It is "probably the most enjoyable of all movie
musicals," according to Pauline Kael; "one of the best
musicals Hollywood has produced," in the words of Leonard Maltin; and
"perhaps the greatest movie
musical of all time," in the opinion of Steven Scheuer.
It's everyone's favorite movie musical, "Singin' in the Rain" (MGM/UA,
$19.98), the peppy 1952 dancefest
with Gene Kelly,
Donald O'Connor and
Debbie Reynolds. A spiffed-up edition
has just arrived in video
Today everyone agrees it's a classic. But when it was released 40 years
ago, it wasn't treated with such
reverence. In fact, it wasn't even nominated for Best Picture of 1952. In
that regard it probably suffered
because the previous collaboration between actor
Kelly and producer
Freed, "An American in
Paris" (MGM/UA, $19.95), had won Best Picture the year before.
None of the contemporary reviews predicted people would still be
celebrating the film 40 years later. What's
the old saying: "A prophet is without honor in his own country"? We could
add, "and in his own time."
Not that "Singin' in the Rain" was jeered. It's just that in 1952 not very
many folks predicted immortality for
what was, frankly, a synthetic film.
Freed gave the film its title before he planned any rain scenes. Or any
plot, for that matter. He told
co-director Stanley Donen that he'd always wanted to make a film with that
Donen got together with writers Adolph Green and Betty Comden to
put a story to the music that
Freed gave them.
The songs came from here and there, but mostly from
Freed's own portfolio.
The title song was written by
Freed and Nacio Herb Brown for "The Hollywood Revue of 1929" (not on
video) and recycled in the 1932
Buster Keaton comedy "Speak Easily" (not on video) and the 1942
Garland vehicle "Little Nellie
Kelly" (MGM/UA, $19.98).
Reynolds' solo, "All I Do Is Dream of You," also from the pen of Brown and
Freed, had been in the
Crawford weeper "Sadie McKee" (MGM/UA, $19.95) and later in "Broadway
Melody of 1936" (not on
Kelly's "You Were Meant for Me," another Brown-Freed composition, came
from 1929's "Broadway
Melody" (MGM/UA, $19.95) and had also shown up in "Forty Little Mothers"
(not on video), "Hullabaloo"
(not on video) and "You Were Meant for Me" (not on video).
You get the idea. Freed was recycling songs and mostly his own songs. He
was a master at recycling. He
and Kelly had recycled songs in their 1951 hit, "An American in Paris,"
but those songs were Gershwin
Many of the critics at the time held "Singin' in the Rain" up to "An
American in Paris" and found the new
Time magazine's anonymous critic lamented, "The result, though pretty and
tuneful, is not so opulent as ('An
American in Paris') nor so inventive as ('On the Town'). The wordy book
about the era when the movies
were learning to talk is a rather strenuous satire, without much warmth or
The Christian Century, a leading magazine of the day, chimed in, "Some
bits of good comic satire and a few
inventive dance sequences, particularly one performed by
rain-drenched street. Others, while
intended to satirize the opulence of past musicals, are lost in
elaborateness of setting. Rollicking and spirited
but not up to Kelly's 'American in Paris.' "
Even the critics who gave the film its due managed to find a flaw or two.
Catholic World's reviewer griped, "The plot line is very slight -- some
assembly-line material about a dashing
silent screen hero and the two ladies in his off- and on-screen life . . .
(but) the dances, except for one or
two objectionable bits, are sheer delights."
Commonweal's [sic] critic was more positive. "Besides being a very entertaining
film, 'Singin' in the Rain' comes
up with some clever satire on Hollywood." But even he found something to
carp about. "Many of the song-
and-dance numbers are top-drawer stuff -- with
Kelly doing one of his
refreshing solos to the title tune, and
Donald O'Connor (who is in his best comic style throughout) carrying on in
a solo to 'Make 'em Laugh.' . . .
While some of them run a little too long, they are mighty pretty to look
at -- what with Technicolor and all."
In fact, the only out-and-out rave that I could find came from Saturday
Review. "To make this a far more
gladsome Easter season all around, MGM brings forth 'Singin' in the Rain,'
a big bouncy Technicolored
show that has just about everything you could ask of a musical. Its story
is a sturdy and delightful spoof of
the early talkies, and it provides a valid excuse for reviving a good
dozen pleasantly nostalgic tunes and
dances that gently parody the lavish routines of Busby Berkley's girls or
vigorously set forth the Charleston
and Black Bottom for a new generation. Through it all
Gene Kelly moves
smoothly and easily, Donald O'Connor clowns with an adroitness hitherto unsuspected and Jean Hagen
proves herself an extraordinarily
It's the only review I could find that even hints that "Singin' in the
Rain" might stand the test of time.
Vince Staten, formerly a Courier-Journal entertainment writer, now reports
weekly on the video scene as a
© 1992 The (Louisville, Kentucky) Courier-Journal