Singin’ in the Rain came out in 1952 and has become an extremely influential and part of American cinema – a true classic. The film is has become iconic and is not only relevant today, but the musical is also is still extremely enjoyable to watch. The music is famous to the point of familiarity, and most viewers will know the tune and words of each song without ever having seen the film. Singin’ in the Rain is often considered the greatest American musical of all time, and while it is hard to define any film as a “greatest of all time,” this film is perhaps the most emblematic of the genre and is my personal favorite of American musicals.
The film was produced by Arthur Freed, who made his career producing songs and films for MGM. His idea here was to produce a film based around songs he had written for past MGM musicals in the 1920s and 1930s. The story revolves around Hollywood’s transition from silent films to talkies and really captures how The Jazz Singer, the first talking picture ever, created an instant obsession with talking pictures. There was no turning back.
Gene Kelly co-directs and stars as Don Lockwood. Lockwood is one of the biggest silent film stars of the day. The film opens in 1927 at a premiere of Lockwood’s newest film, and Lockwood is part of a famous on- and off-screen couple with Lina Lamont, played by Jean Hagen. Shortly after the premiere of The Jazz Singer, the technological shift causes such a stir that the producers must convert Lockwood and Lamont’s newest film from a silent picture into a “talkie.”
Problems immediately arise, which mirror the real issues that many silent films stars faced. Lockwood’s acting is hilariously overdone at times, and Lamont’s voice is absurdly squeaky and high-pitched. Lockwood works to make his acting flow better with dialogue and added music while Lamont’s whole part needs to be dubbed by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), a dancer and Lockwood’s new, secret love interest. The conflict of the film comes to fruition when Lamont discovers that not only is Kathy getting credit for her dubbing but also that she is having a relationship with Don. The star makes it her goal to sabotage both Kathy’s career and her relationship.
The reason this film is so revered in cinema history is its incredible musical numbers. The songs combine intricate choreography and beautifully lavish sets full of bright colors. The “Broadway Melody” is one of the most impressive numbers ever. It contains hundreds of dancers with perfect timing and costumes in every color of the rainbow. That number isn’t even the most iconic in the film, though. The “Singin’ in the Rain” number is perhaps the most famous scene from a musical and one of the most famous scenes in the history of film. This iconic scene with Lockwood singing and dancing in a downpour, all with a smile on his face, will live on forever as an essential piece of American cinema.
This film shows off the glamour and beauty that is possible through cinema. The picture also showcases the amazing transition in Hollywood as the focus shifted from silent pictures to talking pictures. The film also demonstrates how this transition ruined some actors’ careers and made some others famous. I have never seen a musical that gives me as much entertainment and joy as this film does. The film reflects Hollywood’s roots but also sets the standard for where films would go in the future. It contains almost no original songs, yet they are all known from this picture because of the incredible dance numbers that accompany them.
The reason this film is held in such high esteem is that it absolutely transcends Hollywood. Its musical numbers are bigger and better than nearly anything produced up to that point in history. Its story is pure entertainment. Its acting, writing, and directing are just superb. It is nearly universally loved and for good reason. Singin’ in the Rain is a film about Hollywood history that became a piece of Hollywood history. Singin’ in the Rain is an essential film for all movie fans to experience.
This article from TCM provides more background on the making of the film and includes some interesting trivia and stories about the production.