Since my slavish devotion to Lina Lamont is well known to anyone who might have stumbled by here in the past, I simply had to include Singin’ in the Rain as part of the Hooray for Hollywood series.
I can’t help viewing this film as a musical counterpoint to Sunset Boulevard; sort of the positive to the negative/the sun to the shade. There are those who made the transition to sound (Don Lockwood/Garbo) and those who didn’t (poor Lina/poor Norma Desmond). Filmed 20 years after the last of the silent films hit the theaters, it is an occasionally nasty, sometimes affectionate look at that moment in time when Hollywood was turned on its ear and then turned on its own.
Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the film is based, in part, on the memories of producer Arthur Freed and costume designer Walter Plunkett, both who lived through those traumatic changes. At the advent of sound and musicals, Freed was a lyricist, working with composer Nacio Herb Brown (their music is used throughout the film) and Walter Plunkett was wrestling with sound in such early sound musicals as Rio Rita and Dixiana. He remembered only too well how the swish of a dress or the random fingering of a string of pearls could record like a thundering herd of buffalo during those early days. Singin’ in the Rain perfectly captures the panic and the joy of the new medium. It was a topsy-turvy world where great stars (John Gilbert/Clara Bow/Lina Lamont) were toppled from their thrones and virtual unknowns were elevated to star status (Kathy Selden/Alice White/Clark Gable). Some survivors thrived (Joan Crawford, Ronald Colman) while some merely or barely survived (Gloria Swanson).
Beyond the sorrow of the twilight of the silents lay the joy of those goofy, innocent early musicals. The Dueling Cavalier becomes the Dancing Cavalier. And Don Lockwood can dance! Who knew? Beyond the diction lessons and the technical mishaps was a feeling of joy and creativity. In the depths of the Depression, silly, gleeful musicals lifted the spirits (even if some of those chorus girls could barely lift their thighs). High spirits abounded, at least for a while. Here's the 1929 version of that famous song (from the finale of The Hollywood Revue of 1929). See how many stars you can identify.
Singin’ in the Rain is a bow to the Nancy Carrolls, the Buddy Rogers, the Zelma O’Neils and the John Boles - and all those crazy kids who made us feel like singing and dancing in the rain. Zelma who? Nany who? Check out Nancy Carroll and Buddy Rogers and Zelma and Jack from 1930's Follow Thu.
And really, what’s not to love? Kelly’s Don Lockwood is a dancing Fairbanks – dashing, masculine and a joy to behold. It is my favorite Kelly performance (and that’s saying a lot).
The great Donald O'Connor really gets a chance to show how talented he was. His signature number of Make “em Laugh is unforgettable.
Debbie Reynolds was cute, but probably the most expendable cast member. She was only 19 when this was made. Her tales of Kelly as a tough task-master legendary and her gratitude to him is a testament to her professionalism.
And of course, there is Jean Hagen, as Lina Lamont. There are few things in this world that are perfect and her performance here is one of them. Totally, 100% perfect. As a charter member of the Lina Lamont fan club I can only hope that she went on to buy the studio.
A lovely look back at themselves by the insiders who were there without the venom and with out the sadness that a parade had indeed passed by, Singin’ in the Rain remains a joy to behold.