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It's Hollywood in 1927. Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are the biggest stars
in town - and a couple off-screen as well as on, or so gossip has it. In reality, the two can't stand
each other. But then a bigger threat to showbiz careers comes along: the talking picture...
To make a good film is difficult enough, as about half a dozen people on both sides of the camera need to be on form. To make a great film needs something extra, be it chemistry or plain luck. It's easier to point it out than to define it, but whatever 'it' is, Singin' In The Rain has it in spades. This is quite simply the greatest film musical comedy ever made. Note the words 'film musical'. Although some of the songs already existed, Adolph Green and Betty Comden's screenplay is original, and not based on a stage show, although it later became one. Film is its subject matter: the film gives a fascinating glimpse of Hollywood during the transition from the silent era to talkies. There really were actors like Lina Lamont (Garbo's co-star John Gilbert being a famous example) whose careers were threatened because their voices were unsuitable for sound. (You must hear Jean Hagan's voice to believe it.)
Singin' In The Rain shows how you really should film dance numbers. Instead of quick cutting to disguise your dancers' limitations, Donen and Kelly keep the camera far enough back so that we can see the whole of the person, and cut as little as possible. The production numbers' considerable energy comes from the dancers' athleticism than from any camera pyrotechnics. Donald O'Connor's showpiece Make 'Em Laugh proves this on its own. And if you're still in doubt that all this is cinematic, just look at the crane shot as Kelly sings 'There's a smile on my face' during the title song.
Energy is something this film has in abundance. One reason for its greatness is that that many of the people involved were at their absolute peak. It's arguable that Donald O'Connor (as Don's lifelong musician friend Cosmo) and Debbie Reynolds (as up-and-coming actress Kathy, whom Don falls for) were never better, and Jean Hagen certainly wasn't. Kelly, as the star and co-director, could have dominated the film, but wisely he lets everyone have their chance to shine and the film is better as a result. You could nitpick that the Kelly/Reynolds duet in the film studio goes on a little, and the 12-minute 'Broadway Ballet' (featuring a guest appearance from Cyd Charisse) is, along with its counterpart in An American In Paris, an early indication of Kelly's serious-dance pretensions that took over entirely in the three-part ballet movie Invitation To The Dance. But this is quibbling. The 'Freed Unit' at MGM made many fine musicals, but Singin' in the Rain is perhaps their finest achievement.
Singin' In The Rain is available on DVD in two versions. Both are in full-screen format, respecting the film's correct aspect ratio. The earlier release (which can be bought very cheaply) has the original mono soundtrack and no extras. The 50th anniversary release is a two-disc set. Its soundtrack is remixed into Dolby digital 5.1 and disc one extras are - commentary with Reynolds, O'Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, Stanley Donen, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, director Baz Luhrmann, and author/film historian Rudy Behlmer; Singin' Inspirations (details of films which inspired this one), Reel Sound (landmarks in the development of talking pictures), theatrical trailer, awards, cast and crew biographies. Disc two has What A Glorious Feeling documentary (35 minutes), Musicals Great Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit at MGM documentary (86 minutes), excerpts from features where the songs originated (40 minutes), scoring stage sessions audio feature (90 minutes), You Are My Lucky Star outtake, stills gallery, and an 'Easter Egg' featuring Baz Luhrmann.
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