Goddamnit this movie is delightful. Revisiting Singin’ In the Rain, a movie I’ve only experienced in passing, sitting down for the full viewing was truly amazing as you realize you’re watching the pique of MGM musicals. While made 1952, it encapsulates the energy and wonder of the Golden Age of Hollywood probably because it’s paying homage to that such time. Any lover of film either then or now is mesmerized by this story that’s recounting the silent to talkie transition in the late 1920’s but colorizes it (in glorious technicolor) with the humor and pizzazz of the 1950’s. It’s taking all these forgotten songs from MGM musicals like Babes In Arms and multiple Broadway Melody pictures and repackaging them into hits, not too different from how nostalgia works today. With such liveliness and the triple threats of the actor/singer/dancer leads, this movie jumps off the screen 60 years later.
The trio of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Conner as the leading man, the love interest and the comic relief are what sell this film. Kelly and O’Conner as Don Lockwood and Cosmo Brown have the loyalty and candor of childhood friends which we enjoyably get to see with a “humble beginnings” montage as Don recounts their fictitious past that brought them (or at least him) to stardom. Reynold’s Kathy Selden seamlessly assimilates with the duo as the timid ingenue looking to make her big break preferably with Don’s help. Their late night rendition of “Good Morning” sums up everything that works about them. They have the report, the grace that makes you wish you could be there with them but feel honored just to watch. Everyone gets their moment to shine though, Cosmo with “Make “Em Laugh” which contains the most astounding slapstick vaudeville routine that is definitive proof that no one works as hard as they used to. Kathy has the more low key “Would You” and while I would have loved to see more from her I realize Reynolds was the greenest of the actors. Don gets to have his own mini movie as the film side tracks for this gangster musical pitch he gives the head of Monumental Picture. It’s a real Broadway number with painted sets and hyper-fantasy but is a bit too peacocky of Kelly who wants to show off his dance moves. Wish they could have found a way to incorporate Cosmo and Kathy into the sequence, but I get it, this is Gene Kelly’s movie.
It’s fascinating to watching Singin’ amidst both the hype and backlash of La La Land. The arguments I’ve heard from those who don’t like the Oscar front-runner often describes it as a subpar rip off of the musicals that came before it. I agree the songs and choreography may not be as iconic as musicals in their heyday but it is as much as an homage as Singin’ was to the musicals of the 1930’s. They’re both movies in love with the magic Hollywood and filmmaking, they’re just both products of different times. Singin’ is over the top showboating on brightly colored sets inter-spliced with snappy banter. La La Land is the down to earth, realistic storytelling we’re more accustomed to in the 21st century but peppered with fantastical elements. Gosling and Stone have nothing on Kelly and Reynolds but they’re approaching it from different acting styles, different backgrounds. La La wows me more with it’s plot and emotion while Singin’ is an unmatched spectacle of talent.
Did I mean to turn this into a defense of La La Land? No but I love both these movies and sometimes you gotta gush about something good. The world is falling apart remember?