During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.
At last, we arrive at our final film on this list to star Gene Kelly. In the triumvirate of Gene Kelly films we’ve watched, this is the Caesar and, as the good book says, we must lend unto Caesar what is Caesar’s: “Singin’ in the Rain” is Gene Kelly at his very, very best.
“Singin’ in the Rain” follows the same formula as “Anchors Aweigh” and “An American in Paris”. It features a variety of singing and dancing acts, mostly notably those of Gene Kelly, the film’s star. There’s also a romantic subplot that is resolved moments before the films conclusion. Finally, there is a large-scale number, similar to the An American in Paris ballet in the film of the same name or the cartoon dance sequence in “Anchors Aweigh”, that likely took up the majority of the film’s budget.
This was our first time actually seeing “Singin’ in the Rain”. The song and dance sequence have filtered their way through pop culture to us, but I would have never guessed the plot. The film follows Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), two silent picture actors at the height of their fame. The two form a pair and, if you believe the tabloids, they are in love. This couldn’t be further from the truth, of course. Accompanying them are Cosmo Brown (played by Donald O’Connor), Don’s lifelong friend and partner in vaudeville, and Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), the film’s love interest.
Gene Kelly was perfect, as always, but Debbie Reynolds was the real standout for me. Outside of Disney’s made-for-television movie series “Halloweentown”, I don’t recall ever seeing Debbie Reynolds in a movie. In “Singin’ in the Rain”, she is adorable and easily our favorite romantic interest in all of these three films. She doesn’t get as much focus as she deserved, but she caught my eye every time she was on screen. Her singing voice was fantastic. Donald O’Connor’s performance of the song, “Make ‘Em Laugh” was also great, and his character never overstayed his welcome.
Despite the quality of the performers and their performances, for me, they alone did not make “Singin’ in the Rain” better than the others starring Gene Kelly. This film surpasses them by virtue of having a decent story. While there is a romantic subplot, it is hardly the focus of the entire film. In the second half, the focus shifts to Lina Lamont, a lead actress who cannot make the transition from silent pictures to talkies. Her voice, to say the least, is horrible and her singing is terrible too. The benefit of a plot that made me care about what happened to all of the characters managed to make “Singin’ in the Rain” a film I genuinely enjoyed.
Of course, it isn’t without fault. As much as I loved the performances, the film’s big number – surprisingly not “Singin’ in the Rain”, though it is easily the most iconic – ran incredibly long. It was fantastic mind you, but, as the great line from my all-time favorite movie will eventually say on this list: “Too many notes.”
Most interesting for us both were the references to prior films we have already seen. Most notably, “The Jazz Singer” comes up as bringing on the talkie. With it, the film’s entire plot seems to change. There is also mention of “The Broadway Melody” including to an entire number and borrowing some of the film’s visuals in a callback. In a vacuum, if we had seen “Singin’ in the Rain” independent of this project to watch all of these films, these references would have made no sense. Its amazing seeing these movies begin to reference one another
All in all, there is little more that can be said about this film. Unless there is an even better Gene Kelly film not included in this collection, this seems to me to be the finest iteration of a formula that made him an all-time memorable star. The music and scenes stand the test of time. It was a fantastic musical with a solid story and characters we very much enjoyed.
For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.