Singin' in the Rain

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(1952, directed by Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen)

- inducted 2015 –

"Kathy Selden, a young actress on the brink of stardom, is standing on a ladder inside a large Hollywood studio Soundstage. Beneath her electrical wires wind around the wood paneled floor,next to her is a gigantic backdrop of an unnaturally purple-tinged skyscape. Don Lockwood, an established screen icon, starts a large fan to mimic a soft summer breeze then turns on overhead soundstage lights to create an illusion of stardust. Don looks up to the woman on the ladder and gently says, 'You sure look lovely in the moonlight, Kathy.' The reverse shot shows Kathy in a low-angle medium close-up, backlit by an exposed canopy of artificial lights, her cropped hair blowing slightly in the mechanical breeze. Despite the entire mise-en-scene working to undercut the veracity of the line and show exactly how the lie is constructed, his words remain undeniably true, even if the moonlight isn't really moonlight.

"If the tone of Singin’ In the Rain was a little less lovely and delightful, cinema’s most marvelous musical could have come across as an expose of the cynicism and rot within the dream factory, similar to Sunset Boulevard or The Player. The stage for this alternate version is set from the opening scene as Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood explains to his adoring fans how he has lived hislife of uncompromising virtue by adhering to the motto: 'Dignity. Always dignity.' As he pretentiously drones on in voice over, a montage of Don and his lifelong friend Cosmo Brown (an ebulliently elastic Donald O’Conner) shows them dancing in bars as children, in burlesque shows as adults and achieving stardom through a staunch commitment to being undignified, always undignified.

"The film industry in Singin’ in the Rain shares their commitment to the undignified. Publicity departments fill magazines with bogus reports of off-screen romances and gullible audiences lap it up. Technological advancements, like synchronized sound, are not wonders of innovations; they’re merely cheap parlor tricks. The movies themselves are simple commodities made with little regard for quality, and the actors on-screen are not dignified gods, just glorified clowns. But what glorious feelings those clowns can create.

"On the commentary track for A Clockwork Orange Malcolm McDowell explains that they chose to use the song 'Singin’ in the Rain' in Kubrick’s sadistic satire because they wanted to clearly express the sociopathic joy Alex felt and, 'Gene Kelly stomping on that street, in that water, rain coming down, the umbrella and dancing - that is euphoria! That is the happiest a human has ever been.' Of course he isn’t speaking about Gene Kelly, who was reportedly sick with an 103° temperature during the filming of the sequence. McDowell is speaking about Don Lockwood. Watching him so deeply in love that he jumps in puddles like a child and sings that he’s 'happy again,' makes audiences feel like we are truly watching the happiest human that has ever been,and that feeling is infectious.

"Singin’ in the Rain goes out of its way to show how that infectious feeling is manufactured. Movies are presented as the final products of a business interested primarily in commerce, peripherally in entertainment, tolerant of art and suspicious of the truth. Singin’ in the Rain itself is no exception. The film was made after producer Arthur Freed decided to recycle a bunch of old songs into a new musical. Screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden then set it in the late twenties, at the dawn of the talkies, because that’s the period the songs fit within best. Gene Kelly, an established screen icon, and Debbie Reynolds, a young actress on the brink of stardom, could hardly stand each other. Still, when we see Don and Kathy falling in love in the phony moonlight, the moment feels entirely artistic and absolutely genuine.

"At the end of the film, Don’s longtime co-star Lina Lamont forces Kathy to sing behind a curtain so Lina can lip sync the lyrics and fool the audience into believing she was the one singing in the film they just finished screening. Only Don and Cosmo pull back the curtain to expose Lina as a fraud, and introduce Kathy as the unseen true star of the film. Lina is left behind while Don and Kathy begin their happily ever after. However, in reality, the actress who played Lina, Jean Hagan, had a wonderful voice. It was Debbie Reynolds who had to be dubbed by an uncredited Betty Noyes. Singin’ in the Rain is committing the exact same crime to build up Debbie Reynolds that it’s using to tear down Lina Lamont, it just keeps Reynolds’ curtain closed.

"Even with all its curtains pulled back, the great and powerful wizardry of Singin’ in the Rain remains as strong as ever. A film which began as an excuse for a producer to recycle old songs managed to deliver the definitive version of those songs, while also offering eternally quotable lines and uniformly charismatic and charming (or deliberately grating) performances. Singin’ in the Rain exposes every potentially ugly and corrupting bit of itself and, as with any true love, the honesty makes us fall for it more completely. Gene Kelly and co-director Stanley Donen assembled a triumphant tribute to cinema’s ability use old songs to conjure romance, spin glycerine tears into audience sobs, and force a smile or do whatever else it takes- take a fall, but a wall, split a seam- to make ‘em laugh."

~ Kevin Cecil

Principal cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse, Douglas Fowley, Rita Moreno
Story & screenplay by Adolph Green and Betty Comden
Produced by Arthur Freed
Director of photography: Harold Rosson
Art direction by Randall Duell and Cedric Gibbons
Set decoration by Jacque Mapes and Edwin B. Willis
Costume design by Walter Plunkett
Film editing by Adrienne Fazan
Original music by Lennie Hayton
Songs written by Arthur Freed (lyrics), Nacio Herb Brown (music)
Makeup by William Tuttle
Hair stylist: Sydney Guilaroff
Sound by Douglas Shearer (recording supervisor)
Special effects by Warren Newcombe and Irving G. Ries
Musical numbers staged by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Associate producer: Roger Edens (uncredited)

Duration: 103 minutes
Languages: English
Filmed in color (Technicolor) and black and white
Sound mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Produced by Loew’s Incorporated, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and RKO-Pathé Studios Inc.
Released in USA by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Premiered in New York City, NY on 27 March 1952

Awards and honors: - National Film Registry selection, 1989
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 14 February 1999
- Golden Globes, 1952: Best Motion Picture Actor - Musical/Comedy, Donald O’Connor (won)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1952: Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Jean Hagen (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1952: Best Music, Scoring of a Motion Picture (nominated)
- BAFTA Awards, 1952: Best Film From Any Source (nominated)
- Golden Globes, 1952: Best Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy (nominated)
- DGA Awards, Directors Guild of America, 1952: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly (nominated)
- WGA Awards, Writers Guild of America, 1952: Best Written American Musical (nominated)
- National Board of Review: one of the Top Ten films of 1952