Study Guide

Singin' in the Rain Introduction

Singin' in the Rain Introduction


Release Year: 1952

Genre: Comedy, Musical, Romance

Directors: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

Writers: Adolph Green, Betty Comden

Stars: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor


Let's cut to the chase: When it comes to movie-musicals, there's Singin' in the Rain, and then there's everything else.

Strike that.

There's Singin' in the Rain, then there's the Grand Canyon, then there's a 700-foot moat, then there's a pack of hungry wolves, then there's another Grand Canyon, and then there's everything else.

Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on March 27, 1952, Singin' in the Rain documents the movie industry's bumpy transition from silent films to "talkies." Featuring songs by legendary producer Arthur Freed, its cast is a Who's Who of old Hollywood luminaries: Gene Kelly. Debbie Reynolds. Donald O'Connor. Jean Hagen. These guys and gals are the real deal.

Not content to just sing, dance, and act his way into Hollywood history, Kelly also choreographed and co-directed the film with Stanley Donen. Singin' in the Rain was the pinnacle of Kelly's career. It's not only the gold standard for Hollywood musicals, but also a witty, wickedly funny satire of Hollywood. The screenplay, by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, won the writing duo a Writers Guild of America Award in 1953.

Singin' in the Rain raked in an impressive $1,729,345 worldwide and was re-issued twice: once in 1974 and again in 1992. It's been adapted for the stage numerous times, both on Broadway and in London's West End, and it was also one of the first films screened in Communist China (source). Roger Ebert, who knew a thing or two about movies, claimed that watching Singin' in the Rain was a "transcendent experience, and no one who loves movies can afford to miss it" (source).

The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Score for composer Lennie Hayton and Best Supporting Actress for Jean Hagen. And while Hayton and Hagen both went home empty-handed on Oscar night, the American Film Institute later ranked Singin' in the Rain as the greatest movie-musical of all time, and the fifth greatest movie in any genre of all time.

In short, no movie education is complete without Singin' in the Rain. Or, as Time Out London proclaims, "If you've never seen it and don't, you're bonkers" (source).

What is Singin' in the Rain About and Why Should I Care?

Answer: Gene Kelly. That's it. We're done here.

But seriously, Kelly's iconic "Singin' in the Rain" sequence teaches you everything you need to know to make a timeless, enduring movie-musical classic for your Film Studies class at NYU. As Kelly's wife, film historian Patricia Ward Kelly, explains, "[It is] so contemporary. It isn't attached to any particular time…You see such a broad range of style of dance…You see a lot of gymnastics and things that have influenced hip-hop and break-dancing. People don't look at it and say, 'Oh that's really old and tired.' They look at it and say, 'Oh I'd really like to do that' or 'I can do that'" (source).

Film History 152: The Sound Era

Singin' in the Rain is also a snapshot of a pivotal time in cinema history. It may be a comedy, but it touches on real drama that went down in 1920s Hollywood, when movie studios turned to talking pictures, and silent film stars who couldn't roll with the changes got left in the celluloid dust. In fact, many of the characters in Betty Comden and Adolph Green's script had real-life counterparts. As AllMovie's Bruce Eder asserts, Singin' in the Rain is "a short-course pop-history lesson" for filmmakers and film fans alike (source)

Don Lockwood Unchained

For a traditional movie-musical, Singin' in the Rain is refreshingly self-aware. According to Empire Online, the movie "appears ageless through its sky-high level of film literacy. Boasting more filmic references than a Quentin Tarantino scrapbook, Rain is chocker with Hollywood skits and spoofs… mounted with love and affection. With its network of allusion and pastiche, Singin' in the Rain is a postmodernist film before postmodernism was invented" (source).

In other words, Singin' in the Rain includes more pop culture references than an episode of Family Guy. And by skewering its own industry with an affectionate wink, Singin' in the Rain is a pretty progressive flick. It isn't just timeless; it was also ahead of its time.

This Ain't Your Grandma's Musical

Sadly, it was also the end of an era.

Singin' in the Rain, along with other Arthur Freed films like An American in Paris (1951) and The Band Wagon (1953), isn't like most musicals. It features an original, brand spankin' new concept, written specifically for the big screen. It's also an integrated musical, meaning characters don't suddenly, and nonsensically, burst into song for no good reason; instead, song and dance numbers come about organically and incorporate props that are already in the scene. Cool, right?

Right. At least for a little while.

Then Hollywood went right back to its old ways, adapting Broadway plays for the silver screen. The problem is, by this time, after a solid thirty-year run, the "golden age" of movie musicals had maxed out its lifespan. As Roger Ebert points out, younger audiences wanted fresher fare that pulled from new music like The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night and Pink Floyd's The Wall (source). The current generation of moviegoers didn't want their parents' recycled productions, man.

Soon enough, the old-school movie musical fell off the map. But Singin' in the Rain endures. With its iconic song and dance numbers and clever, satirical story, it was one of a kind. It's no wonder that, in 1989, the Library of Congress's National Film Preservation Board added Singin' in the Rain to its registry in honor of its cultural significance. 

As the movie's tagline goes, "What a glorious feeling!"

Trivia

The title number, "Singin' in the Rain," took two-and-a-half days to shoot and used so much fake rain that it caused a mini-drought in Culver City, California. Oh, and Gene Kelly had a 103-degree fever. (Source)

The original ending of the movie had Lina and Cosmo getting married. Yikes. (Source)

Debbie Reynolds (Kathy) was 19 and living with her parents when she made the movie, so she'd get up at 4:00 a.m. and take three buses to the studio each day. Sometimes she'd just crash at the studio, on set, so she could avoid the monster commute. (Source)

The film was a grueling shoot, and the actors literally worked themselves sick. Kelly had a fever during the title number; Reynolds had to be carried off after shooting the "Good Mornin'" number because her feet were bleeding; O'Connor was in bed for a week after that same number. Reynolds said that giving birth and shooting this film were the two hardest things she ever did. (Source)

Singin' in the Rain Resources

Websites

Moviepedia: Singin' in the Rain
An informative wiki on Gone with the Wind. Just kidding. It's all about Singin' in the Rain, of course.

Gene Kelly: The Legacy
A live show that combines film clips, audio, and other memorabilia with the insights of Gene Kelly's biographer and wife, film historian Patricia Ward Kelly.

Gene Kelly Fans
As the name suggests, this is a fan site that features essays, analyses, and further reading recommendations about Gene Kelly and his films.

Stage Adaptations

Singin' in the Rain at the Internet Broadway Database
After a successful adaptation was staged in London's West End in 1983, a Broadway production opened in the summer of 1985 and ran for 367 performances. It's been revived several times since.

"The Stage: Singin' in the Rain Opens" (July 3, 1985)
Frank Rich's review of the 1985 Broadway adaptation.

Articles and Interviews

New York Daily News Review (March 28, 1952)
The web is littered with reviews of the film's rereleases, but this review by Wanda Hale is the real (reel?) deal from opening weekend.

Donald O'Connor & Debbie Reynolds on The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers (ca. 1986)
First they sing, then they dish on making Singin' in the Rain in this thoroughly '80s clip.

Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" Review (February 14, 1999)
Spoiler alert: He liked it. A lot.

"Speaking vs. Dancing in the Rain" (November 11, 2007)
An in-depth look at the film from Cinema de Merde.

"Gene Kelly's Widow Patricia Chats About Her Late Husband and Singin' in the Rain'" (July 11, 2012)
She wasn't just his wife, she was his biographer, so Patricia Ward Kelly's got the goods in this Newsday interview.

Debbie Reynolds Talks to the American Film Institute (2012)
"I was so dumb that I didn't feel [I] could fail."

Gene Kelly Discusses Singin' in the Rain with Roddy McDowall on PBS (1979)
Did somebody say "pledge drive"?

Singin' Turns 60
Moviefone celebrates the film's 60th anniversary in 2012 with behind-the-scenes info.

Video

The Singin' in the Rain Trailer
Featuring "the songs you like" and "the excitement you expect!"

Kathy Gives Don a Ride
They don't exactly hit it off.

"Make 'Em Laugh"
In which Cosmo runs up the walls. Don't, don't try this at home.

"Good Morning"
It's great to stay up late!

"Singin' in the Rain"
It's only one of the most iconic scenes in movie history.

The Dueling Cavalier Goes Out Of Sync
Are Don's pants made out of rubber?

Switch-A-Roo
Lina gets what's comin' to her at the Dancing Cavalier premiere.

"You Are My Lucky Star"
This scene, where Kathy croons about Don, was cut from the movie. It also features Debbie Reynolds' real singing voice. (To be clear: We're not saying those two things are related.)

Making of Singin' in the Rain
A clip about—what else?—the making of the movie, featuring some familiar faces.

"Dancing is a Man's Game" (1958)
Kelly hoofed it alongside the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Mickey Mantle, and Johnny Unitas, just to name a few, for this segment on the educational TV show Omnibus. Some of the legendary jocks featured in the clip have better rhythm than others, but it solidifies Kelly's lifelong argument for the link between athletics and dance

Volkswagen Jetta "The Sitting Dance" Ad (2011)
Volkswagen adapted Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor's "Sitting Dance" from 1959's Pontiac Star Parade to sell Jettas in 2011. We'll leave whether or not that was a good idea up to you.

"Singin' in the Rain (Without Singing)"
Don Lockwood gets the Musicless Music video treatment in this hilarious clip.

Audio

Gene Kelly, "All I Do Is Dream of You"
Gene Kelly's rendition of this tune was ultimately cut from the movie.

Mint Royale, "Singin' in the Rain"
A modern mix of the classic track.

Images

The Original Poster
Why, it's a Technicolor musical treasure!

Lobby Card
We're sure Gene Kelly was thrilled that they chose this shot.

Donald O'Connor, Stanley Donen, and Gene Kelly
Three men, three tiny umbrellas.

Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly On Set
It only looks like Donen is teaching Kelly how to read.

Kelly and Reynolds Promo Still
Aw, shucks. Aren't they just adorable?

Kelly Promo Still
Holy moly, it's raining umbrellas.

Screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden with Gene Kelly
Linking arms was very popular in the '50s.

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