‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (1952): A Lesson in Music History


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“Singin’ in the Rain” is near the top of the list of classic movies that have remained well-known to this day. Although many young people didn’t watch the entire film, many saw snippets of the famous dance numbers. Who hasn’t seen a picture of Gene Kelly with the lamp post from the title track?

I had the exciting opportunity to watch this film at Grauman’s Chinese Theater during the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival in April. It was one of only two films I saw in this room during the festival, but I made it a priority. Seeing my old favorite on any big screen would have been a great experience, but it was especially exciting to be seated in the Chinese theatre, watching the characters from the movie play actors while seated in the same theatre!

You probably remember the story, but, just in case it gets a bit foggy, I’ll jog your memory. Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are top silent movie stars, but no one suspects that the beautiful female lead is dumb with an obnoxiously squeaky voice. Don’s confidence is shaken when pretty young backing vocalist Cathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) tells him movie stars aren’t serious actors, and he begins to think she was right when the sound’s introduction threatens careers. of Lockwood and Lamont. It will take the combined efforts of Don, Cathy and his childhood friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) to save the film and the studio from ruin.

Poster for the American theatrical release of the 1952 musical film “Singin’ in the Rain.” (Public domain)

i have to dance

MGM, the studio that produced this film, had the best collection of musical stars from all of Hollywood’s Golden Age. It also had several major producers and directors specializing in the musical genre. Arthur Freed, the producer of this film, ran the studio’s largest production unit. The film was directed by Stanley Donen and co-directed by Gene Kelly, who worked side-by-side with him throughout the process. Although MGM sometimes used its songwriters to compose original tunes specifically for a movie, they chose to make it a musical jukebox with a soundtrack full of songs written in the 1920s and 30s with lyrics by the producer. Arthur Freed. The only two new songs added were also co-written by Freed.

The film stars one of Hollywood’s most famous dancers, Gene Kelly. Well versed in tap, ballet and jazz, he was a prolific choreographer. The many musical numbers in this film, which Kelly choreographed, gave him plenty of opportunities to show off his terpsichore skills. His pal in the movie is played by another incredible saboteur, Donald O’Connor, who is now lesser known but deserves a lot of credit for his tap dancing, athleticism and comedic timing. The lead actress is Debbie Reynolds, one of the last music stars to make her Hollywood debut. The most common trivia about this movie involves how hard Gene Kelly worked with newcomer Debbie on the dance numbers, especially “Good Mornin’.” He later admitted he was too hard on his two co-stars, but the hard work shows in the finished film. Since Miss Reynolds lacked the ballet prowess that Kelly’s leading ladies often displayed, Russian-trained ballerina turned actress Cyd Charisse was featured in the musical film sequence, The Broadway Rhythm Ballet.

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American actor, dancer and director Gene Kelly while filming the film ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ in 1952. (AFP/AFP via Getty Images)

Thinking about this movie probably reminds you of Gene Kelly splashing through puddles on a Los Angeles street while “singing and dancing” in the rain. His signature downpour routine, however, is only a fraction of the film’s musical offerings. When we first meet Don Lockwood and Cosmo Brown, a flashback shows the duo’s performances of “Fit as a Fiddle,” including intricate singing, dancing, and fiddle-playing, in hick towns across the country. country. Another great duet the two perform is “Moses Supposes,” as they overwhelm Don’s stuck-up diction coach with sung rhymes and tap dancing. Of course, no one can forget “Good Mornin’,” which features Kelly, Reynolds, and O’Connor dancing all over Don’s mansion while doing complicated moves, gags, and stunts that are effortless and fun. Donald O’Connor gets a chance to shine in his solo, “Make ‘Em Laugh,” in which he performs all of the book’s slapstick vaudeville stunts on a soundstage to cheer Don up. The piece de resistance is the Broadway Rhythm Ballet. Dramatic enough to be its own movie, it tells the story of a young clog (Kelly) who breaks into show business in New York, only to be haunted by an unreachable flapper siren (Cyd Charisse). Their two ballet duos are contrasting masterpieces of strength and grace, one modern and daring, the other fluid and ethereal.

25 years ago

The 1920s were a unique decade in American history. Although now a century old, “Singin’ in the Rain” premiered just 25 years after its premiere in 1927. Customers of the 1950s often overlooked historical accuracy in favor of style and convenience. The straight, boyish silhouette and low waist favored in the 1920s was very different from the overly feminine hourglass silhouette that resurged in the 1940s and flourished in the 1950s. Sometimes more precise fashions would be used but would be ” upgraded” with 1950s structured underwear. Other times, the clothes would look pretty sharp, but the hairstyles would be modern. Even men’s suits often lacked the necessary details to make them look like styles from a bygone era. One of the reasons for this is that it was easier and more affordable to reuse costumes for and other films, and there were just more uses for modern clothing.

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(LR) Actors and dancers Donald O’Connor (1925-2003), Gene Kelly (1912-1996) and Fred Astaire (1899-1987) pictured sitting together for a talk in Kelly’s dressing room on the set of ‘Singin’ in the Rain,” circa 1952. (Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

“Singin’ in the Rain” does not fall into this category of inaccuracy. The fashion, hairstyles, silhouettes, and even the automobiles are true to 1927. I know they missed some details, but the overall look is very convincing. It adds to the feeling that you are watching a music history lesson. People less familiar with film history may have a hard time remembering the end of the silent film era. This movie is a good reminder, painting a vivid picture of what the movie industry had to deal with when Warner Bros.’ “Jazz Singer,” the first major talkie, was a hit. There are many black and white film sequences, excerpts from the films shot in history. This cinematography indeed seems quite old to date from 1927. There are even caricatures of real silent movie stars in the cast. For example, Rita Moreno as Zelda Zanders is a version of Clara Bow, Judy Landon as Olga Mara is based on Pola Negri and Gloria Swanson, and Don’s painful early attempts at sound acting are based on the struggles of John Gilbert.

Lina Lamont’s (Jean Hagen) struggle to make the cut due to her obnoxious voice and heavy New York accent is a fun plotline in the story, but it was based on the real struggles of many stars. The careers of many highly successful silent stars essentially ended after the 1920s because their voices were unappealing, their accents were too strong, or they sounded unnatural recitation dialogue. Overdubbing Lina speaking and singing for an entire film is an elaborate and complicated solution, but, as publicity man Rod (King Donovan) says in the film, “The studio must keep its stars from looking ridiculous at all costs.” What makes this even more ironic is a bit of behind-the-scenes trivia. Anyone familiar with Debbie Reynolds’ early work will recall that she had a rather grating speaking and singing voice. However, she pulls together a rich tone when layering Lina’s lyrics and vocals that we never hear at other times. Much like Lina in the film, Debbie’s voice was not considered appropriate for these parts. Her vocals on both romantic ballads were dubbed by Betty Noyes, although Debbie’s voice was used in “Good Mornin'” and “Singin’ in the Rain”. Ironically, Cathy’s speech for Lina was dubbed by Jean Hagen, the actress playing Lina, using her unmanipulated voice!

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Lobby Card for the 1952 film “Singin’ In The Rain.” (Public domain)

A great movie

There are so many reasons why “Singin’ in the Rain” has stuck in the public consciousness. It’s great, of course, but hundreds, if not thousands, of marvelous films have fallen into oblivion; this alone clearly does not explain its enduring popularity. The timeless performers and the incredible musical numbers they perform have kept the dance scenes in the public eye like no dialogue ever could.

Above all, this film encapsulates the glamor of old Hollywood through an insight into the film industry. The whole story is about the actors, actresses and exciting activity behind the scenes of a studio. It’s all the more intriguing considering it’s one of the most frantic periods in Hollywood history, the transition to sound in the late 1920s. As well as providing excellent fodder for story content, the Jazz Age setting created a dynamic Technicolor backdrop for romance, drama, and creativity.

Seeing this movie on the big screen, I noticed details that I had never seen before in the dozens of times I watched it. For example, I realized a few years ago that Cyd Charisse wore green-tinted stockings with her green dress at Broadway Rhythm Ballet. It wasn’t until the TCMFF that I realized all of the women’s costumes had matching color bottoms! It’s just one of the many intricate details that can keep you watching and loving this movie over and over again for the rest of your life.

Tiffany Brannan

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