Singin’ in the Rain is arguably the most famous film musical of all time. Interestingly, its 1952 release was right smack-bang in the middle of (arguably, again) the next two most famous film musicals: The Wizard of Oz (1939), thirteen years prior - and The Sound of Music, thirteen years in the future. Singin’ in the Rain was produced at the tail-end of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the studio system. Though film studio MGM would go on to produce other great musicals in future years, this iconic film came at a time when the studio’s annual musicals output was less prolific that it had been in the 1930s and 1940s. But I digress. So now on to some reasons WHY Singin’ in The Rain (co-directed by greats Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen) is so beloved …
1. THAT FAMOUS SCENE
Ahhh, that beautiful scene where our leading man Don Lockwood (Kelly, in his on-screen duties), bursting with love for Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), farewells Kathy at her door, walks out into the rain and breaks into the eponymous Singin’ in the Rain. And what a song it is! What a scene it is! It’s perfection! From charming Kelly’s smooth voice to his beautiful fluid choreography, this song/scene is just delicious. It’s romantic, but it’s also fun and irreverent. Don’s cheeky smile and eyebrow raise as he hugs the famous streetlamp prop is pure enchantment. Only a performer with Kelly’s extraordinary dancing skills could make stomping and splashing in the rain appear both delicate and manly at the same time.
2. THAT OTHER FAMOUS SCENE
Speaking of extraordinary dancers, the wonderful Donald O’Connor is phenomenal in the famous Make Em’ Laugh scene. O’Connor, as Don’s best friend Cosmo Brown (yes, there was a famous beloved Cosmo in popular culture prior to Michael Richard’s hilarious star turn as Cosmo Kramer in Seinfeld decades later), is trying to cheer up lovelorn Don. In this song, O’Connor delivers one of the most impressive performances in the history of film musicals. In a nod to vaudeville, Cosmo dazzles with extraordinary physical feats, all the while singing and smiling. It’s as if O’Connor is made out of elastic, he’s so flexible. A urban myth says that O’Connor went to bed for a week after filming this physically exhausting scene. Whether this is actually true or not, it’s certainly understandable.
3. DEBBIE REYNOLDS
Singin’ in The Rain was Debbie Reynolds’ first big break, and she was only nineteen years old at the time. [Side note: this prior to the period when Reynolds married crooner Eddie Fisher, had two children with him (including Carrie Fisher), and lost him to best friend Elizabeth Taylor]. It would be daunting for any artist to be thrust into a leading role in a high-budget film so young, and to be working with such famous and experienced co-stars. Despite stories of the insecurities Reynolds felt behind-the-scenes, she absolutely shines on screen. Her perkiness is perfectly pitched: it’s enough to be endearing, but not too much to be annoying. Her portrayal of Kathy is enchanting.
4. LIFE IMITATING ART
In Singin’ in the Rain, life imitates art in many clever ways. There’s the whole self-reflexive making-of-a-film-within-a-film schtick – which is done so beautifully. There’s also references to real events in the history of film - such as the release of The Jazz Singer (starring Al Jolson) in 1927, the transition from silent film to ‘talkies’, and the knock-on effect it had on all the major film studios at the time. There are also some terrific film history archetypes represented by characters in the film – some are based specifically on a real person, and some are aggregates of many. There’s the studio boss, the gossip columnist, the overrated movie star, the flamboyant director, the chorus girl, the suave leading man etc.
5. JOY JOY JOY
Singin’ in the Rain is pure joy. It’s truly an absolute delight to watch – one of those films that (before you even realise it) can get under your skin in the most positive way, and light you up from inside.
[Side note: I recently heard a radio interview (1) where Daniel Smith, the author of a book about his struggles with anxiety, talks about how, at a very low point in his life, he was advised to watch this film. He said 'If you watch Singin’ in the Rain, it’s like two hours of the greatest psychiatric drug you can watch. Something about the alchemy of elements of the songs and the dancing and characters, the comedy, is the perfect distraction from anxiety'.]
If you’ve seen Singin’ in the Rain before, why nor re-visit it? You can never see those wonderful production numbers too many times! And if you haven’t seen it before, you’ve got something amazing to look forward to – the joy of experiencing this iconic film for the first time. It’s something you’ll always remember.
Lisa Malouf - follow Lisa on Twitter here: @lisamalouf