Syng i Sol og Regn
Lately I have been less than impressed with the musicals I have been watching. They have been, almost exclusively, with Gene Kelly and I was starting to wonder what made these musicals so famous. However, I kept being told that I just had to wait for “Singin’ in the Rain” then I would get my money’s worth.
Well, here I am, just through my first ever watching of the famous “Singin´ in the Rain”. And guess what? It was worth waiting for. “Singin’ in the Rain” is, simply put, an almost perfect musical. Here everything comes together and the total is more than the sum of its parts. Of course, a story about the transition from silent to sound movies would strike a chord with me, but even without that personal affinity this is here a much stronger story than we are used to in musical. Although this is essentially a love story as usual the sound transition gives it an interesting backdrop and provides angles worth exploring. I love the story of the vicious blonde actress with a shrill voice who has no clue that her voice is a disaster. It is comedy and drama in one package and Jean Hagen pulled it off as the funniest character in a hilarious movie.
That is the second element that really works here. Musicals are all about happy times and for ones it really comes across. I felt happy watching this movie. Not just laughing at the jokes, but genuinely happy. You cannot point at individual elements and say it is this or that that does it, but it is an undercurrent that goes through the movie. I laugh and I smile and I cannot let it go, but must see a bit more. That is a good time. I rarely if ever felt like that through the other Gene Kelly musicals.
Then there is a stellar cast. I already mentioned Jean Hagen, but also Donald O´Connor as Cosmo Brown is a revelation. He serves as a partner for Kelly, a role typically allocated Frank Sinatra, and he manages to keep up with him and more than that. Often I would say he even steals the show from Kelly and that is largely because of the wave of exuberance that come from him. I can easily imagine that he would be too much for some, but for me he manages to walk the line just right. Debbie Reynolds as the new girl Kathy Selden of course got her breakthrough with “Singin’ in the Rain” as a love interest, comedic timing and sheer quality she is way ahead of Leslie Caron from “An American in Paris”. The scene when she jumps out of the cake is just priceless and so is her drive with Kelly in the opening of the film. And Gene Kelly himself? He shows us that with the right production and the right people around him he was a megastar. It almost feels like he is kept on a leash in this film and so, in smaller doses, he works so much better.
The music of course is outstanding. Those songs are famous all the way up there with “The Wizard of Oz” Everybody, and I mean even children, know “Singin’ in the Rain”, the song, and this musical is so stuffed with high quality songs that it is a true horn of plenty. Of course there is a level of suspension of disbelief when a song starts, but we are used to that in musicals. Here it is just less annoying and often it seems even natural. Well, as natural as you can be with an acrobat like Kelly. Many of the songs are famous because of this musical, but actually most if not all the songs are recycled from earlier productions. A good example is “Good Morning”, which is originally from the otherwise lousy “Babes in Arms”. In this rendition it may not be Judy Garland singing it, but in every other way I prefer it to the original. Even the titular “Singin’ in the Rain” is from “Hollywood Revue of 1929”. I do not think that detract from the music or the musical. They got a new life here and frankly this musical owns those songs.
There are all the other things this musical does right: The 1920’ies vibe, the beautiful colors, blue-screen filming that actually works and a wonderful pace. This may well be the best musical I have seen so far on the list and somehow I doubt it will be topped as musicals as a genre generally went downhill from this point.
In fact I feel rather honored that I get this chance to see this musical for the first time. I get the impression that most people have seen it a million times or so, but I who hardly knew older pictures before this quest get the same overwhelming experience as people got when they saw it back in ’52. That is really special.
I mentioned in the opening that this musical is almost perfect. Almost. Gene Kelly just had to repeat the mistake from An American in Paris and include a very long dance/ballet sequence near the end. I did not keep check, but I believe we are talking 10+ minutes. It was the only time I got impatient with “Singin’ in the Rain”. For a person where dancing on it’s own has no inherent value such a sequence is quite an ordeal. To the musical’s defense it was lighter fare than in “An American in Paris” and it did not form the conclusion of the movie, but was instead an interlude, so my misery passed quickly.
It does however not detract from the general impression that this is about as good as musicals get. It is a musical I will definitely watch again and I might even manage to talk my wife into watching it with me.
A lot has been made of how this was robbed at the following Academy Awards, likely because “An American in Paris” won Best Picture the year before. I can only agree. Had the order of the two been reversed this one would surely have won, but as I remember it “Singin’ in the Rain” was not that well received when first released. Maybe the audience and the critics were exhausted. But time have proved the superiority of this musical. This is the one you remember and the one that is referenced again and again, over and over. “Singin’ in the Rain” rules!