Thursday, February 2, 2017

Singin' in the Rain on the big screen

Singin’ in theRain (1952) recently received a national limited release in cinemas around the country.  It’s a movie that revives that old-time enthusiasm and appreciation for the entertainer.  We have a lot of celebrities nowadays, but fewer multi-talented and trained-by-experience entertainers.

It’s often called one of the best movie movies ever made, and this may be only in part because  of its clever parody of the crisis in Hollywood when silent movies shifted to sound; in large measure it is because of the musical numbers which serve a dual purpose.  They certainly move the plot along, as is the function of a musical number, but each number is also a stand-alone piece that can be lifted from the movie and appreciated as a pure moment of vaudevillian showmanship.  Many of them are “big” numbers, like “Make “Em Laugh”, “Good Morning”, the “Gotta Dance” sequence, and the iconic title song number with Gene Kelly splashing in the studio soundstage streets.

The cinema audience with whom I watched the movie reacted to the big numbers with murmured, almost awed, “Wow, that was good.”

This, despite the audience not being what I would easily identify as a crowd of old movie buffs.  Indeed, though I do believe most were at least familiar with the movie—I judged that the majority of them were middle aged or senior citizens, with only a few younger parents with children—the overall impression I got was that most had perhaps not seen the movie in a very long time.  They seemed surprised by the plot turns. 

Of course, in any group of movie goers, some people will laugh in places we do not expect them to, and remain silent in other spots that we might think are uproariously funny. 

“Haven’t you seen that movie before?  Don’t you have it?” I was asked before I headed out to the warehouse-cum-gulag-styled-construction cinema, as I am in infrequent visitor there.  As any classic film fan can tell you, when it comes to seeing an old favorite on the big screen, as it’s meant to be seen—no, we really haven’t seen it before.  The colors are captivating.  I never noticed before the movie poster in the background during the scene where Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor are standing outside the theater—one of them featured William Haines.  Few non-classic film fans today will know who he was.  Did the public remember his film career in 1952 when this film was originally released?  Was this a tribute by the industry he abandoned because he refused to hide his homosexuality?

I noticed wrinkles in Cyd Charisse’s stockings when she drapes one beautiful gam over Kelly’s shoulder.

The most fascinating effect for me were the scenes set inside a theater, where the camera pulls back and we see row upon row of audience.  Watching this scene in a modern cinema that has stadium seating, it looked as if the last row of the movie “audience” was the first row in our cinema audience.  I felt as if were in the same theater as the movie characters, that I was in one of the back rows of the same theater.

I enjoyed the intro and outro by Ben Mankiewicz—which I think are very helpful for general public audiences not as familiar with classic films—and marveled along with the audience, his mention of Donald O’Connor requiring hospitalization after his frenetic “Make ‘Em Laugh” number, O’Connor’s being a four-pack a day smoker at the time.  (The recent passing of Debbie Reynolds also brought soft exclamations of appreciation when her name appeared on screen.)

The information served to underscore the effect the audience had of this being a celebration of the entertainer – someone whose work on screen is not necessarily only a product of special effects or any movie magic we have become accustomed to, i.e. a packaged performance in a modern movie that tries to impress us with “reality.” 

For this film, and this showing, the audience readily marveled at the talent and the exhausting work of the entertainer, not just as part of a splashy show, but as an individual who for that golden, ethereal moment, stands out from the piece.  A show stopper.

“Wow…that was good.”


Come back next Thursday when we trail the marvelous Jean Arthur in a silly romp through Depression-era Easy Living (1935).

The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon.


Caftan Woman said...

The wrinkle in Cyd's stockings - that stood out for me when we saw Singin' in the Rain in the theatre a few years ago.

The place was packed. I don't remember ever feeling so crowded in a cineplex. The audience was a mixed crowd and I believe the younger folks and newbies outnumbered us "vets" at this screening. The young couple behind us were definitely first-timers and they were gleeful in their discovery.

I don't think I truly appreciated the tribute to the entertainer, as you so eloquently pointed out. It is the show business that fills my time and I don't believe I've taken the time to see it from the other fellows point of view, those who spend their time with today's fare. Something to consider. Thanks.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, CW. Funny that you would notice her stockings as well. I suppose the "entertainer" is a bit out of fashion. We have singers, of course, and stand-up comics, but people, headliners like Danny Thomas, or that self-styled and self-absorbed "world's greatest entertainer" Al Jolson, don't seem to be the thing anymore. Maybe it's too exhausting, for them and for us.

Kristen Winiarski said...

Love Singin in the Rain! Great to see it on the big screen too!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Welcome, Kristen. Always great to hear from another SINGIN' IN THE RAIN fan!

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