Movies That Everyone Should See: “Singin’ in the Rain”

Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo…

I’m singin’ in the rain
Just singin’ in the rain
What a glorious feelin’
I’m happy again.
I’m laughing at clouds.
So dark up above
The sun’s in my heart
And I’m ready for love.

Let the stormy clouds chase.
Everyone from the place
Come on with the rain
I’ve a smile on my face
I walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
Just singin’
Singin’ in the rain

Dancin’ in the rain…

I’m happy again…

I’m singin’ and dancin’ in the rain…

The story of “Singin’ in the Rain” is set at the time of the transition from silent films to “talkies”. Silent film superstars Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are at the top of Hollywood’s A-list… for now. Unfortunately, Lamont has a terrible voice: high-pitched, nasally, and with a thick accent. The change to sound threatens to ruin her as an actress.

At the same time, Lockwood has run across a girl who’s stolen his heart; Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). After needing to escape a rush of fans and winding up in her car one night, Lockwood finds himself falling for her. It turns out, she’s a low-level dancing and singing protegée, doing commercial work and getting by as best she can. After their first brief encounter, Lockwood tracks her down, and the two fall for each other… just as the professional pairing of Lockwood and Lamont threatens to fall apart due to the changing times.

As the time to release the first Lockwood/Lamont talking picture draws near, Lockwood and his partner Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) come upon a fantastic idea. Dub Lamont’s voice with Selden’s. Lamont – who’s already displeased with Selden for taking her place by Lockwood’s side romantically – would not be pleased. So the decision is made to do it on the sly.

Trouble looms.

Of course, “Singin’ in the Rain” isn’t remembered and beloved for its plot.

No, the movie is so renowned due to its incredible song and dance numbers. It’s filled beginning to end with wonderful singing and dancing… numbers that are just astonishing to watch. Kelly himself co-directed and choreographed the film, allowing him to put the dancing directly front and center.

The entire movie is phenomenal, but three incredible scenes in particular have worked their way into pop culture. The dance routines are legendary, and the songs are still known to this day. Much of that is owed to this film, even though the songs aren’t original to this movie. “Make ‘Em Laugh” is considered a knock off of Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown”. “Good Mornin’” was written for “Babes in Arms” (1939) where it was originally performed by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. And “Singin’ in the Rain” itself was written for and first performed in MGM’s “The Hollywood Revue of 1929″.

But “Singin’ in the Rain” took all three songs and made them its own. Each of them made AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Songs list – for this film. “Singin’ in the Rain” was #3, “Make ‘em Laugh” was #49, and “Good Morning” was #72.

Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” leads the way. O’Connor leaps about as if the laws of gravity don’t apply to him, jumping up on a piano, bouncing up and down off of the floor, hitching a ride on a board being carried by a couple of workmen, flipping up and off of walls. He tosses and whirls his hat around as if it was attached to a yo-yo string. He takes pratfalls, runs into walls, gets hit in the head. He fights with a dummy. He contorts his face is ways that would make Jim Carrey jealous. All the while, he’s singing and dancing. It’s an incredible, unforgettable vaudevillian comedic routine. I’m certain that it had theatrical audiences rolling in the aisles, and it’s still amazing to this day.

It’s a testament to how crazily good this movie is that O’Connor is NOT top billing in the film.

He had to be hospitalized for a week due to exhaustion after filming the scene. At the time he was a smoker with a four pack a day habit.

All three of the movie’s leads get together to perform on “Good Mornin’”, a chipper tap routine in celebration of resolving the issue of how to save “The Dueling Cavalier” (by turning it into a musical). The three of them sing happily, smile brightly, and shuffle and tap all over the place. They skip hand in hand and dance arm and arm. They turn raincoats into props and flap them around like puppets. Eventually they crash, exhausted, onto the couch (which they had flipped over). It’s an exuberant display. The three of them just seem so gleeful and joyful.

It’s completely contagious.

But it wasn’t all fun and games to shoot in real life. Reynolds was only 19 at the time the movie was made. Ironically, for someone playing a part about dubbing lines, her lines and songs when she was supposedly dubbing Lina Lamont were dubbed for her (by Jean Hagen, no less). Most importantly though, she was not a dancer when she landed this role, she was a gymnast. Her lack of training frustrated Kelly, who reportedly was very mean to her throughout filming (O’Connor has also claimed he didn’t like working with Kelly, calling him tyrannical). Legend has it that Fred Astaire found her crying beneath a piano on the set one day, and offered to help her train her steps, and that was how she managed to get through the role. On this particular scene, the story holds that she danced until she burst the blood vessels in her feet and had to be carried off to her dressing room.

But none of the other routines compare to the performance of the title song of the film, “Singin’ in the Rain”. One of the greatest scenes of all time ever put on film.

After a kiss goodnight at the door, completely smitten by love, Lockwood waves off his ride home, in spite of the fact that it’s pouring out. He then proceeds to shrug off the rain and sing his heart out. He hugs a lampost, strikes victorious poses, his smile practically beams from his face. He closes his umbrella and twirls it about like a dancing cane, tap dancing and splashing through puddles merrily – almost like a child would – until interrupted by a police officer. It’s a completely legendary scene. The song and dance both are still a part of our pop culture DNA. It’s powered not only by Kelly’s charisma and infinite abilities, but by the base concept itself. What could possibly better illustrate the power of the feeling of love than to set someone off singing and dancing through the pouring rain?

Just like the others mentioned above, this scene was also difficult for those involved. Kelly filmed it in spite of having a 103° fever at the time.

Each of these scenes resonate due to the charm of talent of the cast, but they also stand out in stark contrast to the films of today. Not only in their tone (which is resoundingly upbeat), but in the filmmaking. The takes are incredibly long in these scenes. Not that they’re single take scenes, but the dance numbers are shown in lengthy, uncut segments. Today’s films would be spliced to shreds in order to aid the actors and actresses in looking good, and also in order to placate the short attention spans of the modern audience. To watch the camera linger on talented performers and stay in place as they work their magic… is refreshing to say the least.

In addition to the traditional musical dance numbers, “Rain” ends with a very unique number. In the story, it’s played in as the intro they need to shoot for “The Dancing Cavalier” in order to make it a musical. It’s to be a montage explaining his rise to success on Broadway, and the entire cavalier portion of the film would be a dream sequence. This intro allows for a montage of dance styles to be put on display, all culminating in a surrealistic modern dance ballet number. The entire sequence lifts the movie to a more ambitious level artistically. It’s hard not to be wowed as they move beyond the traditional boundaries of a movie musical and into an exploration of the possibilities inherent in filmed dance.

“Singing in the Rain” was only a modest hit at the time of its release. Donald O’Connor received a Golden Globe for his role, but that was about it for critical recognition. However, the movie has aged like fine wine over the years in terms of critical standing. When AFI released their 100 Years… 100 Movies in 1998, “Singing in the Rain” was ranked the tenth greatest American film ever made. Ten years later, with the release of the 10th Anniversary Edition, it rose to fifth. Only “Citizen Kane”, “The Godfather”, “Casablanca”, and “Raging Bull” rank ahead of it at this point in time. It sits atop their list of greatest American musicals at #1. It isn’t just highly regarded here in the States, though. The recently released Sight & Sound (The British Film Institute’s official magazine) poll of the 50 Greatest Films of All Time has it ranked at #20. It’s also still widely beloved with the public at large, as well, ranking in at #86 on the IMDb top 250.

The film is a testament to the power of dance and the feeling of joy. Even though the artists may have been acting, what comes across on-screen is nothing but pure charm. Happiness simply radiates from this movie. It’s the embodiment of unadulterated, unabashed, unapologetic enthusiasm. Its good-natured characters sing and dance and encourage each other and have silly fun and fall in love. In many ways, that purely upbeat, chipper tone makes the film feel as if it’s from a bygone era more than any other element involved.

Which is too bad.

Not for the film. But for us.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See“.

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46 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Singin’ in the Rain”

  1. Movie gold here. Super post; I had never heard of the Astaire affect in SITR- too cool. This movie made Reynolds a queen of cinema for sure. Many great song and dance numbers are in this power-packed show thanks in no small part to OConnor and the uber-talented Kelly as you mentioned. And I get a kick out of the “Moses supposes” number too. A high order MTESS in my view.

    “Moses suposes his toeses are roses
    But Moses supposes erroneously
    And Moses, he knowses his toeses aren’t roses
    As Moses supposes his toeses to be.”
    - from Singing in the Rain, performed by Kelly/OConnor
    (written by Betty Comden)

    • I like Moses Supposes, too. I think it’s pretty funny how they just pile stuff on the diction coach at the end, there and just sit on him. :D

      Not only had I never heard of the Astaire effect, I had heard but long ago forgotten that Gene Kelly was a dick to work with. Apparently he had no patience and could be really mean. I saw that brought up all kinds of places when I was reading up on this one…

      Thanks for the support here, I think this one was overdue

  2. Wow. What a classic. Great blog, Fogs. And guess what-it’s in my collection. I loved how you go beyond the screen and give those little tidbits about the filming. You really do your homework.

    • I try, Al, I do try.

      This one was rough… the special features were a little lacking, unfortunately, which is something I like to rely on a lot.

      But yeah, it’s a great great great movie. I hadn’t seen it in so long that it blew me away again as if it was new, you know?

  3. Well done Fogs! “Singin’ in the Rain” is an amazing movie. Sad to say that for many film bloggers, to even watch this film means digging deep into a film era they rarely watch. So you are to be applauded for reviewing this one!

    I watched it again a few months ago with my kids (age 10 and 13) and they loved it!

    • Oh yeah, Squonk? That’s cool that even kids today can enjoy this. :D Kudos to you for passing it down one more generation! :D

      Yeah, this is a “classic” for sure, but I like to mix those in to this series. I think if a person wants to be considered a well rounded movie goer, you have to know the important classics, no matter when they’re from. And this is definitely one of them, no doubt about it.

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  4. My mother sang “Good Morning” a thousand times getting us up as kids. Fond memories. When you weren’t smiling ear to ear from the song and dance, it’s the laughs in it. Lina Lamont “Do they think I’m dumb or somethin. I make more money than Calvin Coolidge put together!” And she keeps missing the hidden mikes. A real beaut. But then right in the middle they stop the fun for the large production ballet with Cyd Charrisse. It made no sense at all. What also makes no sense is “Singin” not winning any Oscars. Hollywood’s been atoning ever since.

    • LOL.

      I just had this image of MY Mother, if she ever sang “Good Mornin’” to get us out of bed. I would not have abided that level of cheer so early in the day. There would have been words.

      That Calvin Coolidge quote made the AFI 100 quotes, I think. Great line. LOL.

      It was funny to learn that although she played the starlet with the awful voice in the movie, she actually had such a beautiful voice that she subbed in for Reynolds during the dubbing scenes. So she dubs Reynolds dubbing her. Crazy, eh?

  5. Wow, Fogs!

    Excellent review of a classic.

    I still prefer Donald O’Connor’s role and superbly timed hat tricks, use of props and pratfall choreography in this film over Gene Kelly’s. Kudos also to Debbie Reynolds for keeping up with two proven masters.

    • Yeah, Jack, there’s a good debate there. I think they’re both great, and wouldnt begrudge anyone if they chose “Make Em Laugh”. That routine is amazing. Mind blowing. Seriously.

      I would go with Rain, personally because the song is 100x better, I love the message, and I think that everyone can relate to splashing in puddles.

      Honestly, I think everyone has been in the rain and sung this at one point or another in their lives! :D

  6. Wow Nice review Fogs. I had no idea that Miss Reynolds had her lines dubbed for her or that Donald O Conner had to be hostipalized after filming the Make Them Laugh scene . If you liked “The Artis”t or just plain like movies . “Singing in The Rain” is a must see. I usually hate musicals but I loved every second of this movie

    • Yeah, Vern. I hadnt really connected the dots between “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Artist” when I first saw “The Artist”. But now after refreshing my memory on this movie, its super clear how much “The Artist” draws from this flick. Plus, DuJardin is the spitting image of Gene Kelly. LOL!

  7. Great write up for a great film! Well done. I was jsut talking about “Make ‘em laugh’ the other day as one of my all time favorite movie dance numbers, so you know I’m on board with this one.

    Nice choice!

    • Cool man, cool!

      Glad you’re on board. That is a great routine, and the entire movie is freaking awesome, in my book.

      Thanks for the kind words on the write-up, too, glad to hear you enjoyed.

    • Cool, Richard. Have a good time.

      I never wind up getting to go to those things because they’re always mid week. Sure enough, that’s a Wednesday. :(

      Of course, obviously, that’s WHY they’d have them then, but still, keeps me from being able to attend…

  8. Agreed, agreed, agreed! I remember watching this movie when I was younger. I was just amazed with the singing and dancing. I thought at the time that every guy knew how sing and dance…of course, I was wrong. LOL

  9. You speak TRUTH!! Wonderful write up!

    This is one of my ALL time favorites. This is, to me, the perfect musical–funny, warm and engaging. I watch it on a yearly basis and anytime I want to feel happy (or as you aptly phrased–joyful!)

    • Glad you agree, Nedi. This movie is such a feel good classic.

      You know whats funny is – it’s SUCH a feel good classic that I was SHOCKED to learn that the cast didnt get along, etc. I mean, I know they’re actors, etc. but wow did that surprise me.

      Anyways, glad you’re a fan, it’s always good to talk with other people with appreciation for the classics!

      • I know, right? It is an illusion after all–just like Lockwood and Lamont! “There never has been anything between us…only air!”

        I love Gene Kelly, but you are correct about him being a task master. A perfectionist to the core–it was borderline OCD. But, hell if it doesn’t pay off!

        If you’ve never seen Joseph Gordon Levitt’s re staging of Make “Em Laugh…you have to check it out. It’s pretty cool! (Have I told you how much I love that kid? lol)

  10. Such a great movie; not everyone is a fan of the MGM musical era, but the actors and the music in this one are so charming I don’t see how anyone could NOT like it! The stretch from Don landing in Kathy’s car through the cake scene is adorable!

    You’ve gotta give it up for Debbie Reynolds learning to dance with NO prior experience. It’s such an interesting time to think about; MGM says “We want this girl to star in the next movie. Gene, figure it out,” and that was that. Just a lot of hard-working, dedicated actors.

    • Yeah, I dont know that I’m a fan of the whole ERA, per se, but I think that that perfectly illustrates your point. even if someone isn’t a “big musicals fan”, they still have to love this movie.

      I’m with you, I feel sorry for people who would say they didnt like this movie, Tippi. :(

      Meanwhile, Reynolds was great. I never would have known she was so inexperienced going in to filming… just from watching the movie I would have thought she was some sort of seasoned vet. That just goes to show you what working with the greats can do I suppose. :D The end results is a sheer classic. This is one for the mantlepiece, right here. :D

      Thanks for chiming in!

  11. Well guess what! It’s gonna be playing in a theater near me, so I’m hoping I can see this on the big screen for the first time, Fogs :)

  12. How funny. I have this DVD sitting at home, waiting to be screened for my project. I’ll have to check back in after watching it.

    I feel better knowing it’s a MTESS, though. :)

      • But usually I don’t enjoy singing and dancing in movies. ;)

        That’s what has kept me from it for so long, but hey, I am open to new experiences. I still have this and Chicago waiting to be seen. I’m going in with an open mind.

      • “But usually I don’t enjoy singing and dancing in movies. ;)”

        Oh, then you’re ^$&%ed. LOL

        No… it still has a chance, because this is top notch stuff. I mean, it’s not just ANY Singing and Dancing, its some of the best ever. There’s no coincidence it’s my first Musical so far in this series (well, not counting animated movies…)

  13. Just saw “the Artist” and it’s amazing how many direct references and homages there are in that to Singing in the Rain. From the basic plot, to individual costumes, to some of the sets, to the general resemblance of Jean Dujardin to Gene Kelly. I honestly think that if you’d never seen Singing in the Rain, you wouldn’t really get half the nods in The Artist.

  14. Pingback: Movie Project #36: Singin’ in the Rain [1952] | The Warning Sign

  15. Oh, I’m playing catch up on missed entried buried at the far end of my inbox.

    My first reaction to the title was, “not a great movie but the music and choreography make it worth while”. And sure enough, you addressed that.

    Gene Kelly died in the year I turned 3. I grew up with stories of him being a great performer but an absolute jerk to women and difficult to work with in general. It has always colored my perceptions of his work.

    At the same time, I grew up with tales of Fred Astaire being such a sweet, nice, great guy. So the story about Kelly’s treatment of Reyonld and Astaire helping her out would not surprise me. Personally, I’ll take Fred over Gene any day of the week.

    It is interesting to not, I have not been able to find any mention of Kelly’s treatment of women in any online sources but I’ve seen it mentioned in a few documentaries. In general, published materials seem to gloss over it. So it is hard to verify.

    • As far as Gene Kelly, I had never heard that stuff until I did this article, and then – WOW, I mean, his bad reputation is everywhere! It gets mentioned all over the place!

      Definitely do want to clarify that I do think this is a GREAT movie, though. Was it great because of the acting, plot, characters, etc? No. But the music and the dancing and the scenes the build around that elevate it all the way to greatness in spite of the traditional elements getting a little shortchanged.

      But hey, it’s a musical!

      • I kinda miss musicals. They were so fun. Same with westerns. Hollywood has forgotten how to do them both. The only ones they seem to be able to do anymore (for musicals) are ones that were already stage plays. They can’t managage original ones.

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