A few months ago I wrote about watching Casablanca in the movie theatre, and what a sublime event that was. Select theatres showed the classic because this year is the 70th anniversary of it’s release. Another great classic, Singin’ in the Rain is celebrating an anniversary, as well, it’s 60th.
It was brought back to select theatres for the viewing pleasure of those of us happy to be taken back to another place in time, or those who just want to see a movie much talked about and treasured through the years. It is widely considered the greatest musical in movie history. I would say it’s hard to argue with that sentiment. I’m a lover of musicals, they are fun and vibrant, and can make the gloomiest of days brighten and bloom. Singin’ in the Rain definitely does all these things. It makes me feel happy. It causes a tremor in my feet that makes them want to move across the floor. It brings a smile to my face and makes me want to burst out in song.
I went with a friend who had never seen the movie. I thought it was pretty swell that her first experience with the movie would be on the big screen. However, I told her that had I known, she would have been given my DVD to watch. Subsequently, when she dropped me off at home she left with three other musicals.
She loved it, and thoroughly enjoyed all those memorable moments from the movie. One of her favorite parts, as well as mine, is Donald O’Connor’s silly number, “Make ’em Laugh.” It is a goofy homage to pratfalls and vaudeville.
He is a great performer and has one of those naturally goofy looks. It’s no wonder he made his place in entertainment. All those slips, and slides, and falls were the work of improvisations from O’Connor himself. This tidbit was learned during an interview by Robert Osborne with Debby Reynolds earlier this year at TCM‘s Classic Film Festival.
The interview, which played before the feature presentation started, had older interview clips with Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, and Gene Kelly’s widow spliced in with the questions with Reynolds. It was a treat to listen to the stars and hear all the inside stories about how the film came about and the behind the scenes.
Hearing Reynolds speak about her first leading role as Kathy Selden, revealed how nervous she was at the time. She was only 18 and didn’t know how to dance. Working with Gene Kelly, who was known as a strict professional and very hard working, pushed Reynolds to learn quickly and do her very best. She is charming, sweet, and innocent yet tough in this movie. Matching wits with Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood, admiring him but belittling him and his profession when he starts to make an advance on her.
Reynolds was made for this role. She showed what kind of performer she is by keeping up with O’Connor and Kelly in the dance scenes. The “Good Morning” routine was apparently a grueling one. They did 40 takes of that scene, where Reynolds had blood in her shoes at the end of the night. The kicker is that they ended up putting the first take in the movie.
Gene Kelly was so athletic and such an incredible dancer. His and O’Connor’s routines together in this movie are some of the most superb dancing on film. They are so in sync and fluid together. Their quicker than you can believe foot work is awe-inspiring. I always sit with a gleam in my eye at those moves and that speed. They play off of each other so well, you would think they had danced together their entire lives. They’re wearing those 1920s clothes, the trousers with the sweaters is such a dapper look. And those spectators (shoes)!
Of course, Kelly’s solo dance in the rain is so famous and recognizable you don’t even have to have seen the movie to know about it. The way he frolics with his umbrella in the rain and splashes in puddles like a playing child, all because he’s in love and nothing can put a damper on his mood.
There are also great supporting cast members in this musical. Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont nails the ditzy yet conniving character. That infamous voice she uses incites laughs throughout the movie. She seems clueless and asks of others several times during the movie, “Am I dumb or somethin’?” but as she grasps to her career she proves she is not so dumb. One of my favorite dancers is Cyd Charisse. She plays a non-speaking and quite brief role, but it is a great routine she does with Kelly. It starts off with her in the green dress, making Kelly blush and showing him a “thing or two.” They play out a story of lust and love with elegant and seductive dance moves, Charisse smolders on the screen next to Kelly. They also have the fantasy dance that takes place in Kelly’s head with Charisse harnessed with a long white scarf/train. It is such a fantastical scene, a large barren room with a few stairs, Kelly and Charisse running and gliding along with each other and that train blowing in the air, up, back, around, and all over. Such elegance and grandeur without having to use any words.
It brings flutters to my heart to have these classics brought to the movie theatre alongside the new releases of today, even if it is just for one night. Seeing Singin’ in the Rain on the big screen was so dreamy and exciting, I sat like a child with my box of Milk Duds, watching the screen smiling with an anticipation and giddiness as if I had never seen a talking picture in my life. I will never forget the experience, especially seeing it with a friend who was seeing the movie for the first time. I can guarantee that movie stub will be kept, until it turns brown and weathered with age, kept as a memento of an unforgettable night
To make the night even better, it was actually raining. That might not seem like a big deal, but in Southern California rain is such a rare occurrence it seemed like fate and whimsy entwined. As we left the theatre I even gave a nod to a nearby light pole and did a skippy dance down the sidewalk, letting the raindrops fall as they may.