So, he does an impression of Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. Like, that part, but that's probably as bad as it gets. It's Singin' in the Rain, guys. This one is pretty darn wholesome. I mean, there's plenty of smoking and there are threats of lawsuits, but I honestly can't think of anything that should be rated inappropriately. It's the Ark of the Covenant guys: a live-action G rating.
DIRECTORS: Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
HOW CAN A MOVIE BRING ME SUCH HAPPINESS? Honestly, I'm a grump most of the time about movies. The more of a bummer it is, the happier I am. This movie is the opposite of grumpy. It is earnest and honest. It has a good time. It's flashy and fun and I can't stop getting this movie into my system. While not necessarily a choice because we simply own a lot of box sets, I own too many copies of this movie. I don't mind. I have a copy at work because I show it every year. It is one of the greatest American movies ever made and I can't stop enjoying it.
There's something about impressive tap dancing that drives me wild. Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire movies might be the coolest things that exist in the world of musicals. Now, I'm sounding like a big musical guy. I think I pride myself (and lie to myself) that I'm not a musical guy, but that I just really like the good stuff. I know that I'm making enemies once again, but I can't stand stuff like the Rogers and Hammerstein make. I'm more about funny romantic tap dancing to get me through my day. One thing that I can't really explain that I absolutely love is that Singin' in the Rain might be one of the most obvious plots ever. I do love the look at cinema's history. As a film buff, a look at Tinseltown of Yesteryear is a good time for me. I like the idea that the entire movie is centered around the end of the silent film and the transition into talkies. That's a fun bit of history. It's just that the plot works for everyone, film buffs aside. (Okay, I know specifically someone who wouldn't enjoy this movie, but he's the exception to the rule and he has awful tastes.) But the plot is overall pretty lazy. The relationship between Don Lockwood and Kathy Seldon is just Hollywood all the way. Heck, nowadays, I suppose that it would be considered antiquated and inappropriate. When a girl says that she doesn't like you, he shouldn't pursue or be aggressive. Don even uses his power dynamic to influence her feelings and that's pretty gross. But it's so weird. No one in the room cared. There is something fundamentally charming about Gene Kelly (despite the fact that I heard that he was an absolute monster to Debbie Reynolds in this movie). Heck, the plot is so thin that there had to be this insanely long dream ballet simply to cover the lack of story to explore. I know that Gene Kelly loves dream ballets. I'm thinking of the sequence in An American in Paris that does the same bit. I think he just likes a shameless excuse to show off his dancing ability, so he seems to add these in to break up the story. This one feels exceptionally long. I think I mentioned to my class that, had that been the beginning of The Dancing Cavalier, that would be the most insanely convoluted plot of all time. But all of this is a general "who cares". Weirdly enough, the movie is so good that one of the coolest looking dream ballets in film history is one of the most boring parts of the film. That is more of a testament to how fun the movie is.
Cosmo has to be the best unacknowledged character in film history. I get so hyped for "Make 'em Laugh" every time. It got so intense that I actually got self-conscious that it might not be as funny as I thought. That might not be the best experience going into one of your favorite scenes. I laughed less than I normally do, but there were so many great moments that I still got caught off guard for. Honestly, the last part of the song, where he's doing the flips...I knew what was coming. I knew it. I had that part memorized and I still was completely cracking up when it came to that moment. This character is so joyful and totally unnecessary to the script. I think this analysis of Singin' in the Rain all comes down to the fact that it works despite the fact that it spits in the face of everything that I find valuable. I mean, this movie doesn't exactly scream art-house films. In fact, it criticizes snobs openly. This thing is ruthlessly corporate. One of the heroes of the movie is a studio head. (And a terrible actor. Millard Mitchell, who plays R.F., can't deliver a line in this movie to save his life. It's not like the guy didn't have a career, but it seems he played Army and Air Force tough guys more than anything else.) But there is value in spectacle done right, I suppose. This movie might be the ground argument. A lot of that comes down to casting. Again, with the exception of Millard Mitchell, may God rest his soul. Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor really play well together. While I love the romance between Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly, it's the Don and Cosmo friendship that really tears up scenes. Honestly, it's the two of them together that are the best scenes in the movie by far. The movie has a really short time to warm up. Having them doing the fiddle dance in the movie is one of the best icebreakers and tone setters (that's a term that's going places, folks!) that I've ever seen. It is a shame that one of the best deliveries that I've ever seen is right before the Don / Cosmo fiddle dance because I still giggle at the guy with the closeup in the first minute in the movie. I might be the only one giggling, but that's pretty par for the course. Add onto that "Moses" and you have a nearly perfect pairing of the two of them. I also really love Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden. I again can't stress how rough it must have been for her in this movie with Kelly being a turd to her, but she must be a professional. (Okay, when it wasn't related to driving her daughter up the wall. Again, may both their souls rest in peace.) Reynolds might be nearly perfect casting and takes what should be a fairly thankless role and makes it something kind of amazing. Selden is nothing special in terms of backstory or character, yet that character really shines. It's even more amazing to think that Reynolds is in constant danger of being upstaged by one of the most likable antagonists that I could think of: Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont. Oh. My. Goodness. This is a movie about things that shouldn't work. Lina is a one-note character but I never want that note to end. Honestly, her entire character is comprised of silly voices, dumb insights, and mispronouncing words. I don't care. I could watch a supercut of just Lina stuff and laugh all the way through the movie. I mean, it would be worse than the movie as a whole, but her scenes are just the funniest in the world. Again, this movie is about perfect casting...kind of. Sorry, the estate of Millard Mitchell. He was taken too soon. Also, he was born in Cuba. Not saying that as a bad thing. It was just weird and I saw it on his IMDB page.
But what can make a movie like this as iconic as it is. I normally try finding more obscure images from the movies I analyze. I think it is the indie-pride / the dirty hipster trying to come out that makes me want to find something less than memorable. It makes it feel more authentic. The first billion images were the image I found above, but I actually didn't care. The actual song "Singin' in the Rain" is so memorable. It's only every American film highlight reel ever. I love how the opening credits has "Inspired by the Song, 'Singin' in the Rain'". That's pretty thin. It's like the movie Battleship being inspired by the board game. (I'm the first guy to ever make that connection and I hope it brings me fame and riches.) But there's something fundamentally special about this movie. Yes, there have probably been oodles of studies about what makes every scene work. There's probably a perfect formula that can explain why it absolutely works, but I think that might cheapen this movie at the core. There are just so many just well timed, well shot elements. The song "Singin' in the Rain" is almost unrelated to the story itself. If I just gave you a title with no context to what the movie was about, you'd be hard pressed to come up with a story about the first talkie. You might have a hint about Gene Kelly dancing and splashing in puddles, but the rest of the movie would be a complete mystery. It's even more bizarre when the movie gets really meta and the movie that they make at the end is named "Singin' in the Rain". I can only imagine that it is about a group of actors named Gene Kelly, Donald O' Connor, and Debbie Reynolds --played by Don Lockwood, Cosmo Brown, and Kathy Selden, respectively --arguing on a set in hopes to make a really good picture. But this movie is just pretty. One of my students who had not seen it before claimed that it was the best thing I showed this year. Admittedly, I've also shown Battleship Potemkin this year, so she wasn't exactly pulling a muscle to say that, but it might be the most fun movie that I've ever seen. I love this movie so much and I think I've established that pretty well, despite the really critical things I've said about it. It is a movie that works in spite of the fact that there is no reason it should work. I can't make heads or tails about it, but I know it will be on next year's syllabus and on the syllabus the year after that. For the five people who haven't seen this movie, just do it. Don't be above it or say that you don't like old movies (that's the guy I was talking about!). It's such a good time and there's no excuse at this point. Heck, if you know me, I'll lend you one of my many copies.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.