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 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 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.
He also does a fine duet dance, "Fit as a Fiddle," with Kelly.
Another fine moment is Kelly singing atop Oscar Levant's piano.
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
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.
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
The movie's charm and freshness match the great
talents involved, all at their glorious peaks.
Oscar Levant has many fabulous scenes
including his performances of Gershwin's "Concerto in F" during which
he is filmed performing on many instruments.