Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen
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“Gotta dance!” cries Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) halfway through Singin’ in the Rain. Almost immediately, he’s surruonded by dancers as they strut, sway and sashay through a vibrant Broadway scene. Arms stretch, feet kick, teeth glisten, and all is right with the world. Then, everything disappears and we’re back in the screening room at his studio, as Don finishes his pitch for a new musical. “I can’t quite visualise it,” comes the straight-faced reply from producer R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell). “I’ll have to see it on film first.”
That tiny sequence, which delivers a fantasy set piece inside a fantasy set piece stuffed with impeccable choreography and irresistible music, is an audacious, post-modern, dazzling display of wit and creativity. And that’s just Singin’ in the Rain getting started. Gene Kelly and co-director the late, great Stanley Donen go on to do incredible things in their 1952 extravaganza, things that still make your jaw drop today.
The film tells the story of Hollywood transitioning from silent cinema to the talkies, a seismic shift in showbiz that sweeps up Don and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), two titans of the silent era. Together with his friend, Cosmo (Donald O’Connor), they find themselves thrust into the brave new world, but while Don adjusts fairly quickly to the idea of actually being heard on camera, the path is far from smooth for Lina. “I can’t stand ‘im!” she repeats over and over for her patient dialogue coach, before going on to rustle every item of clothing and drown her dialogue out – much to the hilarity of test screening audiences. Enter Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), a rising star whose path crosses fortuitously with Don, and ends up dubbing over Lina’s dialogue for the final cut – a process they try to carry out in secrecy.
It’s a premise that opens up endless opportunities for inventive gags, as the silent stars find their voices disappear every time they turn away from the basic early microphones or struggle with miming on camera. And yet the self-aware script, which balances Hollywood satire with constant one-liners, is just the icing on the cake, as Donen and Kelly breathlessly line up one slapstick masterclass after another – each one executed flawlessly by the radiant lead cast. It’s one thing to run up walls (like O’Connor in Make ‘Em Laugh) or dance through puddles (like Kelly in the titular number), but to do it while belting out catchy tunes – from Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed – elevates everything to something borderline transcendent. Even without the music, this would be a treat, with engaging characters, a winning romance and defiantly old-school acrobatics. Throw them in, thuogh, and you have one of the most infectiously feel-good films ever made. It’s a movie that doesn’t need to visualise things, but celebrates the rush and exhilaration of pure imagination – then goes ahead and visualises it anyway. Gotta dance? You’ll be hard pushed not to join in.
Singin’ in the Rain is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial.
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