Poor Lennie Hayton. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture for his work in Singin' in the Rain, but all anybody ever talks about are the songs. Can you blame them? It's a musical. And the source of Singin' in the Rain's songs is noteworthy, too.
The Arthur Freed Show
Singin' in the Rain's producer, Arthur Freed, and his writing partner, Nacio Herb Brown, wrote all but two of the songs in the movie, and all of those songs had already appeared in other movies. Some of them had appeared in multiple movies, in fact. The Singin' in the Rain soundtrack is all about recycling.
So who wrote "Fit as a Fiddle" and "Moses Supposes," the two original songs? According to the film's credits, nobody. In spite of his Oscar nomination, composer Lennie Hayton didn't even get a credit on the film. Officially, Singin' in the Rain is a Freed and Brown joint from start to finish. Sometimes it's good to be the guy in charge.
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Dancer
Unlike most movie-musicals of the day, Freed and Brown's songs are integrated into the film organically. Nobody bursts into song for no reason. The fact that Singin' in the Rain is a movie about making movies helps. Take "Beautiful Girls," for example. That tune is easy to wedge into the film because it's part of a movie being shot at Monumental Pictures.
Other numbers arise just as naturally. When Don famously sings and dances in the rain, it's because he's falling in love and it happens to be raining. When Don and Kathy duet on "You Are My Lucky Star" at the end of the movie, they're coming clean and making up after a misunderstanding. They're doing so in front of several hundred strangers, but still: The moment arises organically.
Ironically, the recording of Singin' in the Rain's soundtrack mirrors the movie's narrative. Let us explain. Sometimes, like when she sings "Singin' in the Rain" live at the Dancing Cavalier premiere, Debbie Reynolds, who plays Kathy, uses her own voice. Other times, like when Kathy and Don sing "You Are My Lucky Star," Reynolds' voice is dubbed by singer Betty Noyes.
But wait—there's more: When Kathy is dubbing for Lina, like when we see her in the sound booth recording Lina's Dancing Cavalier dialogue, the voice we hear isn't Reynolds'; instead, it's Jean Hagen—that's right, the actress who plays Lina—speaking in her real voice. Confused? It's okay; you probably should be. Movie soundtracks are a complicated business.