“You’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them all.” I sure am glad I saw this one.
DIRECTED BY GENE KELLY STANLEY DONEN WRITTEN BY BETTY COMDEN ADOLPH GREEN MUSIC BY NACIO HERB BROWN ARTHUR FREED
STARRING GENE KELLY DEBBIE REYNOLDS DONALD O'CONNOR JEAN HAGEN CYD CHARISSE RITA MORENO
Set in 1926, a Vaudeville dancer-turned-silent film star falls in love with a chorus girl as the two struggle to transition to talkies. The strongest relationship is really between the two male leads. I just wanted to give Debbie Reynolds a bandaid for her feet. Donald O’Connor and Cyd Charisse stole my heart. “Moses Supposes” refuses to get out of my head.
I had never seen Singin’ in the Rain before. I knew there was an infamous song and dance titled “Singin’ in the Rain” where Gene Kelly, madly in love, pliés in puddles and taps through torrential downpour. At number 5 on the list, I expected this to be the best movie musical on the list. Although the plot was pushed aside to accommodate the dance numbers and set design, I can confidently say that Gene Kelly’s camerawork along with the incredible performances from Cyd Charisse, Jean Hagen, and Donald O’Connor made this movie absolutely worthy of being on the list.
Cosmo Brown played by Donald O’Connor. My god, I cannot believe I had never heard of this man and the acrobatic comedy he’s capable of performing. He and Kelly had fantastic chemistry in this movie. It’s clear that their characters had a strong bond that was reflected in their dancing with one of my favorite comedic dances “Moses Supposes”. And you can tell they’re having fun together. I really love Debbie Reynolds in general. The first time I saw her onscreen was in Halloweentown (don’t judge me). I really wanted to love her in this but I thought she was just… alright? Her character just didn’t have enough to do here. She’s very charming, but I didn’t necessarily get the appeal. I’m sorry Debbie!
There were two standout performances, one comedic and one dance, that I have to talk about. Jean Hagen was hilarious. Not only did she deliver the most beautiful performance in a silent film, but the part-Brooklyn, part-Boston, part-bumble bee accent was perfectly annoying. Also, they used her actual voice for Debbie Reynolds when she was performing for Hagen! Meta. Cyd Cherisse is by far the best part of the film. She is in two of my favorite dance sequences in “Broadway Melody”. Her red room dance was captivating and I cannot get the purple dream sequence with the long white cape out of my head. This performance is a testament to Kelly and Cherisse’s commitment to telling a story through dance.
I really appreciate the film’s ability to look back at the birth of sound in film and recognize how chaotic it was. There’s a great montage where the sound design just explodes and the music is extremely discordant. It’s much different from what we see at the beginning where Cosmo and Donald are speaking at full volume in the studio while walking past three different films being shot at the same time. The director yells out what to do as the two men duck cameras and weave through lighting cables. After seeing Sunrise, the first film to mix both a score and dialogue, I can appreciate the sentiment people had regarding how much temporary they thought sound films were going to be.
This may be a controversial opinion, but there were a few songs that could have been cut. The song that Kelly sings to Reynolds in the studio set can go. Also, I didn’t think “Singin’ in the Rain” was that impressive? I understand that it lives on in popular culture because Kelly had a fever while filming and it’s visually iconic, but there are so many other dance sequences that were far more impressive.
Because there are so few dance movies on the list and so many narrative films, I’m okay with the fact that this movie has no real narrative arc. It’s easy to compare this film to Swing Time because they’re both about dancers in the big city who fall in love with other dancers. With Singin’ in the Rain, however, Kelly not only acts, dances, and choreographs, but also directs. He saw the camera and said “okay, what can we do with this to make the dances more visually interesting”. He turns the camera into a character and in turn, creates a more stylized film. In Swing Time, a film I absolutely adore, the camera pretty much stays in one place, serving as a frame to surround Astaire and Rogers as they dance. There are too many things about Singin’ in the Rain that take advantage of film as a medium to be mad about the lack of story.
Overall, I really like this movie. The use of color, visual storytelling, and sheer talent of the main cast is unbeatable. It’s pure fun. There’s no conflict. Although that makes for a rather dull story, the miniature stories told through dance and the visual design of the film more than make up for it. It’s a feel-good movie. It’s comedic, romantic, and the songs are so damn catchy.
- I felt a little uneasy having Gene Kelly stare into the deepest parts of my soul as he unfolded his life story at the very beginning, but I loved it.
- Rita Moreno makes a brief appearance as a dancer and knocks it out of the park.
- Allegedly, O’Connor had to spend several days in the hospital after filming Make Em Laugh because he smoked four packs of cigarettes a day and had the absolute wind knocked out of him upon filming. It shows.
- There’s a visible cut during the red room dance when Charisse wraps her legs around Kelly. Because of the production code, they made Kelly take it out even though, as he argued, it’s a ballet move. They said “not when Cyd Cherisse does it”.