Singin' in the Rain is a 1952 American musical romantic comedy film directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, starring Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds and featuring Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell and Cyd Charisse. It offers a lighthearted depiction of Hollywood in the late 1920s, with the three stars portraying performers caught up in the transition from silent films to "talkies".
The film was only a modest hit when it was first released. O'Connor won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green won the Writers Guild of America Award for their screenplay, while Jean Hagen was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. However, it has since been accorded legendary status by contemporary critics, and is often regarded as the greatest musical film ever made and one of the greatest films ever made, as well as the greatest film made in the "Freed Unit" at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It topped the AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals list and is ranked as the fifth-greatest American motion picture of all time in its updated list of the greatest American films in 2007.
In 1989, Singin' in the Rain was one of the first 25 films selected by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2005, the British Film Institute included it in its list of the 50 films to be seen by the age of 14. In 2008, Empire magazine ranked it as the eighth-best film of all time. In Sight & Sound magazine's 2022 list of the greatest films of all time, Singin' in the Rain placed 10th.
In 1927, silent film stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont attend the premiere of their latest film, The Royal Rascal. Film studio Monumental Pictures encourages rumors of a romance between Don and Lina. Don dislikes the rumors and barely tolerates Lina, but Lina believes Don loves her. At a red-carpet interview, Don tells the story of his rise to stardom. Don says he grew up cultured and highly educated, but his words are contradicted by flashbacks showing his humble roots as a hoofer, vaudeville musician and stuntman, alongside his childhood best friend, Cosmo Brown ("Fit as a Fiddle").
After the premiere, Don escapes a mob of his fans by jumping into a passing car driven by Kathy Selden. Kathy, who claims to be a theater actress, drives Don to the premiere's afterparty, but expresses disdain for the art of film acting. At the afterparty, Monumental Pictures head R. F. Simpson shows a short demonstration of the newfound talking picture. His guests are unimpressed and assume talking pictures will be a fad. Kathy is then revealed to be a chorus girl hired to perform at the party ("All I Do is Dream of You"). Furious at Don's teasing, she throws a cake at him, but he dodges it and the cake hits Lina. Kathy runs away before Don can catch up with her.
Three weeks later, Don has fallen in love with Kathy but cannot find her. Cosmo tries to cheer Don up ("Make 'Em Laugh"). Lina reveals that she got Kathy fired. On the studio lot, Cosmo finds Kathy working as an extra in another Monumental Pictures production ("Beautiful Girl"). Kathy admits to actually being a fan of Don's, while Don professes his feelings for her ("You Were Meant for Me").
Rival studio Warner Bros. releases its first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, to wide acclaim. R. F. decides he has no choice but to convert the next Lockwood and Lamont film, The Dueling Cavalier, into a talkie; Lina and Don undertake elocution lessons in preparation ("Moses Supposes"). The production is beset with difficulties, most notably Lina's grating, high-pitched voice and the actors being unfamiliar with the recording technology. Due to multiple complications (including awkward microphone placements, Don's uninspired improvising and the audio going out of sync), The Dueling Cavalier's preview screening is a failure.
Afterward, Kathy and Cosmo suggest The Dueling Cavalier be turned into a musical ("Good Morning"). Cosmo, inspired by the film's synchronization error, suggests Kathy should dub Lina's voice. Don happily agrees. Don takes Kathy home, then dances through her neighborhood in the rain ("Singin' in the Rain"). Don and Cosmo pitch their idea to R. F., changing the title of the film to The Dancing Cavalier and adding a modern framing device. R. F. approves but tells them not to inform Lina of Kathy's involvement.
Having learned the truth, a furious Lina barges in on a dubbing session. She becomes even angrier after being told that Don and Kathy are in love, and that R. F. intends to give Kathy a screen credit and a big publicity buildup. Lina threatens to sue R. F. unless he makes sure no one ever hears of Kathy and that she keeps dubbing Lina for the rest of her career. R. F. reluctantly agrees because of a clause in Lina's contract which holds the studio responsible for positive media coverage.
The premiere of The Dancing Cavalier is a success ("Would You"). When the audience clamors for Lina to sing live, Don, Cosmo, and R. F. tell her to lip sync into a microphone while Kathy, concealed behind the curtain, sings into a second one. While Lina is "singing" ("Singin' in the Rain Reprise"), Don, Cosmo and R. F. open the curtain, revealing the ruse. The defeated Lina flees in humiliation. Kathy tries to run away as well, but Don proudly announces to the audience that Kathy is "the real star" of the film ("You Are My Lucky Star"). Some time later, Kathy and Don kiss in front of a billboard for their new film, Singin' in the Rain.
Singin' in the Rain was originally conceived by MGM producer Arthur Freed, the head of the "Freed Unit" responsible for turning out MGM's lavish musicals, as a vehicle for his catalog of songs written with Nacio Herb Brown for previous MGM musical films of the 1929–39 period. Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote one entirely new song, "Moses Supposes", with music director Roger Edens providing the music (see below). Freed and Brown wrote a new song for the movie, "Make 'Em Laugh".
All songs have lyrics by Freed and music by Brown unless otherwise indicated. Some of the songs, such as "Broadway Rhythm", "Should I?", and especially "Singin' in the Rain" itself, have been featured in numerous films. The films listed below mark the first time each song was presented on screen.
Arthur Freed, the head of the "Freed Unit" at MGM responsible for the studio's glossy and glamorous musicals, conceived the idea of a movie based on the back catalog of songs written by himself and Nacio Herb Brown, and called in Betty Comden and Adolph Green from New York to come up with a story to tie the songs together and to write the script. Comden and Green first refused the assignment, as their agent had assured them that their new contract with MGM called for them to write the lyrics to all songs unless the score was by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, or Rodgers and Hammerstein. After a two-week hold-out, their new agent, Irving "Swifty" Lazar, having looked over the contract, told them that the clause had been entirely an invention of their previous agent, and that there was no such language in the contract. After hearing this, Comden and Green began working on the story and script.
Because many of the songs had originally been written during the time when silent films were giving way to "talkies" and musicals were popular with audiences, Comden and Green came up with the idea that the story should be set during that transitional period in Hollywood, an era they were intimately familiar with. When Howard Keel was mentioned as the possible lead, they tried to work up a story involving a star of Western films who makes a comeback as a singing cowboy, but they kept gravitating to a story about a swashbuckling romantic hero with a vaudeville background who survives the transition by falling back on his abilities as a song-and-dance man, a story which Gene Kelly was well-suited for.
Kelly could not be approached at the time, as he was deeply immersed in An American in Paris (1951), which he was co-choreographing with Stanley Donen, and in which he was starring. Comden and Green continued to work on the script, and had at that time three possible openings for the film: a silent movie premiere, a magazine interview with a Hollywood star, and a star-meets-girl, star-loses-girl sequence. Unable to decide which to use or how to proceed, they had just decided to return their advance to MGM and admit defeat, when Betty Comden's husband arrived from New York and suggested that they combine all three openings into one. The script with the re-written opening was approved by Freed and by MGM's head of production Dore Schary, who had recently replaced Louis B. Mayer.
By this time shooting on An American in Paris had completed, and Freed suggested that Kelly be given the script to read. Kelly and Donen responded enthusiastically, and immediately become involved in re-writes and adjustments to the script. Comden, Green, Kelly, and Donen were all old friends, and the process went smoothly. Besides the Freed-Brown songs, Comden and Green contributed the lyrics to "Moses Supposes", which was set to music by Roger Edens. Shortly before shooting began, "The Wedding of the Painted Doll", which Comden and Green had "painfully wedged into the script as a cheering-up song" was replaced with a new Freed/Brown song, "Make 'Em Laugh", which bore a remarkable resemblance to Cole Porter's 1948 song "Be a Clown".
After Comden and Green had returned to New York to work on other projects, they received word that a new song was needed for a love-song sequence between Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. The original had been a song-and-dance medley involving different sets in different soundstages on the studio lot, but they were asked for a romantic love song set in an empty sound stage, and it was needed immediately. Comden and Green provided such a scene for "You Were Meant for Me" and sent it off to Hollywood.
Reynolds's singing in two songs was dubbed by Betty Noyes, one of them when Kathy is shown dubbing Lina Lamont, while her high notes and taps were dubbed in the entire film. The spoken dialog in the same scene was actually uttered by Hagen. Donen once explained Reynolds's "mid-western" accent was thought inferior to Hagen's natural speaking voice for this one scene.
In the sequence in which Gene Kelly dances and sings the title song while spinning an umbrella, splashing through puddles and getting soaked with rain, Kelly was sick with a 103 °F (39 °C) fever. The water used in the scene caused Kelly's wool suit to shrink during filming. A common myth is that Kelly managed to perform the entire song in one take, thanks to cameras placed at predetermined locations. However, this was not the case; filming the sequence took two to three days. Another myth is that the rain was mixed with milk in order for the drops to show up better on camera; but the desired visual effect was produced, albeit with difficulty, through backlighting.
Debbie Reynolds was not a dancer when she made Singin' in the Rain; her background was as a gymnast. Kelly apparently insulted her for lacking dance experience, which upset her. Later, when Fred Astaire was in the studio, he found Reynolds crying under a piano. On hearing what had happened, Astaire volunteered to help her with her dancing. Kelly later admitted that he had not been kind to Reynolds and was surprised that she was still willing to talk to him afterwards. After shooting the "Good Morning" routine, which had taken from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. to shoot, Reynolds's feet were bleeding. Years later, she said "Singin' in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life."
Donald O'Connor, a four-pack-a-day smoker at the time, had to stay in bed in the hospital for several days after filming the "Make 'Em Laugh" sequence.
Most of the costumes from this film were eventually acquired by Debbie Reynolds and held in her massive collection of original film costumes, sets, and props. Many of these items were sold at a 2011 auction in Hollywood. While most items were sold to private collectors, Donald O'Connor's green check "Fit As a Fiddle" suit and shoes were purchased by Costume World, Inc. They are now on permanent display at the Costume World Broadway Collection Museum in Pompano Beach, Florida.
According to MGM records, during the film's initial theatrical release, it made $3,263,000 in the US and Canada, and $2,367,000 internationally, earning the studio a profit of $666,000. It was the tenth-highest-grossing movie of the year in the US and Canada.
The movie premiered at the Radio City Music Hall, and Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote: "Compounded generously of music, dance, color spectacle and a riotous abundance of Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen and Donald O'Connor on the screen, all elements in this rainbow program are carefully contrived and guaranteed to lift the dolors of winter and put you in a buttercup mood." Variety was also positive, writing: "Arthur Freed has produced another surefire grosser for Metro in Singin' in the Rain. Musical has pace, humor, and good spirits a-plenty, in a breezy, good-natured spoof at the film industry itself ... Standout performances by Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, especially the latter, enhance the film's pull." Harrison's Reports called it "top-notch entertainment in every department – music, dancing, singing, staging and story". Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called it "yet another fresh and breezy, colorful and funny musical" from Gene Kelly, adding, "Of the players there's not a dud in the lot, from Kelly's facile performing to the brief but electric dance appearance by Cyd Charisse, a swell partner for him."
Pauline Kael, the long-time film critic for The New Yorker, said of the film "This exuberant and malicious satire of Hollywood in the late twenties is perhaps the most enjoyable of movie musicals – just about the best Hollywood musical of all time." Roger Ebert placed Singin' in the Rain on his Great Movies list, calling the film "a transcendent experience, and no one who loves movies can afford to miss it."
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a perfect 100% approval rating based on 64 reviews, with an average rating of 9.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Clever, incisive, and funny, Singin' In The Rain is a masterpiece of the classical Hollywood musical." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 99 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". The film made each site's list of best-rated films, ranked 46th on Rotten Tomatoes (as of 2021) and 9th on Metacritic.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green report that when they met François Truffaut at a party in Paris, Truffaut was very excited to meet the authors of Chantons Sous la Pluie (as Singin' in the Rain was titled in French). He told them that he had seen the film so many times that he knew it frame by frame, and that he and fellow director and screenwriter Alain Resnais, among others, went to see it regularly at a small Parisian movie theatre where it sometimes ran for months at a time.
The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in these lists:
In 1989, Singin' in the Rain was among the first 25 films chosen for the newly established National Film Registry for films that are deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation.
Singin' in the Rain has appeared three times on Sight & Sound's list of the ten best films of all time, in 1982, 2002 and 2022. Its position in 1982 was at number 4 on the critics list; on the 2002 critics' list, it was listed as number 10, and it tied for 19 on the directors' list; on the 2022 critics' list, it was listed again as number 10. In 2008, Singin' in the Rain was placed on Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time List, ranking at #8, the highest ranked G-rated movie on the list.
The 40th Anniversary Edition VHS version released in 1992 include a documentary, the original trailer, and Reynolds' solo rendition of "You Are My Lucky Star", which had been cut from the final film.
According to the audio commentary on the 2002 Special Edition DVD, the original negative was destroyed in a fire. Despite this, the film was digitally restored for its DVD release. A Blu-ray Ultimate Collector's Edition was released in July 2012. A Ultra HD Blu-ray was released on April 26, 2022.
The digital version of the film is currently available to stream on HBO Max.
Comic book adaptation
The Broadway musical Singin' in the Rain was adapted from the motion picture, and the plot of the stage version closely adheres to the original. Directed and choreographed by post-modern choreographer Twyla Tharp, the opening night cast starred Don Correia as Don Lockwood, Mary D'Arcy as Kathy Selden, Richard Fancy as Roscoe Dexter, Faye Grant as Lina Lamont, and Peter Slutsker as Cosmo Brown. The musical opened on July 2, 1985, at the Gershwin Theatre after 39 previews, and ran for 367 performances, closing on May 18, 1986.
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