I would start out with some informal introduction, but let me get right smack to the point. I freaking love musicals. Call me gay if you must. I don’t care. I love ‘em. One studio whose musicals are the most distinct is MGM. Even while having the “honor” of having my least favorite film be on their filmography (still not telling what it is), MGM’s musicals, of the ones I’ve seen, are made with such chutzpah, exuberance, and euphoria that can, as one film critic once said, “tingle the most jaded moviegoer’s palate.”
It only makes sense that when one is asked what their favorite movie musical is, it would be in the hands of MGM and that damn lion. One of the typical answers to this question is the sunny, good-hearted, and full-of-beans musical, Singin’ In the Rain. While it may not be MGM’s best musical, it is definitely one of their best.
The premise of the film occurs during the era of film where silent films have died down and talking pictures, or “talkies” if you will, are emerging and being intensely well-received by audiences. One of the people affected by this change is Don Lockwood, a movie star who has starred in countless pictures with his right-hand lady, Lina Lamont. Monumental Pictures, the film studio where many of Lockwood and Lamont’s pictures are distributed, makes the decision to start making talking pictures after The Jazz Singer became a cultural phenomenon.
However, one problem lies in their path: Lina, who has an Marilyn Monroe demeanor, but is unfortunately in possession of a less than compelling voice. I can only describe it as Minnie Mouse combined with Betty Boop. I apologize if that description causes your ears to start bleeding incessantly. There’s must be a solution to this situation.
Enter Kathy Seldon, an exquisite, aspiring actress, who meets Don Lockwood and is, at first repelled by him, but they soon fall for each other. While this part of the film is definitely familiar, this was around the time when that story was endearing and funny and not trite and predictable. The solution is to have her dub over Lina’s voice and hope no one will notice. I would say that no one would be that dumb, seeing how there is a scene where her real voice is revealed to the public earlier, but hell, we watch The Jerry Springer Show and Larry the Cable Guy movies. So, obviously, we’re not the most intelligent, discerning people on the planet.
One element that surprised me in the film was how impeccably the humor was executed. Slapstick, verbal play, and irony are used throughout the film in very clever and amusing ways, but the humor type that surprised me was the satire. The genius of this film is that is doesn’t rely heavily on the satire, per se. The filmmakers craft wildy funny situations and create satire that, while it is piercing and razor-sharp, is also oblique. It is plainly comedic on the surface, but satirical underneath.
Not only does it satirize the transitional era of silent films to talking, sound-infested films and the dubbing of voices, but, through witty, perceptive eyes, it also, slyly, satirizes elements such as the treatment of celebrities, the paparazzi (which is implemented in a very funny running joke revolving around Lina thinking Don is her fiancée, due to fan magazines), and the movie musicals of the 30s and 40s. While this may sound like they mutilate Hollywood and look at it through scornful eyes, that is most certainly not the case. The film works as a parody and a love letter to cinema.
The performances are outstanding. As a choreographer, Grace Kelly has more passion, grace, timing, and refinement that anybody else. As an actor, playing the aforesaid Don Lockwood, he evokes all those elements and another inherent one: charisma. The character of Kathy Seldon isn’t just some shallow damsel who needs a man. The script allows Kathy opportunities to be funny, intelligent, and opinioned, and Debbie Reynolds portrays her with every bit of realism and joy. As mentioned before, there is a romance between them and a great one at that. It manages to be warm, sweet, and have a great amount of emotional resonance.
Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont strikes the perfect balance of vulnerability and deviousness. One actor who I think is a teensy bit underrated in this film is Donald O’Connor, playing piano player and Don’s best friend, Cosmo Brown. He plays his role with such enthusiasm and commitment that he warrants comparisons with Jim Carrey, though I think Mr. O’Connor is funnier. Sorry if you don’t like my opinion, but as Jim Carrey would say, “Somebody stop me!”
I mentioned before how great a choreographer Gene Kelly is. In fact, he may be the best film choreographer, period. So I won’t bore with too many details about the dance sequences. As predicted, they are incredible and are filtered through lush, vivid cinematography. I heard from various sources that the dance numbers were somewhat improvised, but Gene Kelly has such an easy, natural way of dance that I can’t tell if it’s improvised or not.
Since it is a musical, one essential element that I’m sure you want to hear my opinion on is the music. This film is filled to the brim with infectious, catchy song numbers, all sung wonderfully, I might add. The songs have an eclectic array of execution methods, but the thematic element in all of them is happiness. No matter is the song is fast or slow, they encapsulate the joy of love and life. Hell, there’s a song called “Good Morning” present in the film. If that doesn’t convey how positive the music is, I don’t what does.
This was directed by Gene Kelly (surprise, surprise) and Stanley Donen. I haven’t seen any of their other films, whether filmed together or individually, but I don’t need to see them, in order to say that this is the pinnacle of their careers; a masterful virtuoso of music, color, rhythm, movement, humor, wit, charm, and performances. At times, the film could pick up the pace a little bit, but that is a minor flaw in a grand, lavish, extravagant spectacle of a musical. Like the songs, I can’t get this film out of my head. And thank God for that.