funny story. Watch it for the characters and set pieces. Most of all, watch Singin’ In The Rain to discover how grand and wonderful life can be. It’s likely that none of my readers can do what Kelly, Reynolds or O’Connor accomplish in this film, but I can guarantee that you’ll feel just as joyous as they do while they are putting the show on for you.
Singin’ In The Rain is why movies are so important for our emotional lexicon of escapism. It lends to good health to watch Singin’ In The Rain. It’s a film we all need.
Singin’ In The Rain is a reason to live.