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
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.
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“.