Summertime is over, and so begins the next portion of articles examining movies that have made motion picture history. For the month of September, these pieces will examine the movies of two Hollywood legends, Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly.
It’s time for another time travel trip, this time all the way back to 1952. This was a year that saw the United Nations begin construction on its headquarters in New York City, Elizabeth II succeeding her father George VI as ruler of the United Kingdom after he passes away from illness, and Linus and Lucy appearing for the first time in the Peanuts comic strip. On April 11th of the same year, Singin’ in the Rain opened in theaters across the country, bringing forth a musical love story that is lauded by modern critics as the best movie musical ever made.
This a movie that has charmed its way into the hearts of people over the years, cementing Debbie and Gene’s positions as Golden Age stars all the more. It’s a tale of love set against a backdrop of the end of the Silent Film Era of Hollywood, accompanied by memorable songs, wonderful characters, and a message that can resonate with everyone who sees it. On top of that, there’s lots of great dance numbers and humor to boot, making the film a dynamo of power.
It’s a story as old as time itself, boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl soon enough falls in love with boy and they live happily ever after. Now take that plot, and under the careful directorial guidance of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, pair it with a fun setting of late 20’s Hollywood, add songs and dances and a star-studded cast and there you have it, Singin’ in the Rain. Of course that sweet concept of falling in love needs drama and a rich plot, which is what is given in the tale of Don Lockwood, star of the screen, who meets and falls in love with Kathy Selden. Kathy is a sweet girl who sees through Don’s Hollywood shtick and helps him see what it means to truly be an actor, all the while they work together to bring Don’s latest picture ‘The Dueling Cavalier’ (renamed ‘The Dancing Cavalier’) to life amidst the advent of talkies taking the movie industry by storm, as well as dealing with Don’s co-star Lina Lamont. And if the story isn’t enough, the songs are just as great, making up a soundtrack that is delightful and known by all.
Songs from Singin’ in the Rain are so popular, all it takes is a few notes for them to be recognized by people. Three of its most memorable numbers are the titular song, ‘You Were Meant for Me’ and ‘Make’em Laugh.’ Each song conveys a different meaning as part of the whole of the story. ‘You Were Meant for Me’ is Don’s romantic ballad to Kathy, about how he has fallen in love with her and sees everything that love represents in her. This is a beautiful and touching song, accompanied to soft violins that turns into a light and airy dance/tap routine, bringing the characters even closer together. Then there’s ‘Make’em Laugh,’ Cosmo Brown’s fast-paced and fun-filled song about how making people laugh and bringing joy into their lives can be just as good as the “serious” acting that Don does on the big screen. Lastly, there’s the song that is the title of the production, a fun and cheerful piece Don sings all while dancing and splashing his way down the street, because gosh golly Don is in love with Kathy and she loves him back and life is grand. And singing these wonderful songs is a cast that has become household names for movie lovers of all ages.
Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, the stars of show, have gone on over the years to become titans of Hollywood. Gene is famously the song and dance man, a colossus of an actor, a talented singer and a heck of a dancer. Movies starring him are famous for being spectacular works, and Singin’ in the Rain is one of his crown jewels. Likewise, Debbie Reynolds (whose career was started starring alongside Gene), went on to be in many fine and excellent movies including Tammy and the Bachelor, How The West Was Won and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Both her and Gene compliment one another beautifully on screen and their singing and dancing together is wonderful to watch.
Co-stars Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagen add their own depth to the story, and neither one is window dressing to Gene and Debbie’s performance. Donald is Gene’s best friend on-screen, standing by his boyhood chum, cheering him up when’s down and pushing Gene and Debbie together as their characters start to see the mutual affection each has for one another.
Then there is Jean Hagen and her performance as screen star Lina Lamont, who is in love with Gene’s character Don, even though he feels no affection towards her. Upset at being upstaged by Debbie’s character Kathy and seeing Don doesn’t care about her, she stomps her little Hollywood heel to get her way, until at last her “my way” attitude blows up in her face when Kathy is revealed as the TRUE talent behind Lina’s newfound singing and acting abilities.
Other co-stars include Millard Mitchell as studio head R.F. Simpson, Cyd Charrise as Don’s dance partner during the ‘Broadway Melody’ routine, Douglas Fowley as Rosco Dexter, movie director and Rita Moreno as Zelda Zanders, darling of the flapper set and Lina’s friend who gives a bit of help in trying to derail Kathy’s involvement in ‘The Dancing Cavalier’.
There’s a message within these song and dance routines and fine acting, a message about love and discovering one’s true self. For Don and Kathy, that message of love is plain as day, though it takes them both a lot of screen-time and songs/dances to get to that happy ending they so richly deserve. For Don, the message about discovering his true self, the self that sings and dances and has talent (in spite of years of ham-fisted acting) is a mountain he climbs not alone, no no. He climbs it with help from Kathy, who urges him to not give up when things are bleak, and Cosmo, who stands by his life-long friend no matter what. True love and being true to one’s self are lessons everyone can learn something from, whether it’s falling in love and finding the person they are meant to be with, or going through a crisis of self, doubting one’s gifts and pulling through said doubt and coming out the other side.
Two final elements that make the entire movie sizzle and pop are the dances and the humor. There are so many memorable dances throughout this movie, it would be impossible to highlight all of them. So the focus will be on Gene and Debbie’s dance routine during ‘You Were Meant For Me’ and ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ ‘You Were Meant For Me’ is a fun dance to watch as the couple fast waltz and tap dance their way around a sound stage set for romance, growing closer beyond their initial feelings as Gene sings his heart out to Debbie. And of course, Gene dancing his way through the rain after kissing Debbie goodnight, swinging from a lamppost and belting out how happy he is while singin’ in the rain because he’s in love. Both of these dances are memorable and great examples of the hard work that went into such musical productions decades ago.
Laughs abound during many scenes, some big and obvious like the ‘Make’em Laugh’ scene, other laughs less obvious, like Lina’s wisecracks that make the other actors look away or roll their eyes. There’s a lot of funny moments scattered throughout the story, and while many people might not always pick up on them, the scenes that do draw out giggle and chuckles are always worthwhile moments. Laughter is one of the best medicines out there, so if anyone is ever feeling blue, they should watch this movie and get a healthy dose of funny along with songs, dances and story.
Closing thoughts on Singin’ in the Rain, well there’s quite a lot of thoughts. No matter how young or old someone gets, this is one of those classic movies that just sticks with people. It has almost everything that a person can want in a musical. For those who aren’t musical fans, well they can watch it and enjoy the story and acting. It was listed in 2007 as the fifth greatest movie of all time, which only proves its power and impact even all these years later. As for being a Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds picture, well there was no other choice to kick off the month then the two of them starring together on the big screen. For everyone who is a fan of either Gene or Debbie, take some time out this week to kick back and enjoy their wonderful musical motion picture together. It’s a guarantee if someone is having a bad day and watches it, they’ll be happy again.