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Singin' in the Rain

Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly with Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Millard Mitchell, Jean Hagen and Cyd Charisse, 102 minutes, color, 1952

Blue ray of Singin in the Rain

Cover of blue-ray disc for Singin' in the Rain

By Carter B. Horsley

Joyous and bursting with energy, this movie is not the perfect musical but has two incomparable scenes and a wondrous opening that alone justify its greatness.

Perhaps no other movie leaves the viewer with such an exuberant sense of fun and youthfulness.

The Opening

The Opening

The opening credits appear while Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor stride forward in yellow raincoats and hats in a downpour singing the title song, which just happens to be marvelously infectious, happy and memorable.

The story is a parody of Hollywood's transition from silent to sound films. Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a major movie star, who is frequently starred with Lina Lamont, played by Jean Hagen. At the premiere of their latest film, they are interviewed by a gossip columnist and he recounts in flashback his early career with his friend Cosmo Brown, played by Donald O'Connor. After the interview, Kelly flees his fans and jumps into a car driven by Kathy Seldon, played by Debbie Reynolds. Kathy is a would-be actress, or ingenue, whom Lockwood soon meets again as she pops out of a cake at a Hollywood party.

Lockwood's and Lamont's next movie, "The Dueling Cavalier," is just about finished when "The Jazz Singer" opens and everyone in Hollywood is excited about movies with sound. Lamont's voice, however, is less than lovely as is revealed in a hilarious scene in which an exasperated director, Roscoe Dexter, played with brilliance by Douglas Fowley, desperately tries to get Lamont to understand and cope with the new sound technology with disastrous results. The studio head, played with gleeful authority by Millard Mitchell, is in a panic and in desperation accepts the suggestion of Lockwood that he and Cosmo turn the movie into a musical and dub Lamont's voice with Seldon's.

Donald O'Connor making 'em laugh

Donald O'Connor making them laugh

Donald O'Connor's "Make' Em Laugh" song and dance routine is one of the great comic sequences in film history, a tour de force in which he indomitably survives through incredible vicissitudes and ineptitudes to deliver his simple message.

Fit as a Fiddle

O'Connor and Kelly in "Fit as a Fiddle"

He also does a fine duet dance, "Fit as a Fiddle," with Kelly.

The piano dance

Kelly joyously dancing atop Oscar Levant's piano

Another fine moment is Kelly singing atop Oscar Levant's piano.

Gene Kelly singin' title song

The film, of course, is best remembered for Gene Kelly's lyrical song-and-dance performance of the title tune, widely considered to be one of cinema's most magical sequences. This routine elevated Kelly to the legendary status of great dancer and led to the generations-long debate over who was a better dancer, Kelly performed the song in one take while suffering from a fever. Kelly or Astaire. Astaire, of course, was the better dancer, but the "Singin' In The Rain" sequence is perhaps the most beloved. It is interesting to note that both Kelly and Astaire had raspy voices but were marvelous singers.

The movie also has another major dance sequence, "Gotta Dance," that features Kelly and the beauteous Cyd Charisse. It is very good and quite dazzling, but minor. While parts of the movie are a little slow and corny, the highlights are so strong that the slow parts actually help viewers savor them better.

The great strength of the film, however, is not the fine comedy, or great dance routines, but Debbie Reynolds, whose youth and beauty are radiant and whose abilities as a singer and dancer were sensational. In her first major film, she gave promise of becoming a beautiful Judy Garland in such songs as "Good Morning" and "All I Do Is Dream of You." The movie was produced by Arthur Freed who also wrote the lyrics for most of the songs to music by Nacio Herb Brown for various movies and shows sometime before.

(An interesting footnote is that Jean Hagen allegedly dubbed Debbie Reynold's dubbing of her in the final scene according to the following account that can be found at

"This merry mix-up of real life dubbing was addressed in Ray Hagen’s article on Jean Hagen in Film Fan Monthly (December 1968): 'In the film, Debbie Reynolds has been hired to re-dub [Jean] Hagen’s dialogue and songs in the latter’s first talking picture. We see the process being done in a shot of Reynolds ... matching her dialogue to Hagen’s and synchronizing it while watching a scene from the film. But the voice that is used to replace Hagen’s shrill, piercing one is not Reynolds’ but Hagen’s own quite lovely natural voice - meaning that Jean Hagen dubs Debbie Reynolds’ dubbing Jean Hagen! To further confuse matters, the voice we hear as Hagen mimes 'Would ?', supposedly supplied by Reynolds, is that of yet a third girl ... [Betty Royce]'. Confusing? Well, there’s more. Although Debbie sang in the movie, notably the title tune (dubbing Hagen!), Debbie herself is dubbed again by Betty Royce in her duet with Gene Kelly 'You Are My Lucky Star.'" (Long, but I just couldn't resist pasting in the whole story.)"

The movie was a remake of an earlier film but with new songs and a screenplay by Adolph Green and Betty Comden. The title song, "Singin' in the Rain," came from "Hollywood Review of 1929," and "You Were Meant For Me" came from "Broadway Melody of 1929," while "Beautiful Girl" was in "Going Hollywood," a 1933 movie with Bing Crosby. "Fit as a Fiddle (And Ready for Love" with music by Al Hoffman and Al Goodhart comes from "College Coach" of 1933. "All I Do is Dream of You" comes from "Sadie McKeee" of 1934. "Make 'Em Laugh" is a very close take-off on Cole Porter's "Be A Clown" in the 1948 film, "The Pirate." "Beautiful Girld" comes from the 1933 production of "Going Hollywood." ""You Were Meant for Me" comes from "The Broadway Melody of 1936" as does "You Are My Lucky Star." "Good Morning" comes from the 1939 production of "Babes in Arms." "Moses Supposes" is music by Roger Edens with lyrics by Comden and Green.

Jean Hagen with Kelly

Kelly and Jean Hagen at film premiere

Jean Hagen deservedly would win an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress for her fabulous performance, and the film was also nominated for best score, but incredibly it received no Oscars.

The movie's charm and freshness match the great talents involved, all at their glorious peaks.

Oscar at the piano

Oscar in the string section

Oscar banging on the timpani

Oscar Levant has many fabulous scenes including his performances of Gershwin's "Concerto in F" during which he is filmed performing on many instruments.

This film, which ranked 10th in the 1998 American Film Institute list of the Top 100 Movies, is ranked 8th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films and 45th in the Top 250 list of the Internet Movie Data Base as of December 27, 2000.

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