Singin' in the Rain (1952)
 
Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds
Singin' in the Rain features on everyone's 'best film' list and has rarely had a bad review. And it's easy to see why.

Singin' in the Rain is a professionally manufactured article, with all the right hooks. When it first came out every young male in the audience sighed over the freshness, the pertness, the wholesomeness of Debbie Reynolds, the girl next door, the one you could take home to Mom, but the wet dreams that night were for the long legs of Cyd Charisse. In 1952 Singin' in the Rain was every adolescent's favourite film - but we all have to grow up sometime.

Singin' in the Rain is a film strong on humour, but we should ask ourselves what it is that we find so funny. Are we laughing at at a woman because she has a speech impediment? Are we laughing at her because she is not very bright? But unfortunately we are. And this - and other - objectionable humour is the mainstay of the plot.

The scene in Singin' in the Rain featuring the microphone is hilarious - but was it quite so funny for those on the studio lot who had gone through the pain of the transition to sound? What did the silent actors and actresses who had failed their sound test feel when they saw themselves parodied by the industry they had helped to build? Or those who believed their test had been fixed so that their contract could be voided? It's rather like laughing at Dunkirk - not everyone got off the beach.

But truth or taste doesn't matter in Singin' in the Rain. It was a vehicle for Mr Ego - oops! sorry, Mr Kelly. He is never off screen. Naturally Gene Kelly didn't want Debbie Reynolds who the studio were insisting on - Reynolds wasn't a good enough dance partner to show off his splendid talents, hence the pretentious (and now very dated) number with Cyd Charisse.

Although Debbie Reynolds is the female lead, she never gets a solo spot, only Donald O'Connor gets that. But even in Donald O'Connor's Make 'Em Dance routine, Gene Kelly is present at the start of the scene and an unseen audience for the remainder. However at least Donald O'Connor had enough clout to ensure he got a solo spot - his usual zany routine that he did so well, and so predictably.

Try the spin-off with Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds, I Love Melvin. It's Donald O'Connor's show, but at least Debbie Reynolds gets a chance to show that she can dance in this film.

Singin' in the Rain is cynically aimed at those with an IQ of a twelve-year old. We see a film preview, which is nothing like a real preview. We see Donald O'Connor metamorphose from ex-vaudeville dancer into an orchestra conducter. We are expected to believe that the Jean Hagen character can use her contract to blackmail the studio. (Pigs flying come to mind.) And the ultimate insult to our intelligence - and to femininity - is the love affair between Kelly and Reynolds. In Singin' in the Rain we only ever see Gene Kelly's side - Debbie Reynolds is never alone on screen. We are told that Kelly has been searching high and low for Reynolds, but we never see it. The affair is over in a flash, culminating in Kelly singing You Were Meant For Me while Reynolds remains motionless up a ladder.

We are now less than halfway through Singin' in the Rain and that's the end of the romance - the next significant appearance of Debbie Reynolds is as one of Gene Kelly's pals when she and Donald O'Connor lay on a supper for Gene Kelly after the failure of the Dueling Cavalier. Not one hint of reality. No one consoles themselves with a whisky bottle. Not even a glass of wine. In this make believe world, they make do with the conspicuous consumption of large glasses of milk.

There is one problem with Singin' in the Rain which can not be laid at the doors of the production. The music. This is not the first cinematic outing of the number Singin' In The Rain. That had been written in the 1920s, the Jazz Age. But music had changed since then. The vibrancy of the syncopated rhythms of the Jazz Age had been lost, dumbed-down into the straitjacket of 1930s' big-band Swing. When the film was made, popular music was well on its way to the four-square banality of the early 1950s. It wouldn't be until the arrival of Rock N' Roll in 1955 that some vitality reappeared in the popular music scene.

It is instructive to image what the number Singin In The Rain would have originally have sounded like in the Jazz Age - and then compare it to the plodding 'dum-te-dumb-dumb' version performed on the film.

Final verdict? Singin' in the Rain is a cynical and tasteless film. Yes, it's a slick production, but so is a Big Mac.

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