Almost forgot to post this month's installment of the Rewind, highlighting great films made before the year of my birth. I thought this posting would highlight a genre that hasn't got a lot of respect until recently. The musical. I know it's not the manliest thing to admit to, but I like a well done musical. Recent years have seen Moulin Rouge! and Chicago as pretty good films, but great musicals came out of the end of Hollywood's golden years.
When you talk about musicals in the 1940's and 1950's, for my money you are talking about Gene Kelley. Kelley took musicals and approached them like he would a sport. Adding great dance and song sequences that were in my opinion unparalleled. He made many great films, but the one you can't go wrong with is Singin' in the Rain. Made in 1952, it is considered the ultimate collaboration between director/actor Kelley, and director Stanley Donen. Kelley would handle all the musical numbers, while Donen directed the storyline. Donen would go on to make several great films, directing Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, Two for the Road, and another true classic, Charade, Cary Grant's last great film.
This is the pinnacle of Kelley's career, he goes on to make several more good films, but he never quite achieves the same success. MGM, who produced the film, cast Don O'Conner, Cyd Charisse and newcomer Debbie Reynolds in the film to add power to the singing and dancing numbers.
The films plot is set around the time of the movie's transition from silents to talkies. Kelley plays a silent film star with actress Jean Hagen, who upon the release of the film The Jazz Singer, realizes that they must make their latest film a talkie. The pair, who have had a string of successful films together, begin reshooting their movie. Hagen's character believes all the tabloid hype about herself and Kelley, and wants to be romantically involved with him. But Kelley has eyes for a chorus girl he met fleeing from the paparazzo. After reshooting the movie, they screen the film and get laughed out of the theatre, as Hagen's character's strong ditsy accent is unbearable, and Kelley's dialog and acting not translating to talkies. Kelley, along with piano playing pal Don O'Conner and chorus girl Debbie Reynolds, hatch a plan to once again reshoot the film as a musical, dubbing Hagen's voice with Reynolds.
For me the best part of the film is that the music numbers don't feel forced, just another part of the story, so breaking in to song or dance just feels like that is where the movie's going. Since its a movie about a musical, it all fits. Kelley is at his best in numbers like Singin' in the Rain, and the grand finale, Gotta Dance, which builds on the work he started in An American in Paris. Singin' in the Rain isn't a great musical, it's a great film, and one of my all time favorites. Check it out.
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