"Singin' in the Rain" is generally considered to be
the best Hollywood musical ever. It may well be,
as I have seen no other musical that comes close.
Perhaps the difference between this film and others
is that it is not only a musical. If you remove
all the musical and dance numbers, you are still
left with an outstanding comedy. In fact, it may
be the best comedy ever, unless "Dr. Strangelove"
The story has Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen playing
fictional silent movie stars for Monumental Pictures.
It is 1927, and "The Jazz Singer" has made silent
features obsolete. Monumental must transition to
talkies. One of many problems is that Hagen can't
sing, and her shrieking voice must be dubbed by
Kelly's love interest, Debbie Reynolds. Hagen
despises Reynolds, since she has plans for Kelly
herself. Kelly's best friend is musician Donald
O'Connor, and his studio boss is Millard Mitchell.
O'Connor wasted much of the prime of his career
making films with Francis, the talking mule. While
I suppose that both Universal and O'Connor had bills
to pay, "Singin' in the Rain" demonstrates his
prodigious talent. "Make 'em Laugh" in particular
is a marvel, although Kelly must be given due credit
for the choreography.
Debbie Reynolds was in her teens when this film was
made, and she radiates with energy. Kelly is perfect
as always, and Hagen gives a career performance as
stupid prima donna Lina Lamont.
While it may be heresy to criticize such an
outstanding film, the first two thirds of the film
is even better than the last third. The film's
momentum is disturbed by a lengthy dance sequence
that includes mysterious femme fatale Cyd Charisse.
One ballet scene has her wearing a dress that trails
on for 25 feet, lifted by a wind machine. You've
heard of gratuitous sex or violence; perhaps this is
gratuitous Art, and it has little to do with the
rest of the film.
But trivial flaws cannot prevent "Singin' in the
Rain" from being among the best films ever made,
as well as the best musical ever and one of the best
comedies. Particularly great are the scenes with
Kelly and Hagen in their first talky: the transition
from pantomime to dialogue is both hilarious and
Copyright © 1999 Brian Koller