“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Lina, you’re a beautiful woman. Audiences think you’ve got a voice to match. The studio’s gotta keep their stars from looking ridiculous at any cost.”
I’m not anti movie musicals, but it’s a genre I rarely seek out. I think it’s because I’m a slave to story and plot in movies. By necessity, musicals usually have to have the simplest and most predictable of stories, so there’s plenty of room for all the singing and dancing. At least, I always thought that was the case. Then, one day, I looked past the preconceptions I had of corniness, and watched Singin’ in the Rain. An amazing musical, but more impressive than that, it’s just an amazing movie. And I think the main reason for that is its ability to tell a real story, while still finding room for some of the best singing and dancing I’ve ever seen in any movie musical.
In 20s Hollywood, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) has worked his way up from the worst vaudeville stages to become the biggest star in silent cinema. Along with his best friend and musical accompanist, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) and regular leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagan), they’ve just released another smash hit. On screen, Don and Lina are the hottest couple in Hollywood. The delusional Lina believes that’s the case off screen as well, no matter how many times Don lets her know that he has zero interest in her.
But Don has a bigger problem. As sound takes over the picture business, some silent stars struggle to keep up, including Don, whose fame is linked to Lina and Lina’s ear splitting voice. No longer can they rely on her good looks alone. Luckily, Don meets the adorable Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). A wannabe serious stage actress and singer, Kathy has no time for hammy screen stars like Don. And it’s her dismissal of his stardom that makes Kathy stand out amongst the women usually throwing themselves ta him. Now, with Don and Lina’s screen presence and Kathy’s voice, they might be able to make it in the new world of talkies.
Of course there’s the title song and the iconic scene that comes with it, but in the five or six years between my first viewing of this movie and today’s, the song and dance clearest in my memory is Donald O’Connor’s Make ‘Em Laugh. It might be the most impressive and funny piece of physical comedy in movie musical history. The song is entertaining enough by itself, but adding O’Connor’s amazing dexterity and potentially dangerous dance moves and stunts makes it kind of mind blowing.
The technical film making behind Singin’ in the Rain is just as impressive as the song and dance work by Kelly, Reynolds and O’Connor. It’s not enough to just capture the amazing moves, the camera has to be a part of them. The way it moves within these sequences, the camera is just a meticulously choreographed as the dances it’s filming.
And on top of all of that, Singin’ in the Rain is just plain funny. Take away the songs, take the dances, take away the story about one of the most interesting moments in Hollywood history, and you still have the jokes. And I had forgotten that about this movie. So while I was happy enough to watch this movie again, I wasn’t ready to laugh as much as I did. Which made a great movie even better. I almost hope I forget that again before I watch it next time.
Best Supporting Actress (Hagen nominated, lost to Gloria Grahame for The Bad and the Beautiful)