Classic Hollywood musical gets a much-needed refresh on 4K/Blu-Ray
Sometime in the later half of the previous century, an attendee of a Roman Catholic elementary school started his typical day with a mix of prayers, allegiances to the American flag, and Broadway/musical show tunes. It was certainly unusual, a one-time, one-year occurrence dictated by a show tunes-obsessed elementary school teacher who deeply felt that singing in the morning, rain or shine, would have healthy effects on preteen constitutions, included the increased concentration and sharpened focus necessary to tackle a full day’s instructions in English, math, and history (among other topics). She wasn’t wrong, though it took a decade or two before a certain preteen connected one of those songs, “Singin’ in the Rain,” to a transformative viewing of the award-winning 1952 musical, Singin’ in the Rain. Shockingly, his (my) mind was understandably blown, in turn creating a life-long love for a film considered the Platonic ideal of the American musical (Technicolor Edition).
There was so much more to Singin’ in the Rain, of course, than a collection of hummable, catchy songs or ear-worms. It began, not with a story, character, or even premise, but with MGM producer, Arthur Freed, who looking through MGM’s back catalog (intellectual property by today’s verbiage), decided then and there to exploit that catalog into the equivalent of a jukebox musical, tasking the writing team of Adolph Green and Betty Comden, to develop a screenplay around a handful of MGM-owned tunes, including the title song. That a purely commercial decision would or even could result in an all-timer, a classic of a distinctly American form and a shining example of the best the Hollywood studio system could produce. Almost as importantly, Singin in the Rain continues to be loved by generations of movie lovers stretching back (and probably forward) decades.
The answer, however, lies in collaboration, beginning with the Green-Comden team, the involvement of Stanley Donen (Two For the Road, Charade, Funny Face) as director, a top-level cast including Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Conner, Cyd Charisse, and Rita Moreno, and ending with co-director/head choreographer Gene Kelly. Riding a decade-long creative and commercial high that begin with Cover Girl and Anchors Aweigh in 1944 and 1945, respectively, Kelly became the quintessential American movie star. His oeuvre, including The Three Musketeers in 1948 and On the Town a year later, smartly leaned into his strengths as a performer: a physical, muscular dynamism converted into energetic dance performances, comic timing to match, and a singing voice perfectly suited to the American vernacular at the time.
While wrapping up production on An American in Paris, the soon-to-be Oscar winner for Best Picture directed by Vincent Minnelli, Kelly agreed to participate in Singin’ in the Rain, bringing Stanley Donen, his On The Town collaborator, as co-director. Once the screenplay was in order, Kelly moved onto choreographing the dance sequences to the that back catalog of then familiar or not so familiar tunes. The perfectionist Kelly famously worked his cast, including the non-dance-trained Reynolds, to the point of exhaustion, yet there’s no denying that the result, while certainly problematic by contemporary standards, remains one of the most joyous celebrations of movement, music, and yes, cinema.
Those elaborately choreographed and impeccably performed dance sequences, while all but perfect on their own, wouldn’t be as memorable, however, without Green-Comden’s often brilliant narrative. Drawing on their own, multi-decade experience in Hollywood, Green and Comden developed a comical, behind-the-scenes story set around Hollywood’s transition from the silent to sound eras, centering Singin’ in the Rain on Kelly’s Don Lockwood, a swashbuckling silent film star teetering on the edge of failure and irrelevance as the first successful talkie, The Jazz Singer, all but guarantees the end of silent films. Seeing changing audience interest as an opportunity, Lockwood attempts to salvage his latest effort, The Dueling Cavalier, into a potentially crowd-pleasing talkie and box-office hit.
Along the long and winding road toward the premiere of the retooled film, The Dancing Cavalier, Lockwood meets and romances Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), a new-to-the-business performer, hangs with his best friend, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), and tries to navigate the massive ego of his longtime co-star, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). With the advent of sound, Lamont’s high-pitched voice places her in a precarious position, leading her to convince the head of the studio, R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell), into manipulating the unwitting, unwilling Kathy to become her “voice,” thus complicating Lockwood’s professional and personal lives. [Spoiler for a 70-year-old film: Lockwood reconciles them just fine.]
Again and again, though, Singin’ in the Rain circles back to a musical interlude. While the title song, filmed across several days on a Hollywood backlot, receives deserved praise for its combination of lyrics, music, and Kelly’s indefatigable Lockwood singing and dancing in the rain, it’s only the first among equals. O’Conner gets a spotlight of his own in “Make ’Em Laugh,” while the trio of Kelly, O’Conner, and Reynolds deliver the mood-elevating “Good Morning” (one of the aforementioned teacher’s favorite songs) before Kelly, joined by dancer extraordinaire Cyd Charise in a hallucinatory sequence, “Broadway Melody,” brings the proverbial house down, functionally serving as Singin’ in the Rain’s high-water mark before a not entirely unwelcome return to in-film reality resolves the various story threads and character conflicts into an emotionally and dramatically rewarding resolution.
– Previously restored 4K by Warner Bros.
– HDR presentation of the film
– Restored original mono track
– Commentary (archival) by Debbie Reynold, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, Stanley Donen, Betty Camden, Adolph Green, Bad Lurhmann, and Rudy Behlmer
Additional Special Features (Blu-ray disc)
– Singin’ in the Rain: Raining on a New Generation
– Jump to Song Feature
– Theatrical Trailer
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