Vintage Movies: “Singin’ In The Rain”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’20s through the ’80s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Singin’ In The Rain (1952, 102 minutes)

It’s 1927, and talking pictures, for better or worse, are about to give the silent-film era a voice with the release of The Jazz Singer, the first “talkie” feature. For Hollywood matinee-idol duo Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, that could be a problem. When introduced on the red carpet for opening night of their lightweight palace romance, The Royal Rascal, as “the couple as familiar to American households as bacon and eggs,” Lockwood (Gene Kelly) does all the talking.

The reason Lamont (Jean Hagen, in the role of a lifetime) remains silent becomes painfully clear when she lets off steam once the couple is out of public earshot. “What’s the big idea!” she bellows in a New Jersey screech that would shatter glass. “Can’t a girl get a word in edgewise? They’re my public, too! What’s wrong with the way I talk?” Lamont demands that someone from Monumental Studios should write her a short speech the next time the pair appears in public. “Sure, why don’t you go back out there now and recite The Gettysburg Address?” needles Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), Lockwood’s sharp-witted second banana.

Mobbed on the sidewalk by movie fans, Lockwood escapes by vaulting to the roof of a passing trolley bus, then leaping into the roadster of a startled Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). “I’ve seen that face before!” she screams. “You’re a famous gangster!” A nearby traffic cop calms her down: “Why it’s Don Lockwood. It’s your lucky day, miss.” Selden repays Lockwood for scaring her by dismissing his film career as “not really acting,” then miming three “emotions” with open hands framing her face. She will be moving to New York soon to work in the legitimate theatre. “Right, the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet,” mocks Lockwood. “And King Lear, you’ll need a beard for that one.”

At a party thrown by studio boss R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell), Lockwood is shocked when Selden pops out of a cake to sing and dance in a chorus line. “Well, if it isn’t Ethel Barrymore,” he smirks. Weary of his jibes, Selden picks up a gooey layer-cake, takes dead-aim and says, “Here’s something I’ve learned from the movies.” Lockwood ducks, but the airborne pastry hits the sputtering Lamont square in the chops.

What sets Singin’ In The Rain apart from other great Hollywood musicals isn’t necessarily the songs from Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, but the gravity-defying dance routines by Kelly, O’Connor and Reynolds, choreographed by Kelly. O’Connor’s wall-climbing solo for “Make ‘Em Laugh” is spectacular. All three show finely tuned athleticism skipping up stairs and tipping over couches to “Good Morning.” Then there’s Kelly’s magical number for “Singin’ In The Rain,” a five-minute tour de force with just an umbrella, a lamp post and a few puddles from a backlot rainstorm.