Watching ‘Singin in the Rain’ for the First Time

Throughout my years of movie viewing (and blogging), I have received the opportunity to check out films boasting a “classic” status. This status has, in my opinion, been earned on some occasions, as I gained an understanding for why a particular movie was granted its praise. However, there were certain titles I found myself unable to figure out why it is considered a “classic”. Out of all these “classic” films, I have been meaning to see one specific picture. That title is Singin in the Rain. The 1952 production needs no introduction. From the song, “Good Morning”, being featured in an orange juice commercial to a replica of Gene Kelly’s umbrella in Disney MGM/Hollywood Studios, Singin in the Rain has carved out a slice in America’s pop culture pie. But for someone, like me, who hasn’t seen this iconic film before, these references are going to seem like a company, individual, or creative team is, simply, taking advantage of the movie’s 50+ year popularity. That replica is just used for tourists to have their photo taken. That song was just an appropriate selection to promote a beverage primarily found at breakfast-time. With the arrival and fruition of the Singin in the Rain Blogathon, I finally have a wonderful excuse to watch Singin in the Rain. It also gives me an opportunity to gain more context of the film’s respective songs, images, and quotes.

Singin in the Rain poster created by
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Loew’s Inc.

Creative Musical Numbers

Singin in the Rain is not just one of the most iconic movies of all time, it’s one of the most iconic musicals of all time! A musical with a “classic” status will bring something unique and creative to the table. The Wizard of Oz took on the power of Technicolor, in a time when that specific technology was more of a luxury. Xanadu showed the world roller skating can be magical. When it comes to Singin in the Rain, the creativity lies in the musical numbers themselves, presenting performances that hadn’t really been seen before 1952. Toward the beginning of the film, Gene and Donald perform a duet, “Fit as a Fiddle (And Ready for Love)”, at a vaudeville show. Throughout this musical number, Donald and Gene not only tap danced, but played the fiddle as well. For the 21t century viewer, dancing and playing an instrument at the same time doesn’t seem like a new concept, as Lindsey Stirling has capitalized on those talents. Within the realm of cinematic musicals, however, a routine like Gene and Donald’s isn’t often included.

Gene Kelly’s famous solo isn’t the first musical number featuring rain. Two decades prior, in Just Around the Corner, Shirley Temple performed “I Love to Walk in the Rain”, her film’s big musical number that represented the spirit of the movie. Looking back on “Singin in the Rain”, I, personally, feel Shirley’s number walked (no pun intended) so Gene’s solo could soar! The solo from the 1952 production takes place after Gene’s character, Don, takes Kathy home. Despite it raining outdoors, Don is head-over-heels in love with Kathy. Gene tap danced in his solo. But unlike “I Love to Walk in the Rain”, “Singin in the Rain” felt more immersive, as it wasn’t just a performative routine. Because the number takes place within the story’s context, it feels grounded in reality, a downtown street replacing a glamourized stage. Watching Gene jumping and splashing in puddles added uniqueness to the routine. Even though “Singin in the Rain” wasn’t the big musical number for its respective movie, it represents the film’s spirit, reminding the audience to see the good in a not-so-good situation.

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Strong Camaraderie

In most of my reviews, I talk about the acting. I will choose a few performances to discuss and write about what I liked about them. For this review, I want to talk about a different acting component. While the overall acting in Singin in the Rain was strong, what stood out to me more was the on-screen camaraderie between Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor! One of my favorite scenes is when Don, Kathy, and Cosmo are concocting a plan to save Don’s film. Each character’s personality shines through during this brainstorming session. Cosmo encourages Don to turn the film into a musical, as he spontaneously breaks out into song. Meanwhile, Kathy attempts to keep the group’s good spirits lifted, her kind demeanor certainly helping the situation. After hearing Cosmo’s idea, Don is open-minded about it, joyously realizing he can use his talents to his advantage. This scene, as well as the “Good Morning” musical number, is just one example of Gene, Debbie, and Donald’s on-screen camaraderie. Through their interactions, it felt like Don, Kathy, and Cosmo had been friends all along. This on-screen bond was so pleasant, I looked forward to each time these characters crossed paths!

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Learning about Cinema’s Early Years

Singin in the Rain takes place in the 1920s, during the transitional period between silent films and “talkies” (movies with sound). Even though the 1952 film is a musical that takes time to focus on its numbers, it lifts the figurative curtain enough to educate the audience on how film-making was executed in that time period. Don’s respective studio, Monumental Pictures, adopted sound after Warner Bros. took a chance with their film, The Jazz Singer, a high risk that was met with high rewards. Because of that one creative decision, it forever changed the cinematic landscape. As emphasized in the musical number, “Moses Supposes”, actors had to not only memorize their lines, they also had to remember to annunciate those lines. Singin in the Rain also shows the audience how dialogue is incorporated into a movie. As someone who appreciates the film-making process, it was nice to see this part of movie-making shown in steps. This step-to-step process was a good introduction to some of the work that goes on behind the camera.

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The Context of “Broadway Melody” in Don’s Film

While working to adapt his film, The Dancing Cavalier, into a musical, Don proposes the movie’s new opening scene. This scene is presented as the musical number “Broadway Melody”. As a musical number in Singin in the Rain, I liked this performance! It had colorful set and costume design, as well as strong choreography. But as an opening scene in The Dancing Cavalier, the musical number, in my opinion, doesn’t work. “Broadway Melody” is too long, my guess is ten minutes. The number itself kind of feels like an extension of Don’s past, as his journey to Hollywood came from simpler beginnings. Based on what the characters said about The Dancing Cavalier, Don’s proposed opening scene seems to have little connection to that film’s story. If Don’s movie were a real picture, some audience members might become bored with the film before the story began.

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No Subplot for Cosmo

As I mentioned earlier in this review, I liked the on-screen camaraderie of Gene, Debbie, and Donald. In fact, I liked Donald’s character, Cosmo! Not only was he hilarious and charming, but he was talented as well! The story of Singin in the Rain primarily revolved around the main plot; Monumental Pictures attempting to save their latest film. There is a subplot in the movie, but it mostly focuses on Lina, Don’s co-star. I would have loved to see Cosmo receive his own subplot. Since his contribution to the studio is musical, Cosmo’s part of the story would have pulled back that figurative curtain a little further to show the audience cinematic work behind the camera. I’ve said in previous reviews how important music is in film. Without it, there isn’t an opportunity for viewers to become emotionally affected by a given scene. Because Cosmo is a musician, that aspect of film-making could have been explored.

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A Love Interest That Wasn’t Meant to be

In my point about Cosmo not receiving a subplot, I mentioned how Singin in the Rain’s subplot mostly focused on Don’s co-star, Lina. Personally, I think more of that time should have been given to Cosmo. I know Lina is meant to be the film’s antagonist. I also know her actions and choices are intended to fuel the movie’s conflict. But why would Lina receive so much time when she and Don were never meant to be? Before and after the premiere of The Royal Rascal, people speculate about Lina and Don’s relationship. Even Lina carries the assumption she and Don are romantically involved with one another. But Don makes it pretty clear he is not romantically interested in Lina. This part of the story reminded me of a Hallmark movie cliché I’ve talked about in the past: the “protagonist’s ex showing up unannounced” cliché.

The Singin in the Rain Blogathon banner created by Ari from The Classic Movie Muse

In Conclusion

Before the Singin in the Rain Blogathon, I had never seen the event’s namesake. That means if someone were to tell me one of the movie’s quotes or if I heard one of the film’s songs, I wouldn’t have thought much of it. Now that I have finally seen Singin in the Rain, I have gained an understanding and appreciation for it! When Kathy first meets Don, she claims, when referring to films, that “when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”. However, I’d argue the 1952 musical built a solid identity that affords it a distinction from other musical movies. Even though Singin in the Rain was released within the Breen Code era, I was pleasantly surprised by the good messages and themes in the story. When I talked about the movie’s on-screen camaraderie, I shared one of my favorite scenes; where Kathy, Don, and Cosmo were figuring out how to save Don’s film. Through this interaction, the message of being one’s self is stressed. This message also allowed Don to use his talents in his favor. When I reviewed The Bridge on the River Kwai, I wondered what the criteria was for lists such as AFI’s 100 Greatest  American  Movies of All Time. One of my speculations was titles that brought something new to the cinematic table. It should be noted that Singin in the Rain is on AFI’s list. While I don’t know for certain how it got there, I think I have a pretty good idea why it’s there.

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: A Star Is Born (1937) Review

Prior to Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s Fredric March Blogathon, I had never heard of Fredric March himself. But, as with any blogathon, it gave me a good opportunity to introduce myself to new films and talents! While exploring Fredric’s IMDB filmography, I discovered he starred in the 1937 version of A Star Is Born. This is a title I am familiar with because of its multiple remakes. However, this is my first time watching any version of the story. Based on what I’ve heard, A Star Is Born covers some heavier topics. Since the version I’m reviewing was released during The Breen Code era, it will be interesting to see how these topics are presented in the script. But this will never get discovered unless we read my article about A Star Is Born!

A Star Is Born (1937) poster created by Selznick International Pictures and United Artists

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: I’ll talk about Fredric March’s performance first, as is customary for a blogathon revolving around an actor or actress. Like I mentioned in the introduction, I had never heard of him prior to the event. However, I was really impressed with Fredric’s portrayal of Norman Maine! He did a good job of showing the delicate balance his character was walking; a public figure dealing with an addiction. His acting abilities were also expansive, ranging from dramatic to comedic. At a dinner party, Norman made funny faces when asking the bar-tender for a second drink. Moments later, he angrily threw plates on the floor, upset that Esther/Vicki was disappointed in meeting him. This is a good example of how Fredric can pull off a performance in both styles of acting!

Speaking of Esther/Vicki, I liked Janet Gaynor’s performance! Similar to Fredric March, she was very versatile while portraying the film’s leading lady. Her performance allowed the audience to witness Esther’s/Vicki’s growth as a character. At the beginning of the movie, Esther/Vicki started as a bright-eyed, hopeful young woman who wanted to jump into the world of show-business. As the story progresses, Esther/Vicki gains experience and wisdom, growing up along the way. Since Esther/Vicki and Norman spend most of the movie together, the audience is treated to the banter between Janet and Fredric! A perfect example is during a boxing match, when Norman asks Esther/Vicki to marry him. Both actors never missed a beat and complimented each other so well.

It was nice to see Esther’s/Vicki’s friendship with Danny McGuire. Portrayed by Andy Devine, Danny and Esther’s/Vicki’s friendship provided a bright spot among the film’s heavier moments. Despite being surrounded by the unpredictability of Hollywood, Danny had such a kind heart and was always in Esther’s/Vicki’s corner. This friendship was one of my favorite parts of A Star Is Born and I wish it had featured in the story more.

Showing how tough industry entry is: When Hollywood/show business is featured in a film’s script, the more serious or honest parts of the industry are sometimes glossed over, sugar-coated, or omitted. With A Star Is Born, the creative team wasn’t afraid to show how difficult it is to find success in entertainment. While waiting to apply for a casting agency, Esther/Vicki sees a poster on a wall. This poster stated the number of extras represented by that casting agency. Even though it was a simple moment, it illustrated how so many people shared the same dream as Esther/Vicki. While working a waitress job, Esther/Vicki uses that opportunity to impress the guests with her acting skills. Despite her best efforts, the majority of the guests don’t pay her much attention. Networking is important when it comes to finding employment. But Esther’s/Vicki’s experience shows how it’s not the “end all, be all” in any job search.

The use of mixed-media: Throughout A Star Is Born, different forms of media were shown on-screen. For a movie released in 1937, this was not only ahead of its time, but also a pleasant surprise! At the beginning and end of the movie, pieces of a script were featured. These pieces bookended the story, presenting the film as if it were a potential biographic movie. I thought this was a creative way to visually deliver this narrative. When Esther/Vicki finally gets a studio acting job, a close-up of her contract signature can be seen. Even though it was on-screen for a few seconds, it highlighted the reality of Esther’s/Vicki’s next step in her career. The film’s use of mixed-media provided additional context to the story, as well as emphasized important events within the plot.

The Fredric March Blogathon banner created by the Brannan sisters from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society

What I didn’t like about the film:

Limited use of lighting: A Star Is Born featured some scenes that took place at night. But because of the limited lighting in these scenes, it was difficult to see characters’ faces. A great example is when Esther’s/Vicki’s grandmother is giving her granddaughter necessary advice. Throughout this scene, I was only able to see the side of Grandmother Lettie’s face or her face was completely hidden by the darkness. This ended up being a somewhat distracting part of the film. I know the aforementioned scene was supposed to take place while Esther’s/Vicki’s other family members were asleep. However, I think at least one lamp should have been kept on in the room.

Some rushed parts of the story: I understand there’s only so much story one can tell in an hour and fifty minutes. However, there were parts of A Star Is Born that, to me, felt rushed. After Esther’s/Vicki’s studio acceptance, she receives her first job: a small, walk-on role. While practicing her lines for this job, Norman recruits her for the lead role in one of his movies. This part of the story skipped over Esther/Vicki building her resume and earning that lead role. Instead of showing themes of hard work and perseverance, the rushed nature of this plot-point simply showed Esther/Vicki being lucky. Because of how rushed some parts of the story were, it, sometimes, felt like things were moving too fast. Norman and Esther’s/Vicki’s relationship serves as one example, with them getting married after knowing each other for a short period of time.

Omitted components: At the beginning of A Star Is Born, one of Esther’s/Vicki’s biggest doubters is Aunt Mattie. She feels that Esther/Vicki is wasting her time dreaming about something that, she feels, will likely not come true. But Esther/Vicki ends up proving her wrong, becoming a star in Hollywood. Unfortunately, we never see Aunt Mattie realize she was wrong or apologize for not supporting Esther’s/Vicki’s dream. If this had been included in the script, it would have provided an important component. I was surprised that The Great Depression was not mentioned during this story. Considering A Star Is Born took place during 1935 to 1937, I think it should have been brought up in context to the box office. In a newspaper article, it was mentioned how movie theaters were relieved of showing Norman Maine’s pictures due to a cancelled contract. But because The Great Depression could have directly impacted ticket sales, this should have also been considered by the characters.

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My overall impression:

If you had asked me a month ago who Fredric March was, I honestly wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer. Now that I have seen at least one of his films, I want to actively seek out more of his projects! Fredric’s performance in A Star Is Born was so strong, I was blown away by its versatility. I also liked seeing him perform alongside Janet Gaynor, as they not only worked well together, but they also had really good banter. While this movie does contain heavier subjects, they were handled in a reverent and mature way. At the same time, these subjects, like Norman’s alcohol addiction, were only brought up enough for the audience to get the point. In my three years of movie blogging, I’ve seen a number of Breen Code era titles. However, this version of A Star Is Born is definitely one of the better ones! As I mentioned in my review, it does have its flaws. Despite that, there’s a lot this movie gets right, making it worthy of a recommendation!

Overall score: 7.7 out of 10

Have you seen A Star Is Born? If so, which version is your favorite? Please let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen