Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Fig 1 - Singin' in the Rain Poster
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain follows the story of a troubled film production and it's cast during the transitional era into the 'talkies'. Set in 1920's Hollywood, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and his longtime co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are the toast of the town. However, it soon becomes clear that their collective image is merely a front for the fans since behind the scenes, Don expresses his open contempt for her. In the beginning, Don addresses the roaring crowds with the tale of his rise to fame, alongside his best friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) who ended up writing the music for his pictures. During an after-party, the guests are treated to a short example of film synchronised with speech, which is somewhat shrugged off as a fad. Nonetheless, with the recent popularity of The Jazz Singer (the first feature-length film with audible dialogue), the company head R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) demands that the film be made into a 'talky'. However, Lina's shrill voice and inability to follow direction exacerbates production further and ultimately leads to her lines being dubbed with those of Don's love interest and budding actress, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds).

Despite nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Musical Score, the film had no wins at the 25th Academy Awards. However, Donald O'Connor did take away a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical the following year. Ever since, the film's reputation has been elevated to the greatest heights and often features among the top picks for 'greatest musical of all-time'.

Fig 2 - Singin' in the Rain - Don Lockwood
The first musical adaptation I remember really enjoying was Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) which managed to not only satisfy my burgeoning pre-pubescent nihilism, but also delivered a great story throughout with appropriate numbers weaving together the various narrative threads. It is possibly the least apt comparison to make, as my particular taste in musicals strays towards the less 'conventional', such as Book of Mormon and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). So with that I should say Sweeney Todd could not be further in tone or atmosphere from Singin' in the Rain. However, it does manage to deliver a similarly excellent balance of memorable songs and performances with a genuinely interesting plot at the heart of it all. It's a whole lot of fun and had me smiling from ear to ear nearly the whole way through.

The film's soundtrack features a plethora of classics by music director Lennie Hayton; responsible for hits such as Good Morning, Make 'em Laugh and of course Singin' in the Rain, for which the film is most widely known. Uncredited choreographers Carol Haney and Gwen Verdon assisted Gene Kelly in the accompanying dance numbers that make the film such a spectacle, deserving the highest of praises for their input into what was clearly a frustrating production for all involved. Donald O'Connor's performance in particular was a blend of impeccable comic timing and a Buster Keaton-style energy that exuded from every ingrained movement he made. Gene Kelly was notably charming and emanated a Bond-esque allure to his more reserved sequences, with a young Debbie Reynolds playing off his presence in an equally appealing naivety.

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by Singin' in the Rain and totally concur with the fascination behind the film. If I had any minor quibbles, it would be the slightly disjointed ratio between musical numbers and 'scenes' during the second half. However in spite of this, I found myself oddly enchanted by the film to the point where I could have easily watched a second time as soon as it was over. Singin' in the Rain serves as a gorgeous time-capsule of 'old Hollwood' and will leave just about anybody on a gleefully high note.


Fig. 1 Singin' in the Rain Poster (1952) From: Singin' in the Rain - Directed by: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Fig. 2 Singin' in the Rain Screenshot (1952) From: Singin' in the Rain - Directed by: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

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