Thursday, February 19, 2015
2015 Blind Spot Series: Singin' in the Rain
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly and written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Singin’ in the Rain is the story a silent-film actor who finds love as he adjust to the changing ways in the world of film as the era of sound emerges. The film is a musical that plays into a man coping with changing times as he also falls in love where he tries to express that sense of joy through song. Starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, and Cyd Charisse. Singin’ in the Rain is a dazzling and glorious film from Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.
Set in the late 1920s at a crucial time in cinema history, the film revolves around a silent film star who falls in love with an aspiring actress while coping with the new medium of sound as he tries to prove his worth by making a sound picture. It’s a film with a very simple story but one that plays into an actor trying to see if he really can act with sound while questioning himself upon meeting this young woman who isn’t impressed by his persona nor his work as an actor. For Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), that sense of rejection only drives him to wanting to do better as he is willing to take the challenge in being taken more seriously as an actor. While he is aided by longtime friend and musical director Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), there is still the problem in the fact that Lockwood’s longtime co-star in Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) is a vain and terrible actress with a very nasally-shrill voice which is a reminder into why she is a silent film actress.
The film’s screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green showcase that sense of determination that Lockwood has to be taken seriously as he had always wanted to make it and maintain his dignity. His encounter with Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) would be a major proponent for Lockwood to not only cope with who he is but also in what he wants. Realizing that Seldon has all of the qualities that Lamont lacks in terms of discipline, singing ability, acting range, and humility. Lockwood decides to give her work in his new feature where he hopes to gain some legitimacy but the result is a disaster until he, Seldon, and Brown come up with an idea that wouldn’t just give him some renewed confidence but also the chance to give him legitimacy and more.
Yet, there is still the presence of Lamont who isn’t as dumb as Lockwood nor studio bosses think as she becomes aware of what is going on but at great risk into exactly who she is. The Lamont character maybe a comical one but she’s also a great antagonist who would be responsible for getting Kathy to lose her job following a party she was at that Lockwood attended. It’s the party where Lockwood is introduced to the world of talkie-pictures as it plays into a world that is changing. Though Lockwood was reluctant into embracing this new sense of change, it does become a major proponent into displaying more of his talents with Seldon and Brown being key collaborators as their characters would have major development in the story.
The film’s direction by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly is definitely enthralling in terms of not just the musical and dance numbers that are created. It’s also in the world that is presented where it plays to a moment in time where the world is changing from silent films to the talkie-films but with the sense of glitz and glamour of Hollywood in its golden era. Much of the dramatic and comical sequences not involving music are quite straightforward in terms of its compositions where Donen and Kelly know where to place the camera as well as create moments that can drive the story. Most notably the party sequence where Seldon is a dancer at the party as she would get her first brush in angering Lamont in a very comical manner. There’s also the sequence where Lamont and Lockwood first try to act out their first scene in sound where it’s also comical but also shows the end result when they do a preview screening that is disastrous.
The non-musical scenes are balanced with these musical numbers as Donen and Kelly know how to film these sequences and capture every moment that occurs with a few dolly tracks, medium shots, wide shots, and array of engaging camera angles. The film’s dance choreography has elements of chaos such as a scene where Lockwood is getting diction lessons with Brown mocking the teacher. The dance numbers has a sense of flair but also beauty into the way they’re presented as the performances of Kelly, Reynolds, and O’Connor have this chemistry and liveliness to the way they dance. Plus, the camera knows when not to cut or move as it knows where to showcase these numbers while capturing something that is very emotive and expressive as if it has something to say. Not just story wise or in its performance but also something more as it plays into Lockwood’s desire to retain a sense of dignity no matter how hard life throw things at him. Overall, Donen and Kelly creates a truly sensational and riveting film about a man adjusting to change and find more of himself through change.
Cinematographer Harold Rosson does amazing work with the film‘s gorgeous Technicolor-based photography to capture the richness of some of the film‘s interiors including its soundstages as well as some of the lighting to play into the mood of the dance numbers. Editor Adrienne Fazan does brilliant work with the editing with its stylish approach to cutting that includes a musical montage scene as well as knowing when not to cut for the musical numbers as it help plays into the sense of joy in the dancing. Art directors Randall Duell and Cedric Gibbons, with set decorators Jacques Mapes, Edwin B. Willis, and Harry McAfee, do fantastic work with the set pieces from the house of the studio boss to the sets that are created for the film that Lockwood and Lamont are in. Costume designer Walter Plunkett does excellent work with the costumes from the lavish gowns and dresses that Lamont wears to the stylish suits and casual 20s clothing of Lockwood as the clothes definitely add some touches to the characters and who they are.
Hairstyle designer Sydney Guilaroff does nice work with the some of their hairdos that the characters would wear for the film within-a-film that Lockwood and Lamont are starring in. The special effects work of Warren Newcombe, Irving G. Ries, and visual effects photographer Mark Davis is terrific for some of the musical numbers that includes a fantasy sequence of sorts as it adds to the sense of joy in the film. The sound work of Norwood A. Fenton and sound editor Van Allen James is superb for some of the sound effects that is created such as the scene where Lamont and Lockwood first act out their first encounter with sound as well as the moments in the disastrous screening. The film’s music by Nacio Herb Brown, with songs by Brown and producer Arthur Freed, is an absolute delight as the songs definitely add a lot the story such as its title track plus songs like Make ’Em Laugh, Broadway Rhythm, and Should I? as the score itself is exuberant and joyful as it is one of the finest pieces of music made for film.
The film’s marvelous cast includes notable appearances from Rita Moreno as a friend of Lamont, Douglas Fowley as the frustrated film director Roscoe Dexter, Madge Blake as a radio host in the film’s opening premiere sequence, Kathleen Freeman as Lamont’s diction coach, Bobby Watson as Lockwood’s diction coach, and Cyd Charisse as the fantasy woman that Lockwood dances with in the film’s fantasy sequence. Millard Mitchell is excellent as Monumental Studio head R.F. Simpson as a studio man who is aware of the changing times as he tries to keep up with the new world of sound as well as do whatever to save Lamont and Lockwood’s new film from being a further disaster. Jean Hagen is amazing as Lina Lamont as this shallow and idiotic diva who is this absolute walking joke due to her nasally voice while being a total bitch as Hagen just makes her an absolute delight to hate.
Donald O’Connor is fantastic as Cosmo Brown as he has some scene-stealing moments such as the Make ‘Em Laugh number while being the guy that can keep Lockwood intact as it’s a performance that is fun as well as full of humor. Debbie Reynolds is brilliant as Kathy Seldon as a no-nonsense woman that is trying to make it as a serious actress as she despises Lockwood initially only to realize how helpful he can be while becoming a key collaborator and object of affection as Reynolds is a joy to watch in her singing and dancing. Finally, there’s Gene Kelly in an incredible performance as Don Lockwood as a swashbuckling silent-film star who is coping with changing times and personal issues as Kelly brings a humility and sensitivity to his role but also a charm into his dance numbers as he radiates chemistry with his fellow actors as it’s truly one of his greatest performances of his career.
Singin’ in the Rain is an outstanding film from Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. Armed with great performances from Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, and Jean Hagen as well as some of the most spectacular song-and-dance numbers. It is truly one of the quintessential musicals of the genre as well as being so much more than what the genre often offers. In the end, Singin’ in the Rain is a magnificent film from Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.
© thevoid99 2015