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

Royal Wedding

  • Title:  Royal Wedding
  • Director:  Stanley Donen
  • Date:  1951
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Peter Lawford, Sarah Churchill, Keenan Wynn
  • Format:  Standard, Technicolor
  • DVD:  R1, NTSC

“Do I look like a gentleman?” — Jaime, Anne’s father
“Jaime, you look like a banker.” — Tom
“But do I look like a gentleman?” — Jaime

Tom (Astaire) and Ellen (Powell) Bowen are a brother-sister Broadway act, with a hit show, “Every Night at Seven”.  Their show is so successful that their agent gets a call from England, an offer for the two to open their show in London in time for the summer Royal Wedding (of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip).  Aboard the steamer ship bound for the UK, Ellen meets Lord John Brindale (Lawford), and the two begin to date once the ship reaches England.  Meanwhile, on the first day of casting and rehearsals in London, Tom bumps into Anne Ashmond (Sarah Churchill), and they also begin to date.  Eventually, the show, “Every Night at Seven” also opens in London.  Tom has one of his contacts check out Anne’s American fiance’ who had returned to Chicago then failed to contact her – turns out he’s now married. This frees up Anne, and she proposes to Tom.  Meanwhile, Lord Brindale has also proposed to Ellen.  At first, Tom and Ellen are reluctant to marry and break up the act.  However, with “wedding fever” in the air because of  the Royal Wedding, they quickly change their minds and the film ends with the double wedding of Tom and Anne and Ellen and John.

Royal Wedding seems, in part, to be drawn from parallels to Astaire’s own real life — he got his start first in vaudeville and then on Broadway, with his sister Adelle as his dance partner.  When she left the stage to marry, he wasn’t sure what to do, before someone (thankfully!) suggested Hollywood, and the rest, as they say is history.  But by having Powell and Astaire playing brother and sister, rather than having them romantically linked, there’s a playful side to this film that is enjoyable.  Some of the scenes between the two are quite fun, and more of their teasing and kidding each other could have vastly improved the film. The problem with the film is that MGM and Arthur Freed apparently love to play with toys and don’t know when to put them away.  In one number, Astaire dances with a coat rack / hat stand and various pieces of gym equipment in the steamer ship’s gymnasium while waiting for Ellen to show for rehearsal.  In another, the floor Ellen and Tom are dancing on tilts wildly as the ship navigates rough waters.  And, finally, this is the film where Astaire dances on the walls and ceiling of  a room (as well as Anne’s photo). Astaire was a gifted, fluid, and graceful dancer — yet in the “dance on the ceiling” routine, he looks uncomfortable and like he can barely manage the moves — it’s painful to watch.  Astaire doesn’t need tricks – I wish MGM would have just let the man dance in his later films (this is also why I much prefer Astaire’s early work, especially when he was paired with Ginger Rogers).

Also, my copy of this film is in horrible shape.  There’s a “outdoor” scene between Powell and Lord Brindale which is very muddy and overly red.  Some restoration work wouldn’t come amiss at all.

Finally, Powell sings three solos in this film — and she can’t sing.  I just don’t enjoy her singing voice at all. I will say, though, that her few dance scenes with Astaire, despite make-up and costumes that seem designed to make both her and Astaire look terrible, are good.  I do think Jane has better chemistry with Astaire than Eleanor Powell did.  The Astiare/Powell brother/sister act is fun.

List of  Musical  Numbers

  • “Every Night at Seven”  — Astaire, Vocals; Astaire and Powell, Dance
  • Musical number and dance, no vocals (Astaire dances with hat stand, gym equipment)
  • “How Could You Believe I Love You”/”I’m a Liar” – Astaire and Powell, vocals and dance
  • “You’re the World to Me” — Astaire with Anne’s photo, dances on walls, ceiling
  • “I Left My Hat in Haiti” — Astaire, vocals and dance segues to production number
  • “Lovely Day for a Wedding” — Background
Recommendation:  It’s OK, but disappointing
Rating:  3 of  5
Next Film:  Running Scared

Indiscreet

  • Title:  Indiscreet
  • Director:  Stanley Donen
  • Date:  1958
  • Studio:  Republic Pictures
  • Genre:  Romance
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m the wrongest woman you’ve ever seen and I’m going to pay him back with interest!”  — Ingrid Bergman

Probably one of Cary Grant’s less-known romances, I picked it up in a bargain bin someplace.  However, the presence of Ingrid Bergman makes the film watchable.  The plot is also a bit backwards or reversed — where else would one see a woman get extremely angry and plotting her revenge when she discovers her lover of several months is not married.

Bergman plays Anna, a well-known actress of some acclaim.  She’s wealthy and independent, and bored stiff by the parade of suitors at her door.

Grant is Philip, a diplomat, who bores easily and thus has come to the conclusion he should remain a bachelor.

Anna and Philip meet thanks to another couple and go to a dinner together, they have a marvelous time, and Anna invites Philip to her apartment for a “nightcap”.  Philip accepts the invitation, then tells her he’s married, he’s separated from his wife, and he can’t get a divorce.  And so begins their affair.  Philip turns down a job in Mexico and accepts a job working for NATO in Paris, then flies to London every weekend to spend time with Anna.  The two attend ballets and gallery openings and they enjoy dinners and long walks.  They spend several months together in their “illicit” affair.  And slowly the two fall in love.

Things begin to unravel when Philip is “offered” a job in New York, a job he has to take that will take him away from London for five months.  Anna is heart-broken that he will leave her.  But Philip has a surprise, he talks her into toasting him at midnight, on her birthday, the next day — when he’s supposed to be on a boat for the US.  Anna’s brother-in-law confronts him about his secret — he’s not married, he’s single. Philip explains he came up with the lie of a non-existent wife to avoid having to say “He’s not the marrying kind”, but admits his plan to surprise Anna on her birthday.  The brother-in-law, finding out from Anna that she plans to fly to the US to meet Philip, talks her out of it by saying, essentially, “but he plans on surprising you by being here”.  Unfortunately, he slips up and also tells her Philip is single, which enrages Anna.

That night there’s a big dance at the same place where Philip and Anna had their first date.  Anna seethes through the entire evening; and plots her revenge when she sees an old suitor at the dance, and someone sends her a red rose – she assumes it’s from the old suitor.  There is a very nice scene of country dancing by the way!

That night, supposedly their last night together, Anna plays games with Philip.  Bergman’s performance, like the scene where she loses it when she learns the truth about Philip, is brilliant.  She can bring so many emotions to relatively simple dialogue!  The next night, her birthday, Anna’s filled her flat with roses and candles, and plans for David to meet her for dinner, half an hour before Philip is due to surprise her. David, fortunately, is struck down with appendicitis and doesn’t make it.  Anna attempts to substitute Karl, her Chauffeur for David, only to have the mess backfire on her.  Fortunately, Philip comes in to give her a second chance, after all he did propose to her!  And they all live happily ever after.

Again, a fairly standard romantic movie, not a lot of entanglements.  If David, Anna’s old suitor, has actually been a character in the film and not just someone who’s mentioned (even if played by Ralph Bellamy) it would have worked a bit better and given the film some more tension.  But still, the leads are good actors, and it has a slightly unusual plot.

Recommendation:  Not bad if you’re in the mood for romance
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  It Happened One Night

Charade (1963)

  • Title:  Charade
  • Director:  Stanley Donen
  • Date:  1963
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre:  Suspense, Romance, Mystery
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“It is infuriating that your unhappiness does not turn to fat.”  — Sylvie to Regina

“Any morning now, you could wake-up dead, Mrs. Lambert.”  — Threat spoken to Regina

“Being murdered in cold blood is not nonsense!  Why don’t you try it sometime?”  — Regina to Peter

Audrey Hepburn is Regina Lambert, who returns to her flat in Paris, determined to ask her husband for a divorce, only to find the flat completely empty, the electricity shut off, and a police officer waiting to tell her that her husband has been murdered.  He was thrown off a train.  Shortly thereafter, a man claiming to be from the CIA (Walter Matthau) informs her that her husband was wanted for stealing $250,000 in gold during World War II along with four other men.  What follows is a complicated suspense movie of multiple identities, miscellaneous murders, revenge, and a search for the missing money.  Cary Grant alone, who keeps showing up around Audrey Hepburn, has at least four names.

This film is directed like a classic Hitchcock film, though the director is actually Stanley Donen – better known for his musicals.  There is some romantic tension between Hepburn and Grant as well, but not as much as is typical for a Cary Grant-led romantic comedy.

Overall, though a bit long, it’s still a fun film.  I picked up my copy at Suncoast on sale for $4.99 — back when there was a Suncoast Video, simply because with Grant and Hepburn as leads I figured I couldn’t go wrong and I was right.  The film is very enjoyable.  Cary Grant is excellent as the mystery man Hepburn isn’t sure she should trust or not.  And Audrey Hepburn is excellent and believable as the only one in the film who really has no idea what’s going on.  Also, there’s two surprises at the end:  where the money was hidden (a classic – I love it, tho’ the idea has been played with since in several formats) and who Cary Grant “really” is – another classic.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Charade (1953)