Friday, 12 April 2013
Old Movie Of The Week: Singin' In The Rain ( 1952 )
Old movie of this week... or any other week, to be honest, is Gene Kelly's classic musical love-letter to old Hollywood. I'll just state for the record that I'm not ordinarily a great fan of musicals. In fact, until I was well into my late twenties, the only musicals I had any time for were The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Grease. ( Open-minded or what? ) But my opinion altered as time went by and I became more receptive to "Hey kids! Let's do the show right here!" stuff. I watched the definitive documentary on Hollywood musicals, That's Entertainment, and thought maybe there was something in this "hoofing" business after all...
I still can't handle the Gilbert & Sullivan ilk or the thigh-slappin' likes of Oklahoma or Showboat though...
For those who don't know ( there must be some out there ) Singin' In The Rain is a story set during the late 1920s when people looked to Hollywood for glamour and escapism from their humdrum lives. Movie star Don Lockwood ( Gene Kelly ) is one of the biggest box office draws of the silent era, especially when playing opposite starlet Lina Lamont ( Jean Hagen ). They're seen as a golden couple by the public and gossip columnists... although Don secretly loathes the self-obsessed, manipulative Lina. Without warning Hollywood is hit by the bombshell that is the first "talkie", The Jazz Singer. Suddenly all the studios need talking pictures and the Lockwood/Lamont movie, The Duelling Cavalier, is a flop waiting to happen. With the help of his best buddy and fellow ex-Vaudevillian Cosmo Brown ( Donald O'Connor ) and new-found love Kathy Selden ( Debbie Reynolds ) Don has to revive his career and extricate himself from the clutches of Lina. But first, there's the matter of Lina's voice which is far too shrill and shrewish for the new-fangled medium of talking pictures...
Singin' In The Rain was actually a cynical attempt by MGM to build a movie around a pile of old Arthur Freed songs from previous films. That changed when star Gene Kelly came on board and single-mindedly turned the movie into the vibrant, post-modern classic that defined his career. He hired actors ( O'Connor ), harrassed others when they couldn't live up to his demanding perfectionism ( Reynolds ), antagonised studio bosses, and generally did whatever was necessary to realise his vision. Happily, the finished product became recognised as the most beloved musical ever.
This movie endures whilst contemporaries have been forgotten for a variety of reasons, not least for the sharp and witty screenplay, cheekily referencing the realities behind the Hollywood facade. Gene Kelly himself once said "Everything in Singin' In The Rain springs from the truth. It is a conglomeration of bits of movie lore." Sometimes biting the hand that feeds you pays off!
The breezy charm of the three leads is also a delight to behold. You can easily believe that Don and Cosmo are old pals who have slogged their guts out to rise above the speakeasys and pool-halls of their youth to become Tinseltown players. And the romance between Don and wannabe starlet Kathy is surprisingly touching for what is basically a light-hearted comedy.
And then there's the dancing...
All the leads bring an exuberance and joie de vivre to their dance numbers but Kelly, of course, is the star of the show and dances his socks off. His effortless, manly style is strong and sinuous, a mile away from the gliding, High Society hoofing of Fred Astaire. That famous scene where Don splashes about in the surprisingly "damp" LA weather is rightfully one of the most iconic moments in movie history - good news for Kelly, who was fighting a flu-induced fever at the time and was dancing in "rain" laced with milk to make it stand out in Technicolor.
The "Broadway Melody" section of the movie takes up a good 15 minutes of the film and is a dazzling showcase for Freed's songs, Kelly's talents and the absolutely eye-popping visuals by cinematographer Harold Rosson. It's also a fantastic showcase for Cyd Charisse, bringing a real sass and sensuality to her role as an idealised gangster's moll. And she gets to blow smoke out of her nose into Kelly's face!
This section of the film also brings us the beautiful dream sequence below where Kelly pursues Charisse across a sound-stage turned soft-focus Dali landscape. Stunning!
So, Singin' In The Rain is without doubt in my mind a five-star, all-time classic... even if it is a musical :-)
Sarah and I were lucky enough to see the film at Gloucester Guildhall Arts Centre last weekend, shown as part of the venue's season of classic movies. The print was slightly dark and scratchy
( one of Kelly's lines disappeared altogether ) but it was great to see it in 35mm as originally intended. One of my favourite movies... in my favourite venue? Perfect!