I mentioned this when I reviewed King Kong a few weeks back and want to take a moment to mention this again. There are a handful of movies that I assumed I knew everything about before viewing and expected to find little enjoyment when watching Singin' In The Rain. Was I ever wrong. Stanley Donen, the genius behind Charade, brings forth something that is not just fantastic, but monumentally brilliant. I can definitively say that I was, and still am, more enamored with this musical than anything made before or after. It is the perfect combination of wit, musicianship and narrative that keeps the viewer occupied, and for being a musical made in the early fifties, it is pretty well-acted. Gene Kelly is a hilarious actor and I am shamed to say that this is my first experience with the late actor. If none of these elements were not enough, the film is magnificently shot in technicolor and edited to make the hectic and frantic narrative seem illustriously extravagant, while maintaining a very composed structure. Somehow, Singin' In The Rain manages to adhere to all the traditions of a Hollywood Musical while simultaneously being one of the most avant-garde musicals ever made, excluding Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music In The World of course.
Singin' In The Rain, for those unfamiliar with its plot, is set up as a memory play of sorts, focusing on Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) a well-respected and much-loved silent film actor who is finding difficulties transitioning to a life in talking films. Furthermore, his leading lady, and unwilling companion, due mostly to media speculation, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) is having greater difficulties transitioning given her grating voice and inability to adapt to new technologies. Luckily for Don, his long time friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) comes up with the idea to change their newest picture into a musical, allowing for Don to exercise his performance skills which granted him his breakthrough in Hollywood. This is good news for everyone except, Lina whose singing and dancing are even worse than her acting. Don, however, has recently discovered a young dancer named Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) who he thinks is perfect for the part and sees this role as a chance to return his own luck in Hollywood, as well as a chance to win Kathy's affection. A problem arises when Lina explains to the producer that her contract allows her near omnipotence over the film despite her failure to perform up to expectations. Realizing her control Lina demands that Kathy sing her vocals and voice over her acting scenes while receiving no credit for her actions. Reluctant to do so, but realizing that she has no alternative, Kathy succumbs to the demands and rescinds to her leading role in favor of keeping the love and affection of Don. The film, titled The Dancing Cavelier, is a huge success and both Don and Lina are asked to give encore performances. In a moment of hubris, Lina blows her guise and it is revealed that not only has she been lip-synching, but that her voice is unbearable to the audience as well. Don quickly rushes on stage and reveals Kathy to be the real star of the film to which the audience celebrates appropriately. The film ends on a joyous note for everyone involved, excluding Lina of course who has learned a very valuable lesson about the ever-fading nature of beauty.
The real magic of Singin' In The Rain comes not in its story or musical numbers, but instead in its editing and post-filming elements. Sure, it is well-acted and beautifully shot, but the composition of images and use of sound make this film something special. I would imagine that audiences viewing this film in theaters had the same sort of awe-inspiring experiences as those who viewed The Jazz Singer, a film that is mentioned constantly within Singin' In The Rain, perhaps to let viewers know that Donen was creating an homage of sorts. It was something new and amazing that lacked explanation, Singin' In The Rain is the truest example of magical cinema. The perfect hybridity of editing with story telling occurs during the scene when Lina and Don are attempting to film, the then titled The Dueling Cavelier and find the burdens of recording sound unbearable. The film track often drops out during their speeches to reflect the microphone being out of range and during one scene Lina moves back and forth constantly and the sound wavers with her movements, a moment that was undoubtedly very difficult to recreate in the sound studio. Having a bit of experience with contemporary sound editing I can confess that this is still a difficult effect to recreate. In fact, the only film I can recall that even deals with sound in a similar manner is Blow Out. Furthermore, the entire pace of the scene is frantic, between the constant jump cuts and re-creating of the same scene it is hard to fathom how many takes this scene required. Despite this, the scene seems flawless and is perhaps one of the most enjoyable moments of the film. Such dedication to perfection reflects the work of Stanley Donen and he is slowly becoming one of my favorite directors despite having made mostly musicals.
I am baffled as to why there is no Blu-Ray for this piece of art that is a film. However, I imagine that they may do something in the upcoming year to celebrate the film's sixtieth anniversary. I would suggest holding off until that release, but if not, purchase a copy, because it is a landmark film that I wished I had seen much earlier in my life.