Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
Starring Gene Kelly, Donald O”Connor and Debbie Reynolds
Girl in audience: She’s so refined. I think I’ll kill myself.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is not only one of my favourite movie musicals of all time but I actually count it amongst my favourite films, period. Every time I see this film, I am reminded of just how groundbreaking it truly was, from its dazzling Gene Kelly / Stanley Donen choreography to its brilliantly cheeky take on Hollywood. It also features some of the most tender and romantic moments in any movie I‘ve seen, all of it elevated with great ease by the beautiful music of Arthur Freed. There are many very good reasons why the American Film Institute considers this film to be the best movie musical ever made.
Most people don’t know this but SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is actually a jukebox musical. All but one song sung in the film (that song being Moses Supposes) was written about 30 years before the film was even made. The idea was that Warner Bros. had access to all the music already so why would they pay someone to write a new musical when they could tap into their existing resources. But even with Freed classics like Good Morning or You Were Meant for Me or the title track itself to set the mood, and mind blowing Kelly choreography to fill the screen, the film would never have endured if it weren’t for the Adolph Green and Betty Comden screenplay. Kelly plays a silent film actor who struggles to find his place in the “talkies” and falls in love with a young ingenue (a 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds in her first starring role) in the process. Along the way, co-directors, Donen and Kelly, turn the mirror on the often duplicitous nature of the studio system itself.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN endures first and foremost because of its artistry, but it continues to play well to this day because its criticisms of the Hollywood system still hold true. In fact, had the film been made today, (and arguably, THE ARTIST, comes pretty close to a bonafide remake of it), it would likely sweep the Oscars given how much Hollywood loves rewarding movies about itself. At the time it was released though, the film didn’t connect with critics or the industry. It only garnered two Oscar nods at the time, including one for the hysterical Jean Hagen, who plays Kelly’s irritating screen partner. Over time though, the film has held up well and now stands as a shining example of the classical Hollywood musical. That it criticizes Hollywood simultaneously is just a bonus.
As much as I love me some self referential Hollywood wit, what keeps me coming back to SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN time and time again are the unforgettable musical numbers. There are a couple of numbers that are a bit stale or dated now, but You Were Meant for Me, with its light soft shoe step and movie magic set up, is abundantly romantic. Moses Supposes, in which Kelly and his incredible costar/cohort, Donald O’Connor, tap circles around a diction coach, and The Broadway Melody, in which the film breaks away from its narrative entirely to allow for an elaborate and modern number featuring the beautiful Cyd Charisse, are stunning examples of dance talent that is rarely found in Hollywood today. And of course, Singing’ in the Rain itself, in which Kelly splashes about on a rainy night because he simply cannot contain the love for life that is bursting from his chest, puts a smile on the face of all who see it. If it doesn’t make you smile, I am concerned for your well being.
For all of these reasons and more, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is perhaps less deserving of its classic title and better described as simply timeless.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN launched the new TIFF film series, Dreaming in Technicolor, at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto on June 19. The series runs through August 13 and features over 25 classics like CHARADE, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS and BONNIE & CLYDE. For more information and for tickets, please visit tiff.net.