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Singin' in the Rain (1952)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

Regarded by many as the finest movie musical, Singin' in the Rain is a fantastic mixture of dancing, humour and keen observation as Hollywood takes a good look at itself. The setting is the Twenties when films were just making the transition to sound, a time of uncertainty for many established silent movie stars. Monumental Pictures is premiering another Lockwood & Lamont film and the stars are arriving to the cheers of the crowd. The usual suspects are in attendance - big-shot producers, sexy starlets and has-beens -- but the loudest screams are reserved for Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). A gossip columnist halts them on their way in, prying into their relationship and past history, which prompts Don to recount his fabulous rise to fame. A flashback shows how Don, and his friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor), clawed their way up as comedy musicians - somewhat at odds with his tale of music classes and high-brow performances.

The discovery of Don, by director Roscoe Dexter (Douglas Fowley), when he was performing dangerous stunts led to his installation as a leading man with Lina. The problem is that she is both empty-headed and vain, a combination which he privately despises while they show a united, romantic front to their adoring public. After the successful showing, Don is forced to escape from his voracious fans by leaping into a passing car driven by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). She is amazed but plays it cool, pretending not to recognise Don and putting down the talents of movie actors. Although Kathy pretends to be a real stage actress, her abilities become obvious to Don when she leaps out of a cake at the after-show party. An even bigger upset occurs when studio owner R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) shows a new talking picture, which is dismissed as a passing fad (commenting that Warner Brothers will "lose their shirts with The Jazz Singer").

Progress is inexorable though and the studio is forced to halt its next production, "The Dueling Cavalier", when it becomes obvious that it'll have to be wired for sound. There is only one fundamental problem -- Lina has an awful, nasal speaking voice which can't be beaten into shape by a voice coach. When this is combined with her inability to speak into the hidden microphone (the difficulties shown are exactly those which plagued early talkies) it looks as though the picture will be a terrible failure. The only possible salvation would be to dub Lina's voice, which is where Kathy comes in. The film is turned into a musical, dance numbers are added and everything looks peachy; just as long as Lina doesn't find out that all of her dialogue is for naught.

This cracking musical pushes all of the right buttons with its sparkling script, tremendous song & dance numbers, fine acting and charismatic performers. The concept of a movie within a movie is handled with style and panache, utilising in-jokes, old props and self-effacing remarks which apply to more than just this picture. Especially smooth is the way in which scenes change from the present to the past, or to the movie in production, by gliding through the screen or panning to a new perspective. The acting is both excellent and convincing (for all of the major players) but the real stars of the movie are the musical sequences, such as the title song scene where Kelly leaps and tap-dances his way through the puddles. However, there are many equally fine moments such as the "Broadway Ballet" triumph, featuring a guest appearance by Cyd Charisse with a 25-foot long white silk veil - gorgeous. There is more, much more, than this but you'll have to see Singin' in the Rain to see them and I heartily recommend that you make the effort.

This film was nominated for review by Kymberlie R. McGuire.

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