Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Singin' in the Rain (1952) * * *

Part of the opening credits feature the three stars from the film, briefly singing the title song with black umbrellas and yellow raincoats.

(first lines)
Dora Bailey: (broadcasting on radio) This is Dora Bailey, ladies and gentlemen, talking to you from the front of the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. What a night, ladies and gentlemen, what a night! Every star in Hollywood's heaven is here to make Monumental Pictures' premiere of "The Royal Rascal" the outstanding event of 1927! Everyone is breathlessly awaiting the arrival of Lina Lamont and Don Lockwood!

Set in 1927 Hollywood, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a popular silent film star who began as a singer, dancer, and stunt man. He is a dashing, smug, and romantic swashbuckling matinee idol. Don barely tolerates his glamorous blonde but shallow leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), who claims to love him, as the publicity links them romantically. During the screening of "The Royal Rascal", one of the young flappers in the audience comments to her girlfriend about the sophisticated screen image that Lina's beauty projects: "She's so refined. I think I'll kill myself." Studio boss R. F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) congratulates Lina for her smash-hit performance.

Simpson: Lina, you were gorgeous.
Cosmo: Yeah, Lina, you looked pretty good for a girl.
Lina: F' heaven's sake, what's the big idea? Can't a girl get a word in edge-wise? After all, they're my public too!

Lina: Donny, how can you let him talk to me like that, your fiansee?"
Don Lockwood: Now Lina, you've been reading those fan magazines again. Now look Lina, you shouldn't believe all that banana oil that Dora Bailey and the columnists dish out. Now try to get this straight. There is nothing between us. There has never been anything between us. Just air.

Don Lockwood: What's the matter with that girl? Can't she take a gentle hint?
Cosmo: Well, haven't you heard? She's irresistible. She told me so herself.

One day, to escape from overenthusiastic fans, Don jumps into a passing car driven by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). She drops him off, but not before claiming to be a stage actress and sneering at his undignified accomplishments. Later, at a party, the head of Don's studio, R.F. Simpson, shows a short demonstration of a talking picture, but his guests are not very impressed. Don runs into Kathy again at the party, after she jumps out of a cake. To his amusement and her embarrassment, he discovers that Kathy is only a chorus girl, part of the entertainment. Furious, she throws a cake at him, only to hit Lina right in the face. After weeks of searching for her, Don makes up with Kathy after she is found in another Monumental Pictures production, and they begin to fall in love.

Don Lockwood: Kathy, all the stories about Lina and me are sheer publicity.
Kathy: Oh? It certainly seems more than that. From all those columns in the newspapers and articles in the fan magazines...
Don Lockwood: You read the fan magazines?
Kathy: I pick them up at the beauty parlor or the dentist's office, just like anybody.
Don Lockwood: Really?
Kathy: Well... I buy four or five a month.
Don Lockwood: Four or five...
Kathy: But anyway, to get back to the point, you and Miss Lamont do achieve a certain intimacy in all your pictures...
Don Lockwood: Did you say all our pictures?
Kathy: I guess if I think about it I've seen eight or nine of them.
Don Lockwood: You know I remember someone saying, "If you've seen one you've seen 'em all."

After a rival studio releases its first talking picture, "The Jazz Singer", and it proves to be a smash hit, Simpson decides he has no choice but to convert the new Lockwood and Lamont film, "The Dueling Cavalier", into a talkie. The production has many difficulties that reportedly did take place during the early days of talking pictures, by far the worst is Lina's comically grating high-pitched voice. A test screening is a disaster largely because of her shrill, screechy New York accent. She asks: "What's wrong with the way I talk? What's the big idea? Am I dumb or somethin'?" And in one scene Don repeats his own line "I love you" to Lina over and over, to the audience's laughter.

Phoebe Dinsmore: (giving Lina diction lessons) Repeat after me: Tah, Tey, Tee, Toe, Too.
Lina Lamont: Tah, Tey, Tye, Tow, Tyo.
Phoebe Dinsmore: No, no, no Miss Lamont, Round tones, round tones. Now, let me hear you read your line.
Lina Lamont: And I cayn't stand'im.
Phoebe Dinsmore: And I can't stand him.
Lina Lamont: And I cayn't stand'im.
Phoebe Dinsmore: Can't.
Lina Lamont: Cayn't.
Phoebe Dinsmore: Caaaan't
Lina Lamont: Cayyyyn't

Don's best friend, Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor), comes up with the idea to dub Lina's voice with Kathy's and they persuade Simpson to turn "The Dueling Cavalier" into a musical titled "The Dancing Cavalier". At the end of production, Lina finds out that Kathy is dubbing her voice. She is furious and does everything possible to sabotage the romance between Don and Kathy. Lina becomes even angrier when she discovers that Simpson intends to give Kathy a screen credit and a big publicity buildup. Lina, having consulted lawyers, blackmails Simpson into backing down.

Cosmo Brown: Why bother to shoot this film? Why not release the old one under a new title? You've seen one, you've seen them all.
Don Lockwood: Hey, what'd you say that for?
Cosmo Brown: What's the matter?
Don Lockwood: That's what that Kathy Selden said to me that night.
Cosmo Brown: That's three weeks ago, you still thinking about that?
Don Lockwood: I can't get her out of my mind.
Cosmo Brown: How could you--she's the first dame who hasn't fallen for your line since you were four.

The premiere of "The Dancing Cavalier" is a tremendous success. When the audience clamors for Lina to sing live, Don, Cosmo, and Simpson improvise and get Lina to lip-synch while Kathy sings into a second microphone while hidden behind the stage's curtain. Later, while Lina is lip-synching, Don, Cosmo and Simpson open the stage curtain behind her, revealing the deception. Lina then flees in embarrassment. When Kathy tries to run away as well, Don stops her and introduces the audience to "the real star of the film", creating the film's expected happy resolution.

(last lines)
Don Lockwood: Ladies and gentlemen, stop that girl, that girl running up the aisle. Stop her! That's the girl whose voice you heard and loved tonight. She's the real star of the picture. Kathy Selden!
(theater audience applauds and cheers)
Don Lockwood: Kathy...
(Don and Kathy sing "You Are My Lucky Star")

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is a musical that even people who hate musicals love. Whether or not you consider it the best musical ever created by Hollywood is a matter of personal preference. But no matter where you personally rank it, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is certainly one of the best, a film that simply gains in critical and popular stature with every passing year, a national and world treasure of cinematic art. It's a high-energy, witty, and sparkling movie laced with period songs by Arthur Freed, a film that many regard as the single finest musical to emerge from Hollywood. The plot was derived from ONCE IN A LIFETIME (1932), a hilarious adaptation of the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman 1930 play set during the time of panic surrounding Hollywood's transition to talkies.

In many respects it is a throwback to the early musicals of the era it satirizes, for many of its musical numbers have absolutely nothing to do with the story it tells. But unlike such early musicals the storyline is exceptionally strong, and since the film is about the creation of an early "all talking, all dancing, all singing" movie in which such musical numbers were typical, they have here a certain validity that could not otherwise be achieved. The cast is absolutely flawless, and Kelly, Reynolds, O'Connor, and Hagen give the finest performances of their careers. Musical numbers are brilliantly performed, each the definition of perfection. The art designs are meticulous, beautiful, and recreate the late-silent and early-sound era of Hollywood with considerable charm. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN has an energy and vitality that is timeless.

This musical was originally conceived by MGM producer Arthur Freed as a vehicle for his catalog of songs written with Nacio Herb Brown for previous MGM musical films of the 1929-39 period. Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green contributed lyrics to one new song. Except for two songs, all have lyrics by Freed and music by Brown. The films listed below mark the first time each song was presented on screen.

* "Fit as a Fiddle (And Ready for Love)", from COLLEGE COACH (1933), with music by Al Hoffman and Al Goodhart.
* "Temptation" (instrumental only), from GOING HOLLYWOOD (1933)
* "All I Do Is Dream of You", from SADIE McKEE (1934)
* "Singin' in the Rain", from HOLLYWOOD REVIEW OF 1929 (1929)
* "Make 'Em Laugh", considered an original song, but a near-plagiarism of Cole Porter's "Be a Clown", used in another Freed musical, THE PIRATE (1948). In the lead in to the song, Cosmo sarcastically references the tragic line "ridi pagliaccio" ("Laugh, clown") from the opera "Pagliacci".
* "Beautiful Girl Montage" comprising "I Got a Feelin' You're Foolin'" from BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936 (1935), "The Wedding of the Painted Doll" from THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929), and "Should I?" from LORD BYRON OF BROADWAY (1930)
* "Beautiful Girl", from GOING HOLLYWOOD (1933) and from STAGE MOTHER (1933)
* "You Were Meant for Me", from THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929)
* "You Are My Lucky Star", from BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936 (1935)
* "Moses Supposes" (music by Roger Edens, lyrics by Comden and Green)
* "Good Morning", from BABES IN ARMS (1939)
* "Would You?", from SAN FRANCISCO (1936)
* "Broadway Melody Ballet" composed of "The Broadway Melody" from THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929) and "Broadway Rhythm" from BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936 (1935) with music by Nacio Herb Brown and Lennie Hayton.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN was co-directed by Stanley Donen and dancer choreographer Gene Kelly, and is a charming, up-beat, graceful and enjoyable experience with great songs, lots of flashbacks, and wonderful dances, including the spectacular Broadway Melody Ballet with Cyd Charisse. This is another example of the "integrated musical" in which the characters express their emotions. Song and dance replace the dialogue, usually during moments of high spirits or passionate romance. Over half of the film is composed of musical numbers.

The cast also includes: Cyd Charisse (Dancer), Douglas Fowley (Roscoe Dexter), Rita Moreno (Zelda Zanders), Dawn Addams (Teresa), Kathleen Freeman (Phoebe Dinsmore), Madge Blake (Dora Bailery), John Albright, Betty Allen, Sue Allen, Marie Ardell, Bette Arlen, Jimmy Bates, Marcella Becker, Margaret Bert, David Blair, Madge Blake (Dora Bailey), Gail Bonney, Gwen Carter, Bill Chatham, Mae Clarke, Lyle Clark, Harry Cody, Chick Collins, Pat Conway, Jeanne Coyne, Fred Datig Jr., Bert Davidson, Robert Dayo, Patricia Denise, Kay Deslys, Gloria DeWerd, John Dodsworth, King Donovan, Michael Dugan, Phil Dunham, Helen Eby-Rock, Marietta Elliott, Richard Emory (Phil - Villain in Barroom Brawl), Betty Erbes, Charles Evans, Tommy Farrell (Sid Phillips), Don Fields, Ernie Flatt, Bess Flowers, Robert Fortier, Dan Foster, Robert Foulk (Matt - Policeman), Kathleen Freeman, Lance Fuller, Jeanne Gail, Glen Gallagher, Jon Gardner, Diane Garrett, Jack George, Shirley Glickman, Inez Gorman, A. Cameron Grant, Beatrice Gray, Marion Gray, William Hamel, Betty Hannon, Timmy Hawkins, Dean Henson, Jean Heremans, Stuart Holmes (J. Cumberland Spendrill III), Joyce Horne, Don Hulbert, Frank Hyers, Pat Jackson, Ivor James, Morgan Jones, David Kasday, Jan Kayne, Jimmy Kelly, Kenner G. Kemp, Mike Lally, Judy Landon (Olga Mara), Joi Lansing, Janet Lavis, Virginia Lee, William F. Leicester, Peggy Leon, Diki Lerner, Bill Lewin (Bert), Sylvia Lewis, John Logan, and many others. The original musical score was composed by Lennie Hayton. Adolph Green and Betty Comden wrote the story and screenplay. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly directed.

This MGM picture is the American musical that consistently ranks among the 10 best movies ever made. It's not only a great song-and-dance piece starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and a sprightly Debbie Reynolds, it's also an affectionately funny insider spoof about the film industry's uneasy transition from silent pictures to talkies. Surprisingly, this great film shot for a cost of $2.5 million was basically ignored by film critics when released and treated with indifference by the public, with a box-office of $7.7 million worldwide. It received only two Academy Award nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Jean Hagen), and Best Musical Score (Lennie Hayton) but didn't win any awards.

According to the audio commentary on the 2002 Special Edition DVD, the original negative was destroyed in a fire, but despite this, the film has been digitally restored for its DVD release. The new digital transfer is stunning for both video and audio. Many reviewers have complained about the commentary track and it is the low-point of this edition. The second disc is a goldmine. First, there is the excellent PBS documentary on the Arthur Freed Unit, "Musicals Glorious Musicals". This is an often revealing 90-minute film about the musical films Freed produced. It includes plenty of great excerpts, too. There is a new documentary, "What A Glorious Feeling," on the making of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. Watching both these documentaries, you don't need the commentary track because most of it was lifted from these documentaries. In addition, this supplementary disc includes the songs used in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN as they first appeared in their original films and later films that used the songs again. And there is another whole section of audio excerpts from the recording sessions. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN was not shot in widescreen, but in the only format used for studio pictures before the end of 1953, the "Academy" or "Standard" aspect ratio. It was designed to be shown in 1.37:1, which is about the same as most TV screens.

The movie is frequently described as one of the best musicals ever made, topping the American Film Institute's 100 Years of Musicals list, and ranking fifth in its updated list of the greatest American films in 2007. In 1989 SINGIN' IN THE RAIN was also deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

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