Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Singin' in the Rain

1952 - Dir.: Stanley Donen

Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 28th December, 2002

There can be few people who haven't seen and enjoyed this movie on TV but its true home is on the big screen. The colour, spectacle and immaculate production values practically leap out of the frame and it is hard to believe that such technical brilliance was possible over fifty years ago. The film lover's bible "Halliwell's Film Guide" says it all when it notes that the film has "the catchiest tunes, the liveliest choreography, the most engaging performances and the most hilarious jokes of any musical".
"Singin' in the Rain" tells of the uncomfortable transition from silent to sound films in the 1920s. Many stars of the silent screen were revealed to have inadequate speaking voices and some could break glass with a single syllable. Jean Hagen plays one such - Lina Lamont is a big star and she means to remain one despite having a slender grasp of the English language ("You think I'm dumb or summink?"). She ruthlessly uses her co-star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), his girlfriend Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) and musician Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) in an attempt to remain "everybody's number one - bar none!" It's a story with a grain of truth in it - Hollywood lawyers made fat fees out of hapless actors desperate to cling to stardom despite having voices like bronchitic goats.
The songs are so well known - "Make `em Laugh", "Good Morning", "You were Made for Me" - that joining in will be excused and perhaps expected. The orchestrations are confident and on occasions almost symphonic. The highlight for many is the balletic "Broadway Melody" sequence in which Cyd Charise uses her very longest scarf and her even longer legs to devastating effect. Perhaps Fred and Ginger did more technically proficient dancing in "Top Hat" or "Swing Time". Maybe the Busby Berkeley extravaganzas, like "Footlight Parade", had more spectacular set pieces. But Singin' in the Rain is quite simply the greatest musical of all time. The film shines with the joy of performance - everyone involved is obviously having enormous fun - and it's infectious. Gene Kelly's universally celebrated "Singin' in the Rain" scene is justly regarded as one of the greatest moments in the history of film, and easily the most memorable dance number of all time. Yet Donald O'Connor gives Kelly a real run for his money with the astonishingly acrobatic antics of "Make 'em Laugh" and takes the lead in the inspired nuttiness of the "Moses Supposes" sequence.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about "Singin' in the Rain", apart from the fact that Hollywood never tried to duplicate it, is that it wasn't originally made with the intention of creating a timeless classic. As with "Casablanca" and other great films, the greatness of "Singin' in the Rain" happened by accident. Most of the music had been sitting around unused for some twenty years, and screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden were given the responsibility of coming up with a story for it. During an all night brainstorming session, they hit upon the inspired idea of setting the story during Hollywood's transition from the silent era to the age of sound, the period the songs actually date from. Songwriter Arthur Freed combines his own work from the 20s and 30s with new material; the film lunges between narrative continuity and song and dance fantasy; choreography was virtually improvised due to the pressures of the production schedule - the film arises from an unruly batch of elements. But its songs are winners, its sets elaborate, its Technicolor glorious and its dance routines inventive. For humour and sheer energy, no musical betters "Singin' In The Rain".

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