Singin’ in the Rain

  • Title:  Singin’ in the Rain
  • Director:  Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
  • Date:  1952
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance, Comedy
  • Cast:  Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Cyd Charisse, Rita Moreno
  • Format:  Standard, Technicolor
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Dignity, always dignity.”  — Don Lockwood

“What do you think I am?  Dumb or something?”  Lina

“Everybody’s always making speeches for me, well tonight I’m going to do my own talking, I’m going to make the speech!” — Lina

It should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of Fred Astaire (see links on left to his many films that I own) so, even though I think it’s perfectly possible to like both, I’m much less of a fan of Gene Kelly.  Kelly definitely has a very different dancing style — he’s athletic, and dances like a gymnast but he’s also very heavy.  While Astaire dances on air — and seems to float with grace and style, Kelly is very down to earth and almost working class, even when playing a rich, successful, film star as he does in Singin’ in the the Rain.

The film starts with a 1927 film premiere, which is reminiscent of  an Oscar Red Carpet night, complete with a female commentator, who announces the stars as they arrive.  Soon, one of the film’s stars arrives, Don Lockwood (Kelly), who is convinced to tell his well-known story to the audience.  He does, but the pictures in the resulting montage are the exact opposite of his words.  It is a very nice piece of ironic humor to start the film.

However, it is also ironically, and unintentionally, a comment on the studio system of film-making, of which MGM was a prime (but not the only) example.  The studio would create background stories, publicity images, even the names of their stars, as well as choosing which films their stars made and who their co-stars were.  Studio system actors, in a very real sense, were “just doing a job” — they showed up, made that month’s picture, then the next, and the next, and the next.  This is one reason why film stars of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, racked up huge numbers of films if they stayed in the business.

Just as Lockwood and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), the stars of Monumental Pictures, start their new film, “The Dueling Cavalier”, Warner Brother’s “The Jazz Singer” comes out and is a smashing success.  “R.F.”, the head of  the studio, decides “The Dueling Cavalier”, will be a talking picture.  Don and Lina are given voice / diction lessons, but whereas Don takes to it like a duck to water, Lina, whom the studio has not allowed to speak in public, has trouble.  Her voice is loud, squeaky, obnoxious, and her manner is rude, self-centered, and shrewish.  Not only is her voice a distraction, but she is unable to figure out she must direct her voice towards the microphone, or that playing with her costume (notably a strand of fake pearls) will cause extra noise that’s a distraction on the film.  In short, Lina, is a disaster, though probably not entirely due to her own fault.

The new film is shown to a preview audience, and the crowd roars with laughter (for a serious, historic romance), and many complain it’s the worst they have ever seen while leaving the theater.  RF, Don, and Don’s friend, Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) are devastated. But, Kathy (Debbie Reynolds), a young starlet and acting hopeful, that Don has been pursing, has an idea — make the film into a musical.  Cosmo points out that Lina also can’t sing or dance.  Then he gets an idea:  Kathy will dub Lina’s lines, and sing for her.  They take the plan to RF, who loves it.  Don suggests they save what they can of the film by making it about a “young hoofer” (that is, a dancer) who goes to New York to seek his fortune on the stage, while backstage he’s hit by a falling sandbag, and dreams he’s in the French Revolution (the footage already shot of “The Dueling Cavalier”), the title of the film will be changed to “The Dancing Cavalier”.

Everything goes to plan until Lina finds out what’s going on, and about Kathy dubbing for her.  She’s extremely angry and releases a story to the press about her phenomenal singing voice.  She also points out to RF she’s in charge of her own publicity.  Therefore, RF’s plans of giving Kathy screen credit, and making it plain in the press she was a new star and would star in new films with Don goes up in smoke.

The new film’s premiere is a success, and Lina insists she will make Kathy dub her voice for the next five years, ruining Kathy’s own career.  She makes a speech to the crowd, which goes over only so-so, then at the crowd’s insistence, sings the reprise of  “Singin’ in the Rain”, getting Kathy to dub it for her. However, Don, Cosmo, and RF pull the curtain back, revealing that the excellent voice is, in fact, Kathy.

List of  Musical Numbers

  • Fit as a Fiddle
  • All I Do is Dream of  You
  • Make ‘Em Laugh
  • You Were Meant For Me
  • Moses Supposes
  • Good Morning
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Would You?
  • Broadway Melody / Broadway Rhythm
  • Singin’ in the Rain (Reprise)
  • You Are My Lucky Star

Most of  the music from Singin’ in the Rain, isn’t original at all — it’s from Warner Brothers and RKO musicals from the late 1920s up to the mid-1930s.  Even the title tune is from the Hollywood Review of 1929, while “Good Morning” is from Babes in Arms (1939).  However, “Singin’ in the Rain” with Gene Kelly gleefully walking, striding, singing, and dancing in a cold, rainy street is an excellent number.  I also liked the less-than-serious “Moses Supposes” (Kelly and O’Connor, partner tap) and the energetic “Good Morning” (Reynolds, Kelly, and O’Connor, trio partner tap).  The finale is typical of big, technicolor, MGM musicals, with several moods, changes of  set and costume, lots of show dancing, and even two lovely ballet numbers starring Cyd Charisse dancing opposite Gene Kelly.

However, the film is very anti-feminist in it’s attitudes.  Lina, is made fun of and gets her come-uppance, not only because she’s a “shrew” but because she insists on being in charge of her own career, and speaking for herself.  Whereas Kathy is a good girl and always does what she’s told – by Don and RF especially.  Lina’s goal, speaking for herself, making her own career decisions, and basically not being pushed around, isn’t so bad.  Yes, she misbehaves (especially towards Kathy whom she sees as a threat to her relationship with Don), but you know what they say about well-behaved women (they rarely make history).  There’s also the inherent age-ism of  a young starlet replacing a more mature actress. Overall, what she wants and her behavior isn’t that bad, considering, and the way she’s belittled, made fun of, and embarrassed — not to mention the complete loss of  her career is a bit harsh of a punishment.

Recommendation:  See it (if only for the dance sequences)
Rating:  3.5 out of  5
Next Film:  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Bandwagon

  • Title: The Bandwagon
  • Director: Vincente Minnelli
  • Date: 1953
  • Studio: MGM
  • Genre: Musical
  • Cast: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan
  • Format: Standard, Technicolor
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC, 2-disc Special Edition

“We enter with nothing but a dream – but when we leave we’ll have a show! In between there will be enthusiasms, frustrations, hot tempers, cold coffee, some of us will fight, some will fall in love but all of us will work… The night that curtain goes up it will go up on a smash hit! And believe me kids, there’s nothing in the world so soothing as a smash hit.” — Jeffrey Cordova

“Gosh, with all this raw talent around, why can’t us kids get together and put on ourselves a show!” — Lester Martin

The Bandwagon is, in many ways, a parody of the standard WB/MGM musical. It certainly has a light-hearted twist on many of the conventions of a musical. Astaire is Tony a “song and dance man”, “a hoofer”, who left Broadway and went to Hollywood, making his fame in a string of musical films, such as “Swinging Down to Panama” (a reference to the classic Astaire / Rogers film Swing Time and Astaire’s first film with Ginger Rogers – Flying Down to Rio). But, that was ages ago, and in the opening scene he sells his top hat, gloves, and dance cane to raise enough money to buy himself a ticket back to New York, where some old friends have promised him a role in a new stage play to be directed by the famous Jeffrey Cordova. Tony hasn’t heard of Cordova, but any job is a job, so he agrees to see him. Tony’s first sight of Cordova is on stage – playing Oedipus Rex, Tony scoffs – “This is the man that’s going to direct a musical?” But his friends, Lily and Lester Martin (Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant) assure him Cordova can do anything.

The next issue Tony has is his co-star — Lily, Lester, and Jeffrey have choosen, Gabrielle – a ballerina (Cyd Charisse). Tony, besides thinking she’s too tall, is intimidated by the cool dancer. Gabby also has her own doubts – not only intimidated by Tony but worried she won’t be able to handle the pressures of a Broadway show.

And what a show – Jeffrey takes Lily and Lester’s light-hearted musical comedy and turns it into a dark, gloomy, musical version of Faust. And yes, it does turn into the disaster you’d expect. In fact, the first half-hour of the film involves the pulling together of the musical, and their first out-of-town show, which is a complete flop. That the show is a flop instead of a rousing success is the exact opposite of many musicals about the pulling together of a Broadway show.  The shocked faces of the audience and backers as they exit the theatre are amusing, but the cast of the show is in trouble.

At the after-show cast “wake” Tony takes the reins, and with the help of Lily and Lester decides to take the show back to it’s roots – testing in each city on the road until they are ready to go back to New York. Even Jeffrey agrees.

What follows is a quick montage of numbers, then the show returns to New York. In New York, we see the play book, heard the numbers we’ve seen on the road, and the finale number is “Girl Hunt” — film noir done as a musical ballet with Fred as the Detective (complete with a deliberately corny monologue) and Cyd Charisse as the sweet blonde victim and the dark-haired Femme Fatale. It’s a pure jazzy ballet — music and dance telling the story, in between Tony’s monologue. It’s a brilliant number and one of my favorites ever, especially in a MGM musical. And again, it’s an example of the very clever nature of the movie to have a musical Film Noir piece as the center-piece conclusion of the film.

What sets The Bandwagon apart from similar MGM musicals is it’s nod-nod-wink-wink cleverness that acknowledges the audience knows exactly what they are poking fun at. “Tony” selling his top hat, gloves, and stick – the uniform of Fred Astaire’s traditional b/w Art Deco films which had gone out of style by the 1950s. The very traditional back stage musical that runs up to a big premiere – only to have that premiere be a complete flop. Lester’s comment, “Gosh, with all this raw talent around, why can’t us kids get together and put on ourselves a show!” even delivered to sound like Mickey Rooney – is a dead-on reference/parody of the WB backyard musicals (think young Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney) that wouldn’t go over the heads of a 1950s audience at all. As I said – clever. The second half, or even last third of the film is more the traditional MGM musical, with as many songs by the same composer jammed in as possible. But, at least it makes sense, plot wise, since each is performed in a different city as the troupe is testing the waters. And “Girl Hunt” is pure brilliance that works on many levels — it’s a brilliant dance, the colors are incredible, the explosions and special effects look like stage effects – as they should, and the whole number itself takes a film-noir story and condenses it into about 10-15 minutes of wordless performance of jazzy music and dance (wordless except Tony’s monologue).

List of Musical Numbers

  • I’ll Go My Way by Myself
  • Shine on your Shoes
  • That’s Entertainment!
  • Dancing in the Dark (music only)
  • More Beer/I Love Louisa
  • New Sun in a New Sky
  • I Lost the One Girl I Found
  • Louisiana Hayride
  • Triplets
  • Girl Hunt
  • Reprise – I’ll Go My Way by Myself
  • Reprise – That’s Entertainment

Other music in the film that’s particularly enjoyable: “Shine on your Shoes” – Fred tears up a old-fashioned street arcade, while a shoe-shine guy dances to the rhythm as well. It’s great fun, and well filmed – though there’s a noticeable edit in the middle of the scene, unusual in any of Fred’s dance numbers. “Dancing in the Dark” – performed without lyrics, is a beautiful ballroom dance piece with Charisse and Fred dancing together. It’s shot full-frame, that is, we can see the dancers from the tips of their toes to the tops of their heads for every beat of the dance – and the entire dance is one shot – no edits to spoil the rhythm of the movement of the dancers. It’s a beautiful, beautiful piece. “Louisiana Hayride” with Nanette Fabray belting out the vocals is pure fun, tho’ it also includes some of the worst grammar ever in the lyrics, yet it’s still energetic and fun. “Triplets” includes some clever costume effects to make Fred, Nanette, and Jack Buchanan all look like infants. And then there’s “Girl Hunt” discussed above. Overall, fun, light, enjoyable, — a film to cheer one up, and leave the theater singing. A joy to watch.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Barkleys of Broadway