Revisiting Singin’ in the Rain for its 65th Anniversary
By: Jenny Moore
To help celebrate Singin’ in the Rain’s 65th anniversary (April 11, 1952), let’s take a fun trip down memory lane and revisit this timeless classic. The film was centered around a song of the same title written in 1929 with lyrics by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb. It was directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donan. Upon its release, it was nominated for two Oscars at the 25th Academy Awards and Donald O’Connor won the Golden Globe in the Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical category. (He definitely deserved that based on the “Make ‘Em Laugh” sequence alone, right?!)
Fun Fact: It is said that after working himself to exhaustion to shoot “Make ‘Em Laugh,” O’Connor had to shoot sequence all over again after footage was accidentally destroyed.
In the film, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a popular silent film star with humble roots who can barely tolerate his shallow leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). However, their studio, Monumental Pictures, links them romantically to increase their popularity. To add hilarity to the scenario, Lina is convinced that they are actually in love, despite Don’s blunt attempts to snap her back into reality.
Fun Fact: Lina Lamont was originally a part they wanted Judy Holliday to play. But after she won an Oscar in the 1950 film Born Yesterday, the studio felt someone else was needed. Jean Hagen was able to secure the part after doing a drop-dead impersonation of Judy during her audition.
After leaving the premiere of his newest film with his best friend, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), the two pull over after their car gets a flat tire. As Don gets out of his vehicle, fans immediately swarm him and he runs for his life. While escaping the madness, Don jumps into a passing car being driven by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). As Don begins to flirt with Kathy, she quickly dismisses him and sneers at his “undignified” accomplishments as a silent movie star and tells him that real actors, like herself, have “…great parts, wonderful lines, speaking those glorious words”. She then drops him off near his house and leaves a disgruntled Don.
Later, Don attends a lavish party thrown by his studio. During the event, the head of the studio, R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell), shows a short demonstration of a talking picture, with guests seeming unimpressed. After the short, Don is surprised and delighted when he sees Kathy pop out of a mock cake right in front of him during a dance sequence. Furious at Don’s teasing of her profession, she throws a real cake at him, only to hit Lina right in the face, and she runs away. Don quickly realizes that he is smitten with Kathy and tries to find her for weeks. As he is about to give up, Don accidently finds her working on a different Monumental Pictures production. They are excited to see one another and she confesses to having been a fan of his all along.
Fun Fact: The title and most iconic song in the film, “Singin’ in the Rain,” was previously sung by Judy Garland in the 1940 film Little Nellie Kelly.
After a rival studio has an enormous hit with its first talking picture, the Monumental decides to convert the next Lockwood and Lamont film, The Dueling Cavalier, into a talkie. Throughout the production, the film struggles to find a way to work around Lina’s shrieking voice and strong accent. At a test screening of the film, a humiliated Don walks out when he sees that the audience finds the film to be hilarious instead of dramatic, thanks to the awkward placing of the microphones and the sound going out of synchronization half way through the film.
To help revitalize the film, Don, Kathy, and Cosmo come up with the idea to turn The Dueling Cavalier into a musical and change its name at 1:30 in the morning. From this, the trio break into song for one of the film’s most iconic songs, “Good Mornin’.”
Fun Fact: Reynolds had no formal dance training prior to being cast as Kathy. To help her remember her steps, Kelly would lock Reynolds in a room and demanded that she practice until her feet bleed.
While turning the talkie into a musical, Cos and Don suggest that they dub Lina’s voice with Kathy’s. The studio approves the idea but tells them not to inform Lina about what is going on. When Lina finds out, she is infuriated. She becomes even angrier when she discovers that the studio also plans to give Kathy a screen credit and a big publicity buildup afterward. Lina threatens to sue Monumental Pictures unless Kathy continues to work uncredited as Lina’s voice. The head of the studio reluctantly agrees to her demands, as a clause in her contract states that she can sue whenever denied a role of her choosing.
The premiere of The Dancing Cavalier is a tremendous success. When the audience clamors for Lina to sing live, Don and Cosmo tell her to lip sync into the microphone while Kathy, hidden behind the curtain, sings into a second one. While Lina is “singing,” the two gleefully raise the curtain, giving Kathy the credit that she deserves.
Ironic Fun Fact: Reynolds’ voice was actually dubbed by Hagen’s (the actress who portrays Lina Lamont) because they felt that Reynolds’ voice was just “not working” during this scene.
The film ends with Kathy and Don standing in front of billboard for their new film, Singin’ in the Rain, and kissing.
With all of this, I am going to be open and honest with the Nerd HQ community and say that I was not introduced to this beautiful film until last December when a dear friend insisted that I go with her to see her favorite movie at the San Francisco Symphony. That’s right. I was fortunate enough to see this musical for the first time while a fantastic orchestra played every musical number. It was as magical as you might expect and the experience is one that I will never forget. From the opening credits scene, I instantly fell in love with Gene Kelly and was envious of the charisma and beauty that exuded out of Debbie Reynolds. As the film progressed, I sat in awe of the mesmerizing choreography and felt that although it had some cheesy moments, I loved every minute of it and would not have changed a thing. It is easy to see why this movie has become such an iconic film over the past 65 years.
[As Don is being swarmed by fans]
Don: “Hey Cos! Do something! Call me a cab!”
Cosmo: “Okay, you’re a cab.”
Don: “Oh, you’re going to New York and then some day we’ll all hear of you, won’t we? Kathy Selden as Juliet, as Lady Macbeth, as King Lear. You’ll have to wear a beard for that one, of course.”
Lina: “People? I ain’t people. I am a – a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament.”
[picks up newspaper]
Lina: “It says so – right here.”