Singin' in the Rain

Singin' in the Rain ★★★★½


Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of classic Hollywood musicals—let's call them Organic and Episodic. All of the elements in an Organic musical are conceived simultaneously, with the songs/numbers generally moving the story forward or otherwise rooted in character and theme. The (much more common) Episodic Musical, by contrast, merely seeks an excuse to showcase its crooners and hoofers; the songs have little or nothing to do with each other or with the skeletal narrative, which plays like an afterthought. Some films arguably straddle the line, but Singin' in the Rain isn't one of them—it's definitively Episodic, having been constructed around the Freed/Brown songbook. But it has the strongest "book" of any such musical, to the point where you could cut most of the musical numbers and still have an enormously entertaining (if rather short) movie. Not that you'd want to cut them, of course, since all but a few rank among the genre's most gloriously exuberant. Not having seen the film in over 20 years, however, I was struck by how tightly scripted and giddily random it seems. And I suspect that dichotomy may be a significant part of its enduring appeal.

Thus endeth my attempt to wax semi-analytical about one of cinema's purest delights. You don't need me to explain why Singin' in the Rain is great, and you probably don't even need me to note that "Beautiful Girls" and "Broadway Melody" stand between it and sheer perfection. (I enjoy bits and pieces of the latter—the coin-flipping gangsters, Charisse's scarf, Don moving less and less as he works his way up the vaudeville circuit—but it's very much Kelly and Donen working to replicate An American in Paris' climactic ballet, and I'm not a big fan of that film to begin with.) I could cite some slightly lesser-known lines that reliably crack me up (Showgirl: "Anything I can do?" Don: "Sorry, I don't have time to find out") or marvel at how confident Reynolds looks throughout "Good Morning" while asked to keep up with a pair of legends (in a number that reportedly took 15 hours to shoot and left her feet a bloody mess), but the vast majority of the film's pleasures are so self-evident as to be scarcely debatable. Though I do have one iconoclastic friend who thinks it's fine, 3 stars out of 5.

One thing that occurred to me this time around: With the (admittedly notable) exception of Kelly, I know these actors almost exclusively as these characters, even after having watched hundreds of additional films from the era. Reynolds, O'Connor and Hagen all worked steadily for the rest of their lives, but none of them appeared in many other truly memorable pictures. After this, I don't see Reynolds again until How the West Was Won, a full decade later—and after that not until she plays the title role in Albert Brooks' Mother! (To me, however, she's forever the voice of Charlotte.) Similar story with O'Connor and Hagen, though revisiting The Asphalt Jungle a while back made me appreciate just how much the latter contorts herself to create one of the most indelible comic performances of all time. Granted, verisimilitude scarcely matters here, and it's not as if I think of Kathy and Cosmo (or god forbid Lina) as "real." Nonetheless, associating most of the cast with just this one film somehow makes it seem all the more special. The luster never gets dulled elsewhere.

Also noticed a few minor infelicities that escaped me on every previous viewing (of which there were many ca. 1983–1996). None of these materially diminishes the film for me, and I despise those "X Things Wrong With Movie Z" YouTube videos , but I am a bit surprised that they hadn't registered before, since they jump right out at me now. (That's what happens when you spend a quarter of a century writing movie reviews, I suppose.)

• Kathy eventually confesses to having seen eight or nine of Don's movies, which makes it highly unlikely that she'd fail to recognize him when he leaps into her car. Yet she genuinely seems to think he might be a famous gangster; Reynolds never suggests that Kathy is feigning ignorance in order to look refined. You can maybe chalk that up to the adrenaline rush of a stranger suddenly appearing in the passenger seat, but see below—that was definitely not what was intended.

• No way in hell would Monumental ever show The Duelling Cavalier to a test audience. It's so obviously a disaster that any feedback is unnecessary; allowing even a tiny sliver of the public to see it constitutes 100% downside. The audience hooting at it is fun but a private screening on the lot probably would have worked just fine.

• In Cosmo's Dancing Cavalier synopsis, the period costume scenes get reconceived as the protagonist's dream after he's knocked unconscious. But we see the film end on one of those scenes (albeit from a reshoot, not the original silent version), with Don and Lina bewigged and seemingly in character as Pierre and Yvonne. I guess that's possible, but I can't think offhand of another film—not even Brazil—that actually ends while still within a known dream state. (Inception doesn't count.) Realistically, the finale would be present-day, part of the framing device. What we see is borderline avant-garde.

• Somehow, in all of the previous times that I've seen this film, I never once thought "Wait, where did this 'You Are My Lucky Star' tune come from?" It's unmistakably a reprise, but it's not actually reprising anything—we've never heard it before. Turns out that's because the rendition proper, performed solo by Reynolds, was cut shortly before release. I've never owned Singin' in the Rain on DVD or Blu-ray (films that I know will never go out of print so long as physical media still exists are a low priority), so had never encountered this number as a special feature; I watched it for the first time just last night. Not only does it make sense of the mystery reprise, it also further explains why the film's final shot shows Don and Kathy's profiles on a billboard (though that works perfectly well on its own). However, Kathy reveals, in the middle of the song, that she was the president of the Don Lockwood Fan Club, which makes her failure to recognize him when they first meet not just implausible but outright ridiculous. Don't know if that's why the scene was cut (they could have just cut that interlude), but leaving it intact might have inspired some insane fan theories in which Kathy's pulling an elaborate Eve Harrington ruse to break into show business, with love complicating her ambition.

This has been Yet Another Futile Attempt To Find Something New And Interesting To Say About One Of The Most Famous Movies Ever Made.

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