Sunday, 30 June 2013

MoMoMu: Singin' in the Rain

A second installment of June's Monthly Movie Musical as promised! The timing for this post is perfect, because there's been a couple of rainy days lately – and even an electricity cut for a while! I'm not complaining though, the weather here in Finland has mostly been uncommonly warm and sunny and we even got all the way through the Midsummer celebrations without a single drop of rain (when has that ever happened – somewhere way back in the sixties maybe?)

Alright, here's a nutshell description of Singin' in the Rain: The setting is Hollywood at the end of the 20s, with a serious change in the movie world coming up: the transition from silent films to "talkies". Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a dashing Hollywood superstar with impossibly white teeth and jaw-dropping dance moves. His on-screen love interest is always a fellow superstar Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), and while Lina and the fans believe that Don loves her in real life too, Don is swept off his feet by a sweet and talented ingénue – Kathy Selden, played by Debbie Reynolds. No wonder why Don prefers her – Lina is a Hollywood diva at its worst, and the sound of her voice is indescribably, hilariously terrible. This has never bothered her career before, but as I mentioned earlier, talking films are on their way to Hollywood! Film industry politics and Don's pursuit of Kathy are spiced up with several tap dance routines and upbeat songs.

Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont "singing"
Singin' in the Rain is among the most notable American classic films, and even most people who have never seen the film know the title song and the fact that Gene Kelly does a very famous dance routine in the rain. Now what is it exactly that makes a 1952 film still so well-known and liked in these days? What are its best qualities?

If you ask me (you are currently reading my blog, right?) I would say the best thing about this film is that it's just so delightfully funny, in more ways than one. There are many funny one-liners from various characters and even a classic cake-to-the-face-that-lands-on-the-wrong-face, but when it comes to the preview of Don and Lina's first talking film and everything goes wrong... Good laughs are guaranteed. After the disastrous occasion, Kathy, Don and Don's best friend Cosmo come up with the idea of turning the new film into a musical, and even find a way around Lina's screechy voice: Kathy will dub her singing as well as her speaking lines. To keep the facade up at the new musical's opening night when Lina – now a supposed singing sensation – is asked to sing live, Kathy is ordered to sing from behind the curtain so that Lina can just move her mouth. And then the curtain goes up and everyone discovers where Lina's voice really comes from! I absolutely love that scene every time I see it.

Besides the uplifting comedy, there are also some pretty marvellous dance numbers to enjoy. Debbie Reynolds dances very well considering she hadn't had any training before working on this film, but Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor (who plays the aforementioned Cosmo Brown) are absolutely phenomenal when they put their moves on. In fact, I think this film displays Kelly much more as a dancer than as an actor. Don Lockwood's character is too much of an easily produced "perfect nice guy" to require very great acting. But let's get back to the dancing for a moment. Even someone like me, who doesn't care about dancing that much, can appreciate something like this:

So the comedy is lovely, the dancing is expert, the film-historical aspect is really quite interesting, and most of the actors do their roles very nicely – special attention should be given to Jean Hagen and Donald O'Connor in particular. However, in one respect it could be a bit problematic for a modern-day viewer, and the extent of the problem depends on how much of a feminist the viewer is. I myself am not a big fan of what I call extreme feminism; I just think hardcore feminists are a really nitpicky bunch of people who can't enjoy any form of entertainment because they see mistreatment and degradation of women lurking on every page or scene.

That being said, I have to say I find the character of Kathy Selden quite underdeveloped. Her first scene, when Don jumps into her car to escape overenthusiastic fans and she gives him her unflattering opinion of movie acting, is very promising, but once the two get romantically involved, she seems to exist mainly to admire Don. How isn't she the least bit offended when it turns out that she won't get any credit in Don and Lina's movie for dubbing Lina? No, she's just delighted that dear Don's film is getting a good reception. Still more disappointing for Kathy's characterization is when it turns out that she's secretly been a big fan of Don's all the time, even though she told him otherwise. So the point of her being the only woman who doesn't blindly fangirl about Don Lockwood and who sees something to criticize about Hollywood films is completely lost. First she talks about wanting to do great, serious roles on the stage, but in the end she becomes Don's new screen partner. Why didn't she go to New York like she said she would?

People who watch this movie should keep in mind that Singin' in the Rain was made in the 50s and set in the 20s, and women's position in entertainment as in everything else was quite different than nowadays. The way how there's always a chorus of women (usually wearing short outfits) swaying and smiling admiringly at a single man is close to ridiculous from a modern point-of-view. Just look at this ode to beautiful and well-dressed girls, which is completely pointless to the main plot except for the short moment where Don finally discovers Kathy among the dancers after looking for her for weeks. Did we really need that weird fashion show thing?

All in all, Singin' in the Rain is a very entertaining musical film which will absolutely put you in a good mood. The almost parodical approach to 20s Hollywood is very amusing, and there are really good funny moments as well as superb dancing throughout the film. Gene Kelly's fans will certainly be satisfied even if his character is a bit boring and unrealistically noble, and I really hope there's enough love to spare in the audience for Donald O'Connor with his strikingly blue eyes. Just put your pair of ultra-feminist glasses down if you happen to possess them. When you're in the presence of Lina Lamont, you will always be entertained.

Donald O'Connor as Cosmo Brown on the left

1 comment:

  1. Haha, great review! I agree:)

    When I first watched it, I was a little surprised; it wasn't quite what I was expecting...but the comedy and the dancing won me over;) I wasn't that impressed by most of the songs, but they were entertaining, and I LOVED the titular "Singin' in the Rain" sequence =D

    Haha, yes, you've got a point there with Kathy Selden. And then when you find out she really was a HUGE fan of Don's all along...:-/ I guess it's sort of relatable, but...

    So, overall, yes--the characters were slightly underdeveloped, but the comedy was awesome;)

    And LINA!!! I loved her;)