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Screens & Tech

Why the foot-furious musical Singin' in the Rain still demands attention

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

They can be your umbrella: the stars of Singin' in the Rain.

In 1927, The Jazz Singer burst into the Hollywood silent-film scene, breaking the sound barrier and trumpeting doom and gloom for mute motion pictures everywhere. In 2012, The Artist noiselessly nabbed the Oscar for Best Picture at the 84th Academy Awards, reminding us why silence can be golden. What better way to commemorate the revival of classic film than with Singin' in the Rain, an explosion of joyful song and dance that chronicles the transition from silence to sound in the Roaring '20s?

Gene Kelly stars as Don Lockwood, a singing, dancing, stuntman who has turned his talent for getting totaled into silent-screen stardom. He is joined by Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor), his best friend and a pianist who provides the mood music for Don's romantic love scenes. And who is Don making love to, you might ask? The deluded diva Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), who according to Cosmo "is irresistible. She told me so herself." Thus, Lina is dismayed when Don discovers chorus girl Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), who pops out of a cake and into Don's heart. As is the case with most Hollywood pileups, when it rains it pours. The arrival of the highly successful film The Jazz Singer from a rival studio plummets Don, Cosmo, and Lina out of the vacuum of soundless cinema onto the alien terrain of the talkies, a deafening development in the case of Lina's shrill speech. Will Don be able to transition to the talkies leaving Lina in the lurch? With the aid of his best pal Cosmo and his lady love Kathy, all signs point to a heck yes!

What makes this film an essential gem are the toe-tapping tunes. Producer Arthur Freed originally designed Singin' in the Rain to utilize a catalogue of music from a single songwriting source. Except for "Moses Supposes," all of the songs were looted from previous musicals, from Babes in Arms to The Hollywood Revue of 1929. The songs may be old, but the talented delivery makes them brand spanking new, from O'Connor's somersault off the walls in "Make 'Em Laugh" to Kelly, Reynolds, and O'Connor hoofing it through the house in "Good Morning," to Kelly splashing through rain-soaked streets in the title song. Kelly choreographed challenging dance sequences that left Reynolds with burst blood vessels in her feet, O'Connor in bed suffering from exhaustion, and ballerina Cyd Charisse almost blown off her feet by an airplane motor. The effort definitely paid off, though, as every musical number is electrified by fancy footwork.

For film buffs, 1920s nostalgia pervades this production, and the movie serves as homage to a bygone age of cinema. The props and sets came from the MGM warehouse and the costumes were based on old Hollywood styles. Directors Kelly and Stanley Donen interviewed MGM employees for details of the silent era and unearthed equipment from the past, even using a neglected soundstage from the pre-sound period. Several characters in the film are modeled after silent screen stars such as Rudolph Valentino and Greta Garbo.

The true test of a film is always time and, in 2007, the American Film Institute recognized Singin' in the Rain as number 5 in a list of the 100 best American movies. This 60-year-old film continues to inspire that "glorious feelin'" which never ceases to make me happy, and still makes me want to grab an umbrella and run outside at the hint of a thunderstorm. •

★★★★ ½ (out of 5 stars)

Singin' in the Rain
Dir: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen; writ: Adolph Green, Betty Comden; feat. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor (G)


Starlight Movies in the Gardens
Free. Bring lawn chairs or blankets.
8:30pm Fri, May 4
San Antonio Botanical Gardens
555 Funston
(210) 207-3250

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