A silent film production company and cast make a difficult transition to sound.
Having watched ‘La La Land’ earlier in the week, I decided it was about time I addressed a glaring omission in my cinematic history and got round to watching one of the primary influences on that movie. That movie is ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, a movie widely regarded as the greatest musical of all time, and one until now, I’d never got around to watching. It also happens to be one of my good friends favourite film of all time. On a personal level (it always feels like a disclaimer is required for musicals!), I do like a good musical and whilst enjoying ‘La La Land’, I felt it was a slight disappointment given the superlatives thrown at it by awards institutions and a large number of critics. I’m glad to say I really, really liked ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and thought it was a really enjoyable movie that works both as a musical, and at a story level.
The premise of the film is fairly simple as we follow a popular silent film star as he struggles to adapt to the rising popularity of ‘talkies’, which makes him fear for his future in the movie business. That silent film star is Don Lockwood, who is played by the excellent and multi talented Gene Kelly, who is just terrific. He is a leading man personified, handsome and charming, but also humble and caring, and he is a perfect match for the movie star within the movie. The story has several strands that play off this overarching narrative, with pockets of time given to Don’s leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), an attractive woman who nonetheless lacks the talents to make it when silent cinema gives way to talkies (largely down to a horrific, squeaky voice), and to Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), a supposed stage actress who Don falls in love with. All of the performances are great (and I’ll include Don’s best friend Cosmo, played by Donald O’Connor, in that) and it makes for a really fun movie.
I think ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is effective because it’s got a strong underlying story, straightforward but well told through charismatic performers. The musical interludes flit in and out of the narrative seamlessly (apart from one which I’ll get too), and the numbers are used as a showcase for the vocal and dancing talents of the cast members. It feels improvised (although I know it’s not), and that’s largely down to the playful nature of the performances and the high energy levels that reverberate throughout the movie without ever feeling like it’s overloaded. It’s also a really funny movie with a good mix of slapstick, sharp dialogue and well directed set pieces (the technical elements are particularly great), and like the best films that depict the movie making business, it has a knowing wink in how it approaches its material. The title song is undoubtedly a highlight and it’s a sequence I’d seen before, despite not catching the full film, but even the lesser known songs have a pop to them and are really enjoyable in the context in the movie. The exception to this is the broadway ballet sequence towards the end, which I felt was kind of misplaced and went on for too long. Beyond the music it successfully develops a romantic pairing that feels earnt and the culmination of Don’s affections for Kathy in the theatre is just fantastic.
‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is a really joyful movie and I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who won’t finish watching the film with a smile. It’s got a lot of heart, brilliant performances and in Gene Kelly, a genuine star, who brings the music to life splendidly. I can’t believe it took me this long!
Directed By: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Douglas Fowley and Rita Moreno