Although, I generally like most kinds of movies, I’m not a big fan of musicals. There are a few I enjoy, but as a genre the musical usually leaves me cold. Often the songs feel as though they slow down the movie. I find myself saying, “Get on with it!” Good musicals, however, have songs that advance the narrative, not put it on hold.
My pedantic nature makes it difficult for me to suspend my disbelief of a world in which people burst into song and dance numbers. Even as a kid, I would wonder how everyone knew the words to the song one character was spontaneously singing. How was it everyone was so good at dancing? Even the milkman.
I like The Wizard of Oz and it’s a musical. In fact, I’d say this 1939 classic is one of the films I love. There are song and dance numbers the same as other musicals, but somehow I don’t have a problem with any of it. Perhaps the fact that Oz is a fantasy film makes it easier for me to accept the singing and dancing.
As a kid, the Over The Rainbow segment was a little dull. I just didn’t understand the importance of the song to the story. I’ve heard the song was almost cut from the film because an executive felt the same way as the younger version of myself. It was a good thing that it was kept. Not only for the narrative flow of the story, but to demonstrate that not every song has to be a show-stopper.
A more recent musical really could have benefited from that lesson. Chicago (2002) was filled with nothing but show-stopping numbers. Every song! Each song would start slow and quiet and build and build until the performers were belting it out to the back row. Every song! Why must every song be a home run? What’s wrong with a hitting a single or a double? It was exhausting.
I say it would have benefited by having less show-stoppers, but it did win the Oscar for Best Picture that year. And my mom loves it. Well, I hated it.
So, when I was shamed by a friend for never having seen the 1952 MGM classic, Singin’ In The Rain, I decided I’d set my usual distaste for musicals aside and try to give it a fair shake. (Incidentally, the friend who shamed me hadn’t seen it either. Still hasn’t. I learned this after I watched the legendary musical. The nerve of some people.)
Was this musical going to be a collection of show-stopping numbers sung at the tops of the performers’ lungs? Or would the movie understand how to bring things down a little? Would there be subtly? Would the musical numbers make sense?
The answer to those last three questions is yes!
I had seen bits and pieces of Singin’ In The Rain, but never the whole film. Well, I finally saw it and I really liked it.
Not only is a good musical, Singin’ In The Rain gives the audience a glimpse of the art of filmmaking. The story takes place in Hollywood’s transition period from silent films to talkies, showing the challenges of using sound (played for laughs with some of the moments being a bit hokey) and the fact that some of the stars of the silent era were going to be left behind. Some actors just didn’t have the voice for talkies, as was shown by Don Lockwood’s (Gene Kelly) female partner in the silents Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen).
We are shown that the whole way of acting needed to change with sound. In the silents acting could be big and bold, but with sound a softer, more subtle mood could be more easily portrayed. Lockwood and Lamont needed to learn that lesson. Lockwood could make the adjustment, but Lamont’s voice was just too off-putting.
To save his studio’s first (and awful) attempt at a talkie, Lockwood had the brilliant idea to remake it as a musical. The idea of dubbing a performer’s voice was also born. That’s where Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) came in handy. She had a great speaking voice and she could sing, so she would become the film voice of Lina Lamont. Sadly, due to Lamont’s ego, Seldon would be contracted to always be the woman behind the scenes. She would never be a star. However, Lamont’s ego would also lead to the vindictive star’s undoing.
The musical numbers are pretty damn impressive. Gene Kelly is a hell of a dancer. He makes it look so easy. He co-directed the film, which I assume included being it’s choreographer, and the choreography is terrific. I had no problem accepting singing and dancing in this world. It all worked for me.
I had, of course, seen the landmark dance scene of the title song. It’s so good. It’s long been a rumor that Kelly was suffering from a 103° fever as he performed the number, which took two to three days to film. I’m not sure I buy it. Kelly was in fine physical form, but with that severe of a fever, even he would have been side-lined. But I could be wrong.
Then there’s costar Donald O’Connor’s wonderful Make ‘Em Laugh routine. Holy smokes! Were these guys good. His dancing filled with pratfalls and running up walls and back flips, all while lip-syncing the song, is amazing.
Also, amazing is the Broadway Melody (Gotta Dance) number. It comes into the story by way of Lockwood telling the studio’s head executive of the big dance number to go into the reworked movie. The routine is lengthy, but terrific. There’s even a ballet segment which beautifully makes use of a 20 foot long shimmery scarf being blown in the air. That scarf is as much a part of the ballet as Kelly and his dance partner Cyd Charisse.
Talk about an entry. Charisse arrives onscreen, legs first, as a vamp who proves to be quite the temptation to Kelly’s smalltown boy who has “gotta dance.” Charisse is as sexy as hell in that green flapper outfit. She and Kelly dance so well together, from the more contemporary dance on through the ballet. It’s wonderful, but in the end money talks and the smalltown boy does not win the vamp’s heart.
This 1952 musical classic was thoroughly enjoyed by me. I may have to take in some more of the classic musicals. If there are others on the same level as Singin’ In The Rain, I might just become a fan of the genre.
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