The Good: Moments of performance, direction and character.
The Bad: The story seems to be designed to service the music, Hard to care about any of the characters.
The Basics: Singin' In The Rain might showcase the many dancing talents of Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, but it is little more than a string of interconnected music videos.
Today was one hell of a day. After a weekend when I saw a bunch of new (to me) material, it has taken me until now to write the last of the reviews that backlog created. In many ways, the fact that I am only getting to Singin' In The Rain now is pretty significant. I have been putting off watching Singin' In The Rain for years now. I'm not a big fan of musicals and I had to watch a number of them for my Best Picture Project (available here!). So, when a friend finally compelled my wife and I to watch Singin' In The Rain it, honestly, was something I was not biased toward.
Even so, while I emotionally did not enjoy much of Singin' In The Rain, the reasons for rating it lower than most reviewers are all rational and consistent with my reviewing standards. After having a conversation with a friend about how Gene Kelly and director Stanley Donen revolutionized the way directing and filming dance was done, I appreciated much of what was done in Singin' In The Rain was done. But while I could acknowledge that the director did not cheat the way the director of Footloose (reviewed here!) did, the "classic" did not have nearly as developed a story as the new movie did.
Don Lockwood is an actor in schlocky silent movies, where he is professionally tied to the screeching actress Lina Lamont. With the advent of the talking pictures, the studio is deeply concerned because Lina's voice is likely to scare off viewers. Right around the same time, Don runs into Kathy Selden, an outspoken actress who belittles the type of melodramatic pantomime movies Don is in and he is taken with her honesty. After a series of run-ins, Don becomes enamored with Kathy, especially when she is supportive after the utterly disastrous screening of the first Lockwood and Lamont talkie.
Don comes to believe that the answer to his problems is in Kathy when his best friend Cosmo stumbles upon the solution to Lina's terrible voice. Kathy begins doing all of Lina's dialogue and becomes the voice for Lina in the new musical version of the first Lockwood and Lamont talkie. But when Lina learns of Kathy's involvement, the whole project is jeopardized.
The fundamental problem with Singin' In The Rain is that the movie is built around various pieces of music. The title track inspired the film and appears twice in the movie, but I knew that the song "The Broadway Melody" that is performed was from The Broadway Melody (reviewed here!) and there is a reference to The Ziefeld Follies. The musical choices were familiar before the movie was made and there is the feeling through much of the film that the story is simply serving the musical choices, as opposed to fitting organically into the story. So, for example, the song "Gotta Dance" leads to such an extensive dance number that it pulls the viewer out of the movie (much like a similar number in An American In Paris, reviewed here!).
Despite the lack of sensible story that feels organic, Singin' In The Rain features some pretty wonderful dance from Gene Kelly. He is almost outshone in the character department by Cosmo, who is a likable supporting character. He may fill the traditional role of sidekick, but he has the brains to Lockwood's fame and O'Connor has more charisma in key scenes. Kelly's delivery in some of the exposition scenes is a little dry, but O'Connor is always on with a sparkle in his eyes. Debbie Reynolds is fine, though it was no surprise to me to learn she had no formal singing or dancing training before this role.
Ultimately, any bias I have against musicals is eliminated when I consider good musicals which have a concrete narrative and characters who simply express themselves through song. Singin' In The Rain is nowhere near so cohesive. The story seems to have distinctive segments and those segments are more defined by musical numbers being stuck in than by organic character moments. As such, it makes it easy to not recommend this supposedly iconic musical.
For other musicals, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Repo! The Genetic Opera
For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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