Actor Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) had started out as a stuntman in silent films. He worked his way into acting and eventually became a leading man. Now in 1927 he is a big star and he has been in several silent films with leading lady Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen, who received an Oscar nomination for this performance). Just as they did in real life, the studio had concocted a fake offscreen romance between the two in order to increase interest in the movies they did together. The problem with this for Don is that he can’t stand Lina. To make it even worse, she takes the fake romance way too seriously.
One day while escaping some fans he ends up in the car driven by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). She recognizes him, but instead of being star struck she criticizes him for the cheesy movies he makes. It turns out she’s just a chorus girl, though, so he gets to turn the tables on her.
The studio head shows Don a test of a sound movie – a “talkie”. Don’s not impressed by it. 1927’s The Jazz Singer becomes a smash hit, though, and soon the studio decides that the next Lockwood and Lamont film will be a talkie. What follows are a series of funny scenes with a frustrated director trying to deal with Lamont’s very grating voice and inexperience with having to speak towards the microphone. Later on, a test screening of the film gets laughs from the audience because of the cheesy dialogue Don speaks, such as repeating “I love you” over and over. These problems were copied from real life events that led to the end of the careers of many silent film actors and actresses.
Don’s best friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) comes up with the idea of turning the film into a musical and dubbing Lina Lamont’s speaking and singing voice with Kathy Selden’s. Lamont is furious about this and ensures that no one will ever find out about what Kathy is doing. Things come to a head when the film is a huge success and Lina is asked to perform one of the songs from the film live.
The ironic thing about all of this is that Debbie Reynolds is portraying a woman who dubs the voice of another without getting any credit. In real life, her singing voice was dubbed by Betty Noyes, who received no credit. In addition, actress Jean Hagen actually had a great voice and was just putting on the horrible one. She dubbed the real lines that Debbie Reynold’s character was dubbing for hers. In other words, it’s
’s own voice we hear when her character is talking in the film within a film. Hagen
This was Reynold’s first big film role. She was only 19 when she was cast. At first Gene Kelly gave her a very hard time and she sometimes ended up in tears. She has said that the two hardest things she’s ever done in her life were making this film and giving birth.
O’Connor also had troubles on the set. He was a very heavy smoker and the iconic “Make ‘Em Laugh” sequence where he dances and does stunts all over the stage left him physically ill afterwards. It got worse; the original filming was lost and he ended up having to do it all again. By the way, this song was one of only two original ones in the film (the other being Moses Supposes), and it was even an unacknowledged copy of the earlier song Be a Clown.
Even the iconic scene of Gene Kelly literally singing and dancing in the rain might not have happened if things were a little different. They covered two city blocks on the backlot with tarp to block out the sun for the night scene. They then rigged sprayers for the rain, but to make it show up better on film they mixed milk in with it. There was also a severe water shortage going on at the time. Kelly came out, and even though he was running a high fever, he insisted on running through the whole sequence even though the choreography for it was only worked out at the beginning and the end. They started the water, then the camera, and Kelly proceeded to adlib most of his dance routine. He did the one take…and that’s what ended up in the film.
In addition to making Reynolds a star, this film also raised the career of dancer Cyd Charisse. She had been in films for close to ten years, but always in small roles as, you guessed it, a dancer. After this film she got a co-starring role with Fred Astaire in Band Wagon. Also watch for an early appearance by Rita Moreno in Singin’ in the Rain.
This is a very entertaining film. Sure, the plot isn’t that complex, but I don’t usually watch musicals for the complex plotting in them. The song and dance numbers are great and the comedy is quite funny in places. Unless you hate musicals, I highly recommend this film.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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