Singin’ in the Rain is a movie that pulses with life. It is an American Musical Romantic Comedy of 1952, which was choreographed and directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. Starring Donald O'Connor, Jean Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Millard Mitchell, Jean Hagen, and Cyd Charisse, this classic is a lighthearted depiction of the transition of Hollywood in the late 1920s when the performers in the industry are gradually making their transition from the ‘silent era’ to the ‘age of the talkies.’
Arthur Freed who was the head of the MGM’s ‘Freed Unit’, conceived the idea of making a movie as he was going through a back catalog of the songs written by him and Nacio Herb Brown. Adolph Green and Betty Comden were called from New York to write a screenplay to which the songs could be easily tied. At first, both of them refused the assignment citing a contract issue that their previous agent had told them. Two weeks down the line, their new agent Irving Lazar looked at the contract, took care of the discrepancies, and shortly after, the writers started working on the script and the story.
Most of the songs used in the movie, having a direct connection to the storyline, were written during the period when a transformation was taking place from silent films to talkies and popular musicals. This is why Green and Comden came up with the idea that the timeline of the story will be set during this transitional time in Hollywood.
Gene Kelly was busy shooting An American in Paris (1951). Therefore, he could not be approached at the time of writing the script. As the writers continued to work, they were torn between three possible openings for the film – a magazine interview with a Hollywood star, a silent movie premiere, and a sequence that involves a star meeting a girl and eventually losing a girl. They even thought of returning their advance to the studio and accepting their failure when Betty’s husband rightly suggested to them to combine all the three ideas into one compact opening. And it was this rewritten opening that got approved by Freed.
By this time, Kelly’s shoot got wrapped up, and Freed suggested the script be given to the actor. Donen and Kelly’s reactions were enthusiastic and they immediately got involved with the script. In addition to the Freed-Brown songs, Green and Comden contributed to the lyrics of the song “Moses Supposes.” Just before shooting, one song that was painfully wedged into the script by the writers called “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” was replaced with a new song from the school of Freed and Brown called, “Make ‘Em Laugh.”
As the writers returned to New York, they got the word that there is a requirement for a new song that will go in the love sequence between Debbie and Kelly. Green and Comden then crafted a romantic song that would be shot on an empty sound stage and provided an apt scene for that as well. The name of this song is “You Are My Lucky Star.”
It all starts with Don Lockwood, a famous silent movie star. He has his personal reservations against the advances of Lina Lamont, who is his leading lady, although the studio they work with links them romantically in order to increase their popularity.
At The Royal Rascal’s premiere, Don shares with the audience his life story and tells them the motto that he lives by which is, “Dignity, always dignity,” as his words get humorously contradicted when flashbacks of his camaraderie are seen with Cosmo Brown, who he considers his best friend. The song “Fit as a Fiddle” plays in the background.
To escape his fans, Don quickly gets into a car driven by Kathy Selden who reveals that she is a stage actress. At the after-party of the premiere, the head of the studio gives a demonstration of a talking picture. Simultaneously, to Don’s amusement, he finds Kathy popping out of a mock cake revealing herself again as a chorus girl, with the song, “All I Do is Dream of You” accompanying the scene.
Don gets obsessed with Kathy and looks for her in the coming weeks as Brown tries to cheer him up and we get to hear the song, “Make ‘Em Laugh.” After many days, Cosmo finds Kathy shooting in the same studio when the song “Beautiful Girl” is played. Eventually, Don and Kathy reconciled as the former sings her a lovely song and Kathy expresses how big a fan she is of him through the song “You Were Meant for Me.”
On the side, the relationship between Don and Lina stretches as they both sign for the talkie “The Dueling Cavalier.” On the sets where Lina struggles with her strong Brooklyn accent, Don comes out in flying colors during diction lessons as the song “Moses Supposes” plays. The premiere of The Dueling Cavalier is a disaster with bad sound recording techniques and faulty audio synchronization which made the actors barely audible.
Moving forward with the song “Good Morning”, Cosmo and Kathy assist Don in coming up with the idea of turning The Dueling Cavalier into a musical called “The Dancing Cavalier,” where there will be a backstory along with modern musical numbers. To make up for Lina’s out-of-sync voice, Cosmo suggested that they dub her voice with Kathy’s for the song “Singin’ in the Rain.”
As Cosmo and Don pitch their idea to the studio we hear “Broadway Melody” as the studio asks them to inform Lina that Kathy would be dubbing on her behalf for the song “Would You.” This infuriates Lina as she also comes to know about Don and Kathy’s love and their wedding plans. She threatens to sue the studio, invoking a clause on her contract.
The Dancing Cavalier premiere became a tremendous success. When the audience requests Lina to sing the song, she lip-syncs it in front of the microphone as Kathy continues to cover her singing from behind the curtains. As Lina continues to sing “Singin’ in the Rain (Reprise)”, Don and Cosmo lift the curtain with the prior acknowledgment of the studio and reveal the fakery.
This leads to Lina fleeing in shame, and Kathy trying to run as well feeling distressed. However, Don stops Kathy and announces her as ‘the real star’ when a song from their film “You Are My Lucky Star” plays in the background.
Usage in Pop Culture
- The “Singin’ in the Rain” sequence by Gene Kelly was one of the opening scenes of The Great Movie Ride shown at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
- In 1971, the character of Alex sings the song “Singin’ in the Rain” in Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”, during the scenes of home invasion and rape.
- In 1976, the British Comedy Act Wise and Morecambe put up a parody performance of the “Singin’ in the Rain” sequence for their Christmas Special Act.
- In 1983, the film “Singin’ in the Rain” got a lot of mention in the television special of that time, “Paddington Goes to the Movies”. Paddington also performs a different version of the famous dance performed by Gene Kelly in the film.
- In 1989, Woody Allen’s film Crimes and Misdemeanors shows the characters Cliff and Halley watching the film “Singin’ in the Rain” at Cliff’s place where the latter claims to watch this movie “every few months to keep my spirits up.”
- In 2005, the dance performed on the title song in the film was parodied in Spamalot, which is a famous Monty Python Broadway Musical.
- It was 2005 as well when a parody of the song “Singin’ in the Rain” featured in an animated film Robots.
- In 2006, in an episode of the Family Guy, the characters sang the popular number from the film “Make Em’ Laugh.”
- In 2010, a couple of songs from this iconic film were featured in the comedy series Glee, in the episode titled “The Substitute.”
- In 2013, a young female ghost was seen in the anime short “Gisoku no Moses”, dancing to the tune of “Moses Supposes.”
- In 2015, “You Were Meant for Me” got featured in the film The Intern, directed by Nancy Meyer.
- In 2016, Damien Chazelle directed the musical feature La La Land, getting inspired by the film “Singin’ in the Rain.”
- In 2017, the “Good Morning” song got featured in a Season 3 episode of the Legends of Tomorrow, called “Phone Home.”
- In 2019, the video of “Boy with Luv,” a BTS song came out with a lot of references from the film “Singin’ in the Rain.”
- In 2022, Hogchoker, a jazz-punk band, paid tribute to the 70th Anniversary of “Singin’ in the Rain” with a song "Million Dallar Legs."
Honors and Awards
At the time of its release, the film did not create any notable waves as it came out as a modest hit. Donald O’Connor won the prestigious award of the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy while Jean Hagen got nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Adolph Green and Betty Comden’s humorous screenplay got them the Writer’s Guild of America Award for this film.
Since its release, this film gradually got its legendary status, and in the history of cinema, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is now regarded as the greatest musical ever made. Many critics consider it the greatest film ever made in “Metro Goldwyn-Mayer’s” “Freed Unit.” It has quite a list of accolades:
- In 1952, Lennie Hayton got nominated for the Academy Awards for the Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.
- In 1953, “Singin’ in the Rain” got nominated as the best film from any source at the British Academy Film Awards.
- “Singin’ in the Rain” got nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globe Awards, in 1953.
- “Singin’ in the Rain” got inducted in the National Film Registry in 1989, by the National Film Preservation Board.
- The film topped the charts of AFI’s Greatest Movie Musicals and in 1989, it got recognized as one of the first 25 films to be selected by the US Library of Congress for the purpose of preservation in the National Film Registry.
- In 2005, the film got selected by the British Film Institute as one of the top 50 films that need to be watched before the age of 14.
- In 2007, the film got the 5th rank in the updated list of the greatest American films of all time. In 2008, Empire magazine ranked the film as the 8th best film of all time.
- In 2012, the film got the rank of 20 in the Sight & Sound magazine’s list of 50 greatest films of all time.
A Color Spectacle of Music, Dance, Humor, & Abundance
The film “Singin’ in the Rain” crafts a colorful rainbow with all its joyful elements that can take any soul from the dull of winters to the sunny and breezy paradise of the butterflies. The stunning performances of the actors, the sublime musical, and the stylized outlook of the ‘new-age’ talkies touch the audience with a grace that is authentic and humane at every level. A light-hearted aura with melodious music that touches every heart and fills every emotion with positive feelings and it is this transcendent experience that this film delivers that every human being should at least live and breathe in once.
The cinematic magic that was woven in the year 1952 through this film still lives on and will continue to mesmerize generations to come. As the poster of the film suggests, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ will never disappoint to give you “a glorious feeling.”