Hollywood got its sequin-covered socks knocked off in 1927. That's the year that The Jazz Singer was released and made talking pictures the next big thing. Because Singin' in the Rain is all about the movie industry's rocky transition from silence to sound, its narrative is completely intertwined with its setting. Makes sense, right? You can't really set a movie about the birth of the sound era in filmmaking in Paducah, Kentucky. No offense, Paducahites. Paducahans? Paduchastonians?
Let's move on.
Art Imitates Life Imitating Art Imitating… Well, You Get It
Monumental Pictures is home base for most of the activity in Singin' in the Rain. Don, Lina, Cosmo, and, eventually, Kathy are all employees. Here's where it gets interesting: According to most accounts, Monumental Pictures is a stand-in for MGM, the studio that produced Singin' in the Rain. In fact, most of the characters roaming the lot at Monumental had real-world counterparts, offering a sweet snapshot of the film biz at that pivotal moment in the movie history.
AllMovie's Bruce Eder explains: "…Lina Lamont is a burlesque of silent-movie sex symbol Clara Bow, whose decidedly urban style of diction never really fit her image or what the public wanted, while… R.F. Simpson was a gently jocular satire of [Singin' in the Rain's producer Arthur Freed], who could never quite visualize the elaborate musical numbers whose scripts and budgets he was approving as producer… Cosmo Brown was an onscreen stand-in for men like Franz Waxman and dozens of other musicians, who moved from writing arrangements or conducting the major theater orchestras to heading the music departments of the studios."
In other words, the Monumental Pictures setting is a darn good recreation of Hollywood in the late '20s, as the movie industry abandoned silent films—and some of their biggest stars—in favor of talking pictures.
This Musical Kitten Has Claws
This accuracy of setting only strengthens Singin' in the Rain's satirical bent. The year 1927 sounds like a long, long time ago to us today, but you have to remember that Singin' in the Rain came out in 1952.
Pop quiz: What's 52 minus 27? If you said 114, you're totally wrong. It's 25 (and maybe you should check out Shmoop's Math Shack).
So Singin' in the Rain was going back a mere 25 years to poke fun at the past and pull humor from the movie industry's shortcomings. Putting things in perspective, that would be like if a director in 2015 made a loving, yet irreverent comedy skewering the movie industry in 1990. Most of the stars of 1990 are still around today. They may not be stars anymore (sorry, Steven Seagal), but that's beside the point. The point is that Singin' in the Rain's 1927 setting gives the satire an interesting edge that may be easy to overlook given that the film is a bright and bouncy musical.