Directors: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
Stars: Gene Kelly (Don Lockwood), Debbie Reynolds (Kathy Selden), Donald O’Connor (Cosmo Brown), Jean Hagan (Lina Lamont), Millard Mitchell (R.F. Simpson)
One of the most popular and quite simply entertaining movies of all time. Set in the 20s as sound was about to change cinema forever, now, after all this time, is there anything left to actually say about Singin’ In The Rain? Are we finally silent again?
I started this series of essays in part to keep myself writing, in part to treat myself to my favourite films and revel in them, and in a few instances to illuminate some of the films that, for whatever reason, don’t as often get the column inches they deserve (in my opinion). And whilst nothing I’ve covered can be claimed as a ‘discovery’, what could I possibly add to the collective consensus that Singin’ In The Rain is a masterpiece? What, in short, is the point of another 7-to-10 paragraphs about this movie?
Well the point is, it’s magnificent, isn’t it? If you’ve not seen it – do so. If you’re discouraged because it’s a musical, don’t be. The musical is as specialised a genre as the horror film; either you want to indulge in its hyper-reality or you don’t. I’m a nut for horror movies, but musicals drive me nuts. Few genres fill me with as much dread. And yet in musical film, like in horror, there are a select few titles that transcend the trappings of the lesser or more niche movies and can be universally appreciated. Singin’ In The Rain sits at the top of that special set for whom everyone is invited.
So, it’s all-inclusive. The opposite of the cult film. Completely without pretension. The finest example, perhaps, of what Mark Cousins (constantly) refers to as ‘the Hollywood bauble’. Here is cinema as razzle-dazzle, as glitz and glamour. As happiness. It’s easy to be cynical about these things, and assume that if a film isn’t trying to convey something ‘important’ – an opinion, a provocative question – that it has no real worth. And it’s also easy to cynically view ‘popcorn’ flicks as shrewd vehicles to grow box-office business and line the wallets of rich white men… But it’s also worth remembering that making something as entertaining, as joyful, as wonderful as Singin’ The Rain requires, well, love.
And it’s love you can see on the screen. Singin’ In The Rain, with its behind-the-scenes story line, evokes the sweat and talent of candyfloss showmanship. It’s dance routines, streamers, costumes and stage decorations betray a craftsmanship of a particular sensibility in show business, where rehearsals run long into the night, and nobody gets there alone. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s film isn’t just theirs. It’s a whole company’s production.
The comedy is broad enough for all, with pratfalls and pies to the face, highlighted in Donald O’Connor’s show-stopping “Make ‘Em Laugh” routine, yet there’s also a gleefully subversive streak here – witness how Don Lockwood’s narrated blizzard of back story at the front of the picture pokes riotous fun at the illusions of Hollywood. This is cinema about cinema, which revels in ridiculing it just as much as it celebrates it. A trick recently repeated to immense success in The Artist (the story of which is remarkably familiar).
As I write this, I keep coming back to the word “happiness“. And placing it in bold letters. Singin’ In The Rain is a festival of happiness, and, appropriately enough, I associate it with festivities. Christmas. I’m not one for Christmas schmaltz, but I do find time every year during the holidays to watch Singin’ In The Rain. There’s no logical reason for this. The film is not set at Christmas. However it fits the season. As crass and garish as modern Christmas is, Singin’ In The Rain is a perfect fit; not remotely religious, but frivolous and celebratory. An indulgence for its own sake and all the better for it. A profiterole of a movie.
Of course there are also great songs, great dance routines, and beautiful people performing them. I’m not above admitting to a man-crush over Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood, whilst Debbie Reynolds is sweetness incarnate as Kathy Selden. It should all be too saccharine, too much, but somehow it isn’t. The sincerity of the picture – to be a piece of entertainment – wins me over every time. The way other people feel about Disney (and don’t get me started about Disney) is the way I feel toward Singin’ In The Rain. It’s here to remind me that everything is okay. I am okay. With all the warm reassurance of the most successful ad campaigns, this movie is friendly, reassuring, cosy.
So what if its all a lie? So what if the real world is just outside of it’s 1.33:1 aspect ratio? I watch this movie because it’s a movie. Because I want to be taken away for 99 minutes.
It’s about more than Gene Kelly stomping puddles on a studio floor. Why, there’s also “Moses Supposes”, “Good Morning, Good Morning” and the astounding Technicolor glory of the extended Broadway Melody sequence. And more besides. Not just the musical numbers. Singin’ In The Rain represents that old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts… it just so happens that all of the parts are also awesome. It’s a Greatest Hits without a flop buried in the second half. All killer, no filler.
Haven’t seen it and still skeptical? I don’t blame you for a moment. It’s a musical. And we all know how bad musicals can be. Same as we know how bad some horror movies can be. The bad ones truly do suck. The point is that, in the sphere (or bauble) of musicals, this isn’t one of the bad ones. It’s one of the good ones. Maybe the best one. And who wouldn’t bet on the champion in any field?
Watch it. Then watch it again next Christmas. And if you’re still not sold on happiness, then there really is no helping some people.