Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont (Gene Kelly and Jean Sagan) are the Hollywood power couple of their day. Audiences flock in their droves to see the latest Lockwood and Lamont pictures, back in the era of silent film making. However, with the introduction of new-fangled “Talkies” just around the corner, Lisa’s ever-growing ego and Don’s patience wearing thin, could their future be in danger of spinning off the reels?
Singin’ in the Rain will be my last solo review of 2014. At the start of the year, and up until just a few days ago, I’d regarded it as my most heinous movie blind spot (I even called it that on Bubbawheat’s FilmWhys podcast) and as such it was at the top of my Most Anticipated from the 1001 List as a film I felt I really should see, and soon. I even saved it until the end of the year to increase the anticipation to almost unbearable levels. As it stands, even with all that pressure heaped upon it, and after a viewing that, for various reasons, had to be split in two, I thoroughly enjoyed this film.
That’s not to say it’s perfect, it definitely has a few flaws, so I’ll get those out of the way first. I’ll make an effort to dance around spoilers (I’d assumed I was the last film fan to see this, but I recently discovered at least a couple more who still have it in their futures), especially seeing as I knew practically nothing about this movie going in. Avoiding spoilers may be tricky, however, as my main issue with the film was the ending. I don’t mean how it ended story-wise – that was entirely as expected, was very satisfying and enjoyable. No, I wasn’t a fan of the dreary, soppy-eyed closing number that spoiled the ending, which would have been better suited to, in my opinion, fading straight from an embrace to the billboard, skipping the song entirely.
That was pretty much my only major issue. Granted, the characters of Don and Lisa are at times insufferable – Gene Kelly is very good at being smug, it would seem – but I think this was entirely intentional, so can’t really be considered a fault when that is how I’m supposed to react towards these characters. Also, and this is a flaw of most musicals so I should really just get over it, but I would have liked some of the scenes involving the musical numbers to continue after the singing and the dancing has happened, to get the reaction from those involved in the scene to what has just happened. The instance where I’m most intrigued is in the Moses Supposes sequence, in which Don, who is being trained by a dialect coach to work in talking pictures, and his lifelong best friend Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) harass and ridicule said coach. The song is great, as is all the dancing (I think, I find it hard to tell good dancing from bad) but at the end of the routine the coach has been thrown onto his desk and covered by pretty much everything in the room that wasn’t nailed down, for seemingly no reason whatsoever, other than Cosmo came in and made some funny faces. What happened next? Did the dialect coach sue? Was he injured? Did he seek any kind of explanation for what had just happened, or was this an everyday occurrence and he put everything back where it was supposed to be, in preparation for a similar level of humiliation in his next session?
So, that’s the negativity out of the way, lets get on with the good stuff, of which there is a considerable amount. Firstly, Gene Kelly. This is my first ever Gene Kelly movie (I’d gotten him confused with Fred Astaire in my head, of whom I’ve only ever seen in Top Hat), and whilst his performance hasn’t had me desperately seeking out his other films, of which at first glance only On The Town appears on the List, I was still captivated and impressed by it. More so, however, was his co-star Donald O’Connor, a name I’ve never come across before and I can’t fathom why. He is terrific here as the oft-forgotten supporter of Don’s career, forever in the shadows and his accompanying musician, but in actual fact probably far more talented and creative than the guy on show. O’Connor’s stand out number is easily Make ’em Laugh, also the highlight of the film, during which the guy does some frankly astounding stuff, from acrobatic leaps and flips to pratfalls and gurning, none of which I expected to find here, and all of which was very welcome. Debbie Reynolds didn’t do a great deal for me as Kathy Selden, Don’s potential love interest, but she wasn’t terrible, merely serviceable in the role, but she was more than made up for by Jean Sagen as Lina Lamont.
Lina is a star of silent comedy, whose ability to look beautiful and appear sophisticated is about to be shattered now that she must talk and sing in films. Lisa, you see, has a frankly hideous voice. It’s shrill and piercing, accompanied by horrid grammar and diction to boot. There are times when you feel sorry for her – after all, one cannot choose how one sounds, and her efforts to improve her vocals are alas unsuccessful – but eventually we realise that Lina is just a horrible person, and Sagen eats up the screen with it.
The aspect of this film I liked the best was how it dealt with the making of movies and all the behind the scenes stuff. There’s a scene in which Don and Cosmo are walking around a set, upon which several different scenes are being shot simultaneously. There’s one involving the front carriage of a train, on top of which are some actors fighting whilst the train is rocked back and forth. I love that kind of thing. Later, Don makes what should be a romantic moment seem more so by adding the proper lighting, smoke, a light wind and other effects littered around a set, and when we see a studio’s first attempts to use the new technologies involved with recording sound, well that just about fascinated me. Of course the silent stars wouldn’t be used to aiming their voices at a microphone. It seems to obvious now, but back then it must have caused some awful problems. That’s a documentary I’d have loved to have seen.
Of course, if there’s one scene from Singin’ in the Rain that I at least knew was coming, it’s the moment Gene Kelly starts actually singing (and dancing) in the rain, but to be honest it left me a little disappointed. Granted, seeing as it’s the sequence the film is named after I was expecting something a little showier than Kelly splashing around in puddles for a while, so my expectations were set a little high, but even taking that into account I was left wanting more. Then again, I’m hardly the world’s greatest dancing fan, so perhaps there’s more to this scene than I noticed. The dream/broadway sequence that followed was also a little weirder than I like – we’re going back towards Oklahoma! territory there – but it wasn’t enough to derail the feature.
So is this my favourite musical? No. I still prefer the likes of Moulin Rouge!, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Mary Poppins and a slew of Disney animated movies, and I’ve a soft spot still for things I’ve only seen once like Wizard of Oz, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and West Side Story, but it’s definitely up there. I guess I’ll just have to watch it again in a little while and see where it stands. As for now, I think there are plenty worse films I could have picked for the year’s final review.
Choose Film 8/10