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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Singin' in the Rain

Happy June!  Since it is my birth month, I am being self-indulgent and writing about all of my favourite movies.  For some of the more well-known movies out there, I will be mostly reflecting on the why it is one of my favourites, as opposed to the usual format of a plot rundown and a wee little bit of reflection.  Not all of my favourite movies are classics – some fall into the guilty pleasure category – but whatever.  It’s my birthday month, deal with it.  OK, disclaimer out of the way, let us begin…

#351: Singin’ in the Rain (1952).  I’m hauling out the good ones early this month!  This is my go-to movie if I’m feeling blue or stressed.  So I have watched it a lot over the years.  Again, one of the earliest movies from my childhood, hence why it’s one of my favourites.  But also because it is near-perfection.  They really, truly don’t make them like this anymore, and it’s a damn shame…

The Players:

Don Lockwood: Played by Gene Kelly… Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my face… OK, I’m better now.  Don Lockwood is the big-time movie star of the day.  He’s ridiculously handsome, confident, talented.  What’s not to love?  Well, his entitled smarmy attitude, for one, but that quickly falls by the wayside as his insecurities are revealed and he becomes a better person.  Also: It’s Gene Kelly.  I mean… yeah…

Kathy Seldon: Played by Debbie Reynolds.  Kathy is a little starlet hoping to make it in the movies (but upon her first meeting with Don, she mocks movie stars, and claims to be a “legitimate actress on the stage”).  She is cute, plucky, and tells Don like it is. 

Cosmo Brown: Played by Donald O’Connor.  Cosmo is Don’s best friend, and a composer.  They have been friends since childhood, and he’s also not afraid to tell him like it is.  Donald O’Connor is given several moments to shine in the role, not only with little one-liners, but in dance numbers, as well.

Lina Lamont: Played to perfection by Jean Hagen.  Lina is a silent movie star/diva.  She has a horrendously squeaky speaking voice, and appears to be very stupid, but can be conniving when she needs to be.  She is just awesome.

R.F. Simpson: Played by Millard Mitchell.  R.F. is the head of the studio, but he knows who really holds the power – his stars.  He’s a little afraid of Lina.

Honorable Mentions: Rita Moreno (of West Side Story fame) plays a contract actress named Zelda who is pals with Lina and causes trouble; Cyd Charisse and her legs play a fictional love-interest in the “Broadway Melody” sequence, a number from the movie-within-the-movie.

So, I understand that movie musicals aren’t for everyone, and that not everyone has seen this (which is such a shame!) so, here’s a quick rundown for y’all:

We open with a movie premiere of Lockwood and Lamont’s latest flick.  It is 1927, the height of the silent movies.  We are introduced to Don Lockwood, as he gives a red carpet interview telling the story of his career, the main theme being “Dignity.  Always dignity”.  However, the flashbacks played over the narration shows us that his entire story is bullshit, which I love.  It’s so freaking Hollywood.

The movie’s a hit, and we quickly discover that the beautiful Lina has a voice like a dying cat.  This is pretty realistic, as many of the silent film stars had either squeaky and/or bullfrog-like voices, or thick accents.  Anyway, they all head out to the after party at R.F. Simpson’s house.  Unfortunately, on the way Cosmo’s car gets a flat tire, and Don gets mobbed by his fans.  Using some of his old stunt-man moves, Don escapes by climbing onto a trolley car and jumping into the car of Kathy Seldon.  At first, Kathy doesn’t recognize Don, and thinks he’s going to rape and murder her (I’d probably assume the same) until she pulls over and screams at a cop who instantly recognizes Don.  Embarrassed, she offers him a ride home.  You can tell she’s secretly thrilled, until Don’s ego decides to join the party, and things get ugly fast.  She insults his profession and his talent, admitting that she’s a stage actress.  But oh, he mocks her right back, although his exit from her car gives her the last laugh as his jacket gets caught in the door and rips.

We learn that Kathy is actually a dancer at the famed Coconut Grove as she arrives at R.F.’s party.  Well, this can’t end well…

Don shows up in a fresh tux, looking just… Mmmm… Sorry, went away there.  I’m back!  OK, he asks for validation from Cosmo, gets it, and then R.F. shows a brief little demonstration of this new fad called “talking pictures”.  Of course, this will never amount to a thing…

R.F. brings his two stars over to a cake to be cut and served, but instead a cute little Coconut Grove dancer bursts out.  Of course, it’s Kathy, and an amused (and genuinely delighted) Don looks on and proceeds to give her complete shit for her earlier grand-standing about actors.  Cue the adorable song and dance “All I do is Dream of You”.

Don corners and proceeds to flirt with Kathy, but Lina’s having none of that (she has bought into the studio publicity that says her and Don are a couple), and frustrated, Kathy goes to throw a cake in Don’s face.  Of course, he dodges and it gets Lina.  Don chases after Kathy, but she drives off…

We learn from Don a few weeks later that Kathy is on his brain, and that she doesn’t work at the Coconut Grove anymore, so he can’t go all predatory stalker on her.  He’s also still hung up on some of the stuff she said to him about how all his movies are the same “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”, and that he’s not a real actor.  In an attempt to cheer his friend up, Cosmo does a song and dance called “Make ‘em Laugh”, and it is made of awesome.  You go, Donald O’Connor…

While filming a love scene for their latest French Revolution love story movie, Don discovers that Lina is the reason why Kathy lost her job.  Ooooh, that snake!  The dialogue here is great, though, and makes one wonder what actors were really saying to each other in all those silent films…

But stop!  R.F. declares that The Jazz Singer and talkies are more than just a fad, and that they are going to turn this movie into a talking picture. 

Cut to… weird but awesome montage of shit you see in early musicals, complete with the “Beautiful Girls” number, which is hilariously sexist, but for some reason I have always loved it.  We see Kathy in the chorus, and Don is brought to the set to talk to her.  Afraid that the whole pie-throwing incident will cost her another job, Kathy tries to bolt, but R.F. decides she can stay.  Just make sure Lina doesn’t find out…

Don and Kathy stroll down the backlot, where it is revealed that Kathy is indeed a huge fan of his.  Ego back on track, Don decides he is falling in love with Kathy.  He takes her onto an empty soundstage that conveniently has a ladder, a pretty backdrop, and a huge fan so he can sing “You were Meant for Me” and have a lovely little dance number with her.  *Dreamy Sigh*.

So, because all of Hollywood is freaking out about sound, all the major stars are being sent to diction coaches.  Lina is made of fail, but Don’s doing ok.  Cosmo crashes his lesson, mocks the coach, and the two of them do a completely random but fucking awesome song and dance, “Moses Supposes”.  It is probably one of my favourite scenes ever committed to film, so I shall share it with you.  Check out the brilliance:

The following scenes are hilarious, and show all the technical issues to be had with early film, and are brilliantly funny.  Not so funny?  The reception The Dueling Cavalier receives.  It’s is unintentionally hilarious, which does not bode well for Don’s career.

Depressed about his future, Don has Cosmo and Kathy over to his insanely gorgeous house.  Somehow, Kathy gets the idea to turn The Dueling Cavalier into a musical.  Sure, why not!  This leads into the song “Good Morning”, which again: perfection.  Little backstory for ya: Gene Kelly drove poor Debbie Reynolds crazy trying to get her to learn this one number.  She was young, and not the most experienced dancer, so she was having trouble keeping up.  Her feet bled, she got no sleep, and even at one point went and hid out in a rehearsal room until Fred Astaire showed up and helped her out (so the story goes).  None of this is evident as everyone appears to be having a flawlessly fun time in this number.  That is professionalism right there. 

So, Don is in love with Kathy, and after dropping her off at her house, he takes a little stroll.  In the rain.  Yes, ladies and gents, it’s that song.  It’s so simple – just Gene Kelly, an empty street, the rain and his umbrella.  And it is genius.  There’s a reason why it is so iconic. 

Don and Cosmo make the pitch to R.F., who is totally cool with it, and even agrees to let Kathy dub Lina’s voice, but don’t let Lina know!  After a nice little montage of the beautiful song “Would You?” being recorded and filmed, we are back to R.F.’s office, where Don pitches a number for the modern part of the film they’re making.  And then we have the big, self-indulgent ballet-type musical number “Broadway Melody”.  And yes, it is long, it is self-indulgent, and it is hypnotic.  I mean, it’s got Cyd Charisse and her legs being beyond sexy.

So, of course Lina finds out eventually (thanks to Zelda) of their little plot, and goes to R.F. and threatens to sue the studio for everything unless they take Kathy’s credit off the screen.  Oh, and from now on, Kathy’s going to dub Lina in all of her films; uncredited, of course.  Lina is letting her claws show, and it is so perfectly played by Jean Hagen.

Now it’s the premier, and the movie is a huge hit.  Poor Kathy is getting shafted left and right, but there is just so much going on, no one seems to care?  But not before Lina insists on giving a speech, which makes the audience be all “huh?  She sounded way sexier in the movie!”  So they ask her to sing!  Oh no!  They set up a microphone behind the curtain and insist that Kathy sing while Lina lip-synchs.  In fact, Don demands it!  Kathy agrees, because of her contract and all, but wants nothing more to do with Don.  Until, of course, they pull up the curtain to reveal what’s actually going on.  Lina is laughed off the stage, Kathy tries to run away, but it stopped, and Don sings a reprise of the cut “You are my Lucky Star”, and they live happily ever after.

So, that was a very in-depth recap of this movie, but it is just.that.good.  This is one of the earliest examples of Hollywood poking fun at Hollywood.  I mean, a lot of what is shown actually went down, it’s just exaggerated for laughs, and in just the right amount.  It’s not cartoony or over the top. 

Arthur Freed

Some history for ya: there once was a man named Arthur Freed, and he produced some of the greatest musicals ever put on film for MGM.  But before he was a producer, he was a song writer.  Most of his stuff was written in the 1920s-‘30s.  So, for some reason, the powers that be at MGM decided they wanted to make a movie that would use all of his music.  

Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Writing team Comden and Green were given the task of coming up with something, and it had to feature/be called Singin’ in the Rain.  A lot of ideas were tossed around (including a western starring Howard Keel), and eventually they were like “duh!  These songs were all written during Hollywood’s transition to sound!  We can work with that!”  And thus, Singin’ in the Rain was born.  And thank God it was…

There is a lot of awesome going on here.  Hollywood acknowledges the importance of star power, the ridiculousness of itself and the fakery that goes on behind the scenes.  The leading man is not perfect.  He’s cocky, but really insecure of his talent and abilities.   He falls in love with Kathy because not only is she a challenge, she doesn’t fall for his bullshit. 

So, this is a movie I’ve been watching probably as long as The Wizard of Oz, which is to say my whole life.  Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood was my first crush, and I still swoon every time I watch him in this.  It is beautifully shot, funny, and the song and dance numbers are flawless.  This is about as close to a perfect movie as it gets, and still stands the test of time.  There are some inconsistencies in the film (the random reprise of a song that was cut, complete with a final shot that makes little sense without the cut song, but what can you do, other than shoot a new ending?, and the fact that Kathy’s voice seems to change tone from scene to scene, due to the fact that in some scenes Debbie Reynolds is also dubbed), but really, those are kind of easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things.  If you haven’t seen this yet, really, you should.  It’s not full of great meaning or depth, but I guarantee it will leave you with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

That’s a Wrap for today!  Tune in tomorrow for some wacky hijinks in San Francisco!

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