music friday: “shake, rattle and roll”
you’re gonna see her name a lot in the next couple of weeks

#39: singin’ in the rain (stanley donen and gene kelly, 1952)

(This is the 12th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

With Singin’ in the Rain, I officially enter the “old movies” part of the show. My first eleven choices so far were all less than 30 years old; only 7 of the upcoming 39 are that “new.” You can use this as a sign of my biases … I tend to give more weight to older movies in rankings like this.

Singin’ in the Rain is an excellent example of the distinction I make between “favorite” and “best.” I admire Gene Kelly, think this is his best picture, and believe he belongs somewhere on this list (it’s not hard, this movie really is a favorite of mine). But Singin’ in the Rain in not my favorite musical … to take one example, Gigi made it to my last cuts, and I like it more than Singin’ in the Rain, but I prefer what Singin’ in the Rain “represents” to what Gigi represents in terms of the history of movie musicals, so it makes this list while Gigi falls off.

I suppose I should talk about what it represents, or rather, what Gene Kelly represents. His dancing style (for that matter, his entire screen presence, which is tied to his dancing) is brash, muscular … it’s “American.” He and Fred Astaire really are the two masters of classic American dance-on-film, and they couldn’t be any more different. I prefer Astaire, but there is no denying Kelly. Kelly is also ambitious. He regularly tried for innovation, embraced the possibilities film offered the art of dance, and if he sometimes overreached, he gets credit for the effort.

Singin’ in the Rain is more than Gene Kelly, though, which is why it is his best movie, and why many consider it America’s finest movie musical. The setting (the beginning of the sound era in motion pictures) is perfect, and works on its own as a loving sendup of the films of that time. Kelly’s co-stars get their moments … Debbie Reynolds is consistently fine, although she doesn’t really get a number to show off, Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘em Laugh” remains astonishing, and Cyd Charisse defies my attempts to put her appeal into words (she has to be seen to be believed). The extended “Broadway Melody” set piece shows Kelly’s ambitions at their finest (and Cyd ain’t too shabby, herself), while “Singin’ in the Rain” is Kelly’s most iconic moment.

 

 

Comments were generally in the “yep, that’s a great movie” vein. The above was posted just before Osama bin Laden was killed, so the truth is, the comments took a right turn about halfway through.

 

Comments

Tomas

I didn't comment on FB at the time but if I had I would have said nothing more than I agree with most of what you say here. It's not my favorite musical (and I kind of think Gene Kelly is better in "American in Paris") but this one movie has three of the top five musical numbers of all time. This movie just fires on all pistons when it comes to the genre, doesn't it? It seems superficial to say Kelly and his dancing are not effeminate and that makes him good but his masculinity and physicality allow him to do something cinematically in the titular number that most dancers just could never do without making his character unbelievable. Anyway, good analysis...

Steven Rubio

I'd settle for the term "physicality", but I think Kelly would agree that "masculinity" is a big part of it.

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