Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)
Singin’ in the Rain is a film that damn near everybody can’t believe I’ve never seen. Well, now I have. Made in the Fifties but set in the Twenties, it chronicles the transition from silent films to talkies to those singin’ dancin’ pictures I’ve been watching so many of this year. There’s also a love story, but what else is new? Brush aside the pile of fifty weather puns I just threw away and join me as I decide if this beloved classic lives up to the hype.
So I now understand why my friends recommended Singin’ in the Rain specifically to me, despite my not being a musical guy. A major portion of the plot focuses on early attempts to bring sound to movies, and as someone who idolized Jack Foley and Ben Burtt as a kid, I never would have guessed such a dorky interest would be the subject of a widely popular musical. And several aspects of this radical change in cinema are covered, from audience reactions to vocal coaching for actors to hiding those pesky microphones.
If sandwiching audio equipment between boobs isn’t doing it for you, the movie explores plenty of other pitfalls of working in Hollywood. Famous actor Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) tells the press flat-out lies about his rise to stardom as we see a collection of the actual shitty showbiz jobs he took. Much of the plot revolves around using movie magic to cover up actress Lina Lamont’s (Jean Hagen) complete lack of talent. Also, Don and Lina are a sham celebrity couple, though Lina isn’t necessarily aware of this.
Smile till it hurts!
Along comes Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) to give Don a Birdman-style rant on how film acting is for pussies and the stage is where real thespians work.
Smells like rain.
Anyway, all these plot points meet up real nice.
Am I a jerk for saying that Gene Kelly feels like the exact same guy in every movie? He’s not inherently unlikable or anything, I just haven’t seen much range on the guy. Great voice, sweet moves, winning smile, but please point me in the direction of a role where he isn’t a charming, if somewhat pushy, tomcat.
Debbie Reynolds is sweet and pretty and down-to-earth and sassy and all those leading lady things.
More interesting than both of our romantic leads is Donald O’Connor as Don’s wacky songwriter pal Cosmo Brown, who’s been by his side since his vaudeville days. He’s cheerful and animated and wonderfully slapsticky.
That’s a face in desperate need of a pie.
Also providing laughs is Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont. She’s ditzy and shallow with a cartoony voice so that we don’t feel bad about watching her career fall apart. At least, I think that was the intent; I kinda still felt sorry for her.
She’s a lady Baxter!
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
As I recap each of these numbers, a shocking and dangerous truth will be revealed, one you may not have known even if you’re a fan of Singin’ in the Rain, so stay with me. First up is “Fit as a Fiddle (And Ready for Love),” a double-violin vaudeville act flashback featuring Don and Cosmo that’s ridiculously fun even though they’re clearly not actually playing their instruments.
Stick around for the Monkees!
Later, Kathy busts out of a cake and sings “All I Do is Dream of You” with a bunch of other ladies and I may have nodded off and this was actually a sex dream I had?
A check of the DVD confirms that, no, I did not imagine this.
Cosmo then has a slapstick conniption fit during “Make ‘Em Laugh,” a wonderful tune about the power of comedy that 6-Year-Old Me would have been obsessed with if I’d seen this as a kid. (I’m saying it really resonated with Adult Me while trying to play it cool.) This is where Donald O’Connor just goes to town with every prop he can find on a crowded movie set, which includes sixty-nining the everloving shit out of a stuffed dummy.
When we reach the point in the story where musical talkies become a big hit, we’re treated to a mash-up of what I assume are all songs from musicals of the time, since “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” from The Broadway Melody is one of them.
Brace yourself, it’s about to get weird.
Then, after a bizarre song that’s less song and more reading from a women’s fashion catalog, Don and Kathy share a romantic duet called “You Were Meant for Me” and hold it, wait, wait, stop, hold everything, that’s totally from The Broadway Melody again! What in the tap dancing hell is going on?
Flag on the play! (Am I using that correctly?)
Okay, so at this point in the movie I had to look up why Singin’ in the Rain grabbed an entire song from another musical, and guess what? That’s this film’s whole deal. Just about every tune was previously used in a movie from the late ’20s/early ’30s, and they were all written by the same two guys. Did you know that when you first watched this? Because nobody who recommended it to me did! So the whole flick is Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown turning just the hits into a brand new movie. This is the Moulin Rouge! of 1952, except imagine if everybody in 2040 thinks “Lady Marmalade” was written exclusively for Moulin Rouge!
And Baz Luhrmann is on the Singin’ in the Rain commentary?
How did I not put any of this together??
Well, now I’m in a bit of a picklefuck, since I explicitly stated in my criteria for Musical 52 that all the films on my list had to contain “a handful of original songs.” (Full disclosure, I just didn’t want to watch Across the Universe or Mama Mia!) Did I fail? Is the experiment a bust? How many is a handful? Is it two? If a handful is two, you should know that “Make ‘Em Laugh” is a blatant rip-off of “Be a Clown” but is technically an original song, as is our very next number…
BACK TO THE SONGS AND DANCES:
“Moses Supposes,” a spontaneous ditty and tap routine that breaks out during Don’s enunciation exercises. Phew! It should be noted that the teacher trying to help Don’s career in talkies is just doing his job, and is covered in random shit from around the room for his troubles.
Gene Kelly frequently plays assholes.
And then, break out the raincoats for that iconic number… “Good Morning”? Oh, hey, I know this song. I didn’t know it was from Singin’ in the Rain. Wait, I can’t say that because most of the songs from Singin’ in the Rain aren’t from Singin’ in the Rain! Anyway, good morning.
Okay. Here it is. The big one. “Singin’ in the Rain.” It’s simple, it’s great, I love it. Nothing more needs to be said.
Wait, is this Flashdance?
Let’s see, and there’s a plot point that revolves around a kinda boring song called “Would You?” and there’s an insanely long fantasy sequence that combines “The Broadway Melody” with “Broadway Rhythm,” and I probably don’t have to tell you that “The Broadway Melody” is from The Broadway Melody, but I just did, so there. Anyway, there’s neon signs, conveyor belts, and some lady with a looong billowy dress.
It’s beautiful. No jokes from me.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
Hey, since this movie’s soundtrack is basically a Hollywood musical recycling bin, I get to reuse my runner-up for the worst lyric in The Broadway Melody! Hot damn! Alright, “You Were Meant for Me,” I thought this chunk was weird the first time around and it’s no less weird when Gene Kelly sings it…
“Nature patterned you
And when she was done
You were all the sweet things
Rolled up in one…”
I loved this movie and you’re probably not surprised in the slightest, seeing as how it’s widely considered one of the greatest musicals of all time, but you know what? I was a bit amazed that such a revered musical didn’t have songs that intertwined heavily with the plot. I guess I’m just used to musicals where the songs mention characters by name, you know? But that weird hang-up of mine aside, this was great. The story was funny and interesting, the performances were big and animated, and the musical numbers were spectacular.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)