BY RICK JACKSON
Tonight at 7pm The Screening Room in Kingston, Ontario in the Wednesday night series of their Cinematica Program is Singin' In The Rain. It is one of the all-time great musicals and it happens to be one of my favourites.
Released by MGM on April 10, 1952, it stars Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds and is about the early days of the sound era, and the problems the studio had when it realized when their leading lady couldn't sing or talk because her voice was unsuitable. Reynolds' voice was dubbed in for a fictional production of the swashbuckler, The Dancing Cavalier. The swordplay and derring do footage you see was taken from MGM's 1948 film, The Three Musketeers which was spliced into The Royal Rascal film -within-a-film.
Further research into the making of Singin' In The Rain reveals that Kelly was signed on to play Don Lockwood just after he finished shooting An American In Paris. Jean Hagen was cast as the silent screen heroine Jill Lamont. They originally wanted Nina Foch but she was not right for the part. Ideally, the studio was thinking of Judy Holliday but she quickly became a star when Born Yesterday turned out to be a hit in 1950. Debbie Reynolds, who had a small part in a film at MGM was signed to play Kelly's love interest, while Oscar Levant was first choice for Cosmo Brown which went to Donald O'Connor.
It was written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, suggested by the song Singin' In The Rain composed by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 where it was sung by Cliff Edwards and a chorus who were pelted by a downpour.
As you will see in the film, the fictional Monumental Pictures has trouble trying to find the right place to put the microphone while making The Dancing Cavalier. It all is interesting to see since The Artist came out and, even if you have seen Singin' In The Rain before, you will still find it edifying to know how a silent film was made.
MGM had been making musicals for ten years and won Best Picture for 1929 for The Broadway Melody when sound came in. For Singin' In The Rain the studio searched through various departments to find things that would enhance the production. They used the same tables, chairs, rugs and chandeliers from the Greta Garbo silent, The Flesh And The Devil, and Gene Kelly rides in the same jalopy used by Mickey Rooney in the Andy Hardy series.
When it came time to do the title song, the steps in the rain were choreographed to go along with the words in the song. They needed a lot of rain but at 5p.m. It was in the summer when they began to shoot the scene, and they didn't have enough water because the residents of Culver City were using the water for their lawns. The studio set up drain pipes all over the are and this allowed them to get the water they needed. Kelly later said he had a bad cold the day they did it on East Side Street, and it remains one of the finest moments ever in the American musical.
The key songs were taken from other shows: Broadway Melody and You Were Meant from Me came from Broadway Melody, Fit As A Fiddle from George White's Music Hall Varieties (1932),Beautiful Girl from Stage Mother and Going Hollywood (both 1933), All I Do Is Dream Of You from Sadie McKee (1934), You Are My Lucky Star and Broadway Rhythm from Broadway Melody of 1936, Would You from San Francisco (1936), and Good Morning from 1939 film version of Babes In Arms.
One of the best musical numbers in Singin' In The Rain is The Broadway Ballet where Kelly dances with Cyd Charisse. It took two weeks to shoot after a month of rehearsals. Kelly worked out the entire routine in which he portrayed a young hoofer from New York in The Roaring Twenties from burlesque shows to cheap nightclubs and on to stardom. Musical director Lennie Hayton translated 32 bars from the melodies of Broadway Rhythm and Broadway Melody into a choreographic movement capturing the spirit of the era. It was aupervised by co-director Stanley Donen and assistant Carol Haney.
Looking at Singin' In The Rain today, the chemistry of its three stars work so well they continue to make it memorable in repeated viewings. The songs are all memorable and they bring back the movie like they should.
In her autobiography, My Life, written with Patrick Columbia, Debbie Reynolds says that Donen and Kelly who share directing credit worked well together. Donen looked after the technical end, while Kelly worked closely with the actors. She also describes her work on the film as one of the hardest things she has ever done after childbirth.
Singin' In The Rain remains one of the top musicals ever made.
April 4, 2012
Copyright Rick Jackson 2012