Friday, September 7, 2012
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Singin’ in the Rain is a movie I’ve assiduously avoided for many years. The reason is the Gene Kelly factor. I just don’t like him. More than that, there’s something about him that really irritates me. I also don’t like Donald O’Connor so that was another reason to avoid this one. Now the time has come for to start exploring the world of 1950s Hollywood musicals, I decided I would have to bite the bullet and finally face my Gene Kelly phobia. I would have to watch Singin’ in the Rain at least.
Since everyone but me has seen this movie it almost seems unnecessary to talk about the plot but just in case, here goes.
Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are big stars in Hollywood in the late 1920s. But a shadow hangs over their world. Talking pictures are on the horizon. The Jazz Singer is about to be released. Don and Lina are in the middle of shooting their latest picture, The Duelling Cavalier, when the storm breaks. The studio, in a panic, decides to reshoot the movie as a talkie. But there is a problem - Lina’s terrible screeching voice. Actually there’s another problem - Don’s awful acting. The movie is previewed and it’s a disaster. Don assumes his career is all over.
But his friend Cosmo Brown (O’Connor) has a brain wave. The Duelling Cavalier is a train wreck as a drama but if they could find a way to turn it into a musical comedy it might save the picture, the studio and Don’s career.
Meanwhile Don has other troubles. The studio has insisted that he and Lina pretend to be engaged, for publicity reasons. But they hate each other. And Don has met aspiring young actress-singer Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) and he’s head over heels in love with her. And Lina hates Kathy. That’s pretty much it for the plot, but it’s enough for any self-respecting musical.
The movie is technically dazzling, although it often seems to be technique for technique's sake (which is one of the issues I’ve always had with Gene Kelly). But dazzling it certainly is, in Technicolor so bright your eyes will bleed.
To me the movie seems to have some structural problems. I guess I’m used to the Fred Astaire approach to dance, where the central love story is told mainly through the dancing. The dance routines advance the plot. That doesn’t happen in Singin’ in the Rain. Even worse, the only significant romantic dance duet is between Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse! And Cyd Charisse is not even a character in the movie. To me that was a dance routine that should have paired the leading man and the leading lady. As it is, it interrupts the plot and distracts us from the Don-Kathy romance.
But my main problem with this movie is, as I expected, Gene Kelly. I find Don somewhat obnoxious and I was hoping that poor Kathy would end up with anybody but him. Kelly tries so hard with his dance sequences but to me they often seem irritating and vulgar. They’re loud and flashy, as is the movie in general. Donald O'Connor is annoying as well.
Debbie Reynolds is harmless but just a little on the bland side. The supporting cast is fine.
I have to emphasise that I’m not saying this is a bad movie. If you like Gene Kelly you’re probably going to thoroughly enjoy it. It’s very much a star vehicle for Kelly (who co-directed the film) so your enjoyment will depend very much on whether you like him or not. I simply happen not to like him and for me personally that proved to be an insurmountable obstacle. When it comes to dancers I prefer Fred Astaire who made dancing look so effortless that you don’t notice the technical difficulty of what he’s doing, you just enjoy the aesthetic and emotional impact. Gene Kelly on the other hand made dancing look difficult so you find yourself distracted by the technique rather than the effect. But it’s basically a matter of personal preference.
The Region 4 DVD is certainly impressive. The colours are so bright you may need sunglasses.
All I can really say in summing up this movie is that you probably need to be a Gene Kelly fan to appreciate it. It has plenty of things going for it so if Gene Kelly doesn’t bother you then go for it. I’d also add that a little bit of Donald O’Connor goes a long way so it helps if you like his work. I can see many of the reasons this is such an admired film but for me it just didn’t work.