I watched Singin’ in the Rain again today, after my family gave me the DVD for Christmas. (We celebrated a bit early so that most of us could be together.) I remembered from my last viewing of it that it seem to come to rather an abrupt end, and that the storyline wasn’t up to much. It takes a good idea – the changeover from the silent movies, when people with nothing in the way of a voice could still be an attractive star, to the talkies, when such people either had to learn to speak or quit. That’s the storyline, and it would have been good if it had been developed still further. But it’s merely a hat to hang the songs on, and some of the songs don’t hang too well.
The songs and dancing on their own are fine – in fact there are several hit songs there (and a couple of duds: Moses Supposes, and Gotta Dance) and there is a typical ‘serious’ dance towards the end, with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse suddenly introduced into the film. This section, as these sections always were, is superbly danced -–the sequence with Charisse trailing an immensely long scarf like a cloud behind her is wonderfully handled. And of course there’s Singin’ in the Rain itself, which apart from its exuberance, isn’t all that remarkable a piece of dancing. Even Donald O’Connor’s hectic Make ‘em Laugh falls flat these days, although he works immensely hard at it. Perhaps in a full theatre with some good laugh-out-loud people it would still come off.
So in some senses the film’s something of a disappointment, in spite of all the talent involved. It treats the Jean Hagen character (the one with the shrill and squeaky voice who won’t make the talkies using her own voice) badly, making her something of a villainess by the end, when in fact she’s done little more than be in love with the wrong man, and have a voice she can’t help. I found it hard not to be sympathetic with her, for all her foibles, and even in spite of her attempts to blackmail her studio.
Donald O’Connor’s character is plain annoying; perhaps it worked much better in the fifties. There’s almost no chemistry between Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, although both of them are good, of course, and they’re not helped by a romance that’s never developed properly in any sense. It starts off well, but by the middle of the film we’re meant to assume that it’s a done thing, and the ending is a fizzer as a result.
In the end, it’s the song and dance stuff that saves the movie, from the early piece with Kelly and O’Connor in some vaudeville act, using fake violins, or Good Morning, when those two and Reynolds sail through what seems to be a never-ending house, or the long dance section based on Gotta Dance, or even the Moses Supposes scene. Fast forward through the story bits, and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience still.