The image that everyone remembers from “Singin' in the Rain” has Gene Kelly, dressed in a yellow slicker, hanging from a lamp-post and swinging his umbrella in the wild joy of new love. The scene builds to a gloriously saturated ecstasy as Kelly stomps through the puddles of water in the gutters, making big wet splashes.
The entire sequence, from the moment Kelly begins to dance until the moment the cop looks at him strangely, is probably the most joyous musical sequence ever filmed. It celebrates a man who has just fallen in love and has given himself over to heedless celebration. And the rainwater provides the dancer with a tactile medium that reflects his joy in its own noisy way.
MGM’s “Singin' in the Rain” (1952), one of the most-loved and celebrated film musicals of all time, returns to the big screen on January 20 at the Smith Opera House in Geneva.
“Singin' in the Rain” has been voted one of the greatest films of all time in international critics' polls, and is routinely called the greatest of all the Hollywood musicals. The joyous film, co-directed by Stanley Donen and acrobatic dancer-star-choreographer Gene Kelly, is a charming, up-beat, graceful and thoroughly enjoyable experience with great songs, lots of flashbacks, wonderful dances (including the spectacular Broadway Melody Ballet with leggy guest star Cyd Charisse), casting and story. This was another extraordinary example of the organic, 'integrated musical' in which the story's characters naturally express their emotions in the midst of their lives. Song and dance replace the dialogue, usually during moments of high spirits or passionate romance. And over half of the film – a 'let's put on a play' type of film, is composed of musical numbers.
Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are the toast of 1920s Hollywood, the stars of a hugely successful series of swashbuckling romantic adventures. Even as they celebrate their biggest premiere yet at studio head R.F.'s (Millard Mitchell) house, the test reel of a new “talking picture” process shown at the party portends doom for the duo. The sound era won't be kind to Lina's screechy voice. On the same night as the premiere, though, Don meets the woman of his dreams in ingenue Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). With the help of Don's musician pal Cosmo Brown (the delightful Donald O'Connor) to add some songs to the latest Lockwood and Lamont production, and with Kathy dubbing Lina's voice, the franchise might be saved yet.
The movie was cobbled together fairly quickly in 1952 to capitalize on the success of “An American in Paris” – which won the Academy Award as the best picture of 1951, also starred Gene Kelly, and had the same director, Donen. The new movie had an original screenplay by Adolph Green and Betty Comden and the '20s-era songs by Nacio Herb Brown and producer Arthur Freed are sunny, infectious gems that linger in the mind long after the film is over.
Film historian Ron Haver has noted that “Singin' in the Rain” was not immediately hailed for its greatness. It did well at the box office, but won no Academy Awards and was on no critics' year-end lists of best films. Only after it went into repertory in 1958, as part of a package of MGM classics, did audiences begin to realize how special it was.
Influential critic Pauline Kael was managing a repertory theater in Berkeley then, and her program notes, calling the movie “just about the best Hollywood musical of all time,” helped establish the movie's eventual reputation.
Debbie Reynolds was still a teenager when she starred in the movie, and there is a light in her eyes to mirror the delight of her character, who is discovered leaping out of a cake at a party, and soon becomes the offscreen voice of Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), a silent star whose voice is not suited to talkies, to say the least. The movie's climax, as Reynolds flees from a theater while Kelly shouts out “Stop that girl!” and tells everyone who she is, and that he loves her, is one of those bravura romantic scenes that make you tingle no matter how often you see it.
The real star of “Singin' in the Rain,” though, is Kelly and co-director Stanley Donen's choreography — exuberant, muscular, magical, and without peer. Films today are so heavily dependent on special effects, yet the best CGI effect in the world can't equal the sight of Donald O'Connor running up a wall and completing a backflip in “Make 'Em Laugh” or Kelly and O'Connor tearing a room apart in “Moses Supposes” or Kelly skipping ecstatically through puddles in the title song. Kelly sings “Gotta Dance” in the film's “Broadway Melody Ballet” and that refrain is “Singin' in the Rain's” credo.
There's great humor in “Singin' in the Rain,” too, especially in the scenes that deal with the technical difficulties of the early days of talkies. Lina Lamont can never seem to remember which flower arrangement holds the concealed microphone, and so her voice booms and whispers as she turns her head back and forth. This was not an imaginary problem for early actors in the talkies; Chicago bandleader Stanley Paul collects early sound movies with scenes that reflect that very problem.
Although “Singin' in the Rain” has been on video in various versions for decades and is often seen on TV, a big-screen viewing will reveal a richness of color that your tube may not suggest. The film was photographed in bold basic colors – the yellow raincoats are an emblem – and Donen and his cast have an energy level that's also bold, basic and playful. But is this really the greatest Hollywood musical ever made? In a word, yes.
The Smith screens “Singin' in the Rain” at 7 p.m. Jan. 20, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Jan. 21, Jan. 22 at 7, at 2 p.m. Jan. 23, and at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 and 25. Not rated but considered of G quality, this film has a running time of one hour, 59 minutes. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. All seats are $3 on Thursday and $2 on Tuesday. Call 315-781-5483 or toll-free 866-355-5483 for details or to reserve tickets.
The Monday Movie Roundtable meets following the evening screening on January 24. The Smith invites patrons to stay after and participate in insightful discussion about the film lead by The Smith's Arts-in-Education Director RJ Rapoza. The discussion takes place in The Smith's lower-level cabaret.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.