Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Singin' In the Rain (1952)
Studio Line: Warner Bros. - What a Glorious Feeling!

In 1927, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are a famous on-screen romantic pair. Lina, however, mistakes the on-screen romance for real love. Don has worked hard to get where he is today, with his former partner Cosmo. When Don and Lisa's latest film is transformed into a musical, Don has the perfect voice for the songs. But Lisa - well, even with the best efforts of a diction coach, they still decide to dub over her voice. Kathy Selden is brought in, an aspiring actress, and while she is working on the movie, Don falls in love with her. Will Kathy continue to "aspire", or will she get the break she deserves?

Director: Stanley Donan, Gene Kelly
Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Douglas Fowley, Rita Moreno
Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress-Jean Hagen; Best Music-Lennie Hayton, 1953.
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1, Spanish & French Digital Mono; subtitles English, French, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 60 chapters; rated NR; 103 min.; $19.98; street date 6/6/00.
Supplements: Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B/D-

Frequent readers of my reviews have likely noticed my oft-stated antipathy toward movie musicals. (Actually, I hate stage musicals even more, but that 's a different issue.) The format actively annoys me; while I've found some pleasure in a few of the films - despite their songs, I kind of liked My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music - I still simply can't stomach the vast majority of musicals.

However, there's always been one exception, one movie musical that I really liked despite my negative opinion of the format: 1952's Singin' In the Rain. Why does this one stand out to me? A lot of it has to do with the interesting story. Look at the two musicals I mentioned above; both have strong narratives and interesting characters to support all of the silly singing and dancing. Too many musicals - such as Gigi - discard any kind of substantial plot and just toss out a lot of tunes in their place. Also, a lot of these films have excessive numbers of song and dance routines, many of which grind the narrative to a halt. I thought Oliver! and West Side Story suffered from those flaws.

SITR, on the other hand, creates a nice balance between story and songs, with only one exception that I'll discuss later. The tale largely focuses on a budding romance between movie star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and aspiring actress/singer Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), but it does so against an unusual backdrop: the transition of films from silents to "talkies". It's a clever tactic that makes the picture much more interesting than the regular "boy meets girl" fare; although it's clear the movie takes an unrealistic and cartoonish viewpoint of the era, I really loved all of the material about the silent films and the problems their creators encountered when the move to sound occurred.

It's that plot path that makes the story work, since the film's not so obviously limited to the usual romantic schmaltz. Granted, it's virtually inevitable that Don and Kathy will become a couple; we know this the second they lock eyes. However, since the movie involves so much other action, it means that we're treated to many different elements. As such, if romance isn't your thing, there's something else upon which you can hang your hat.

SITR is acted and shot in a pretty cartoony, broad manner. Normally I'd consider that a negative, but it works very well in this instance. Even though the silent days weren't all that far in the past when SITR was made, they existed long enough ago to already seem semi-mythical, and the movie treats them as such. SITR half-spoofs, half-salutes those years, and the combination works nicely; the silent era isn't treated with excessive reverence, but we sense affection toward it, so the mockery doesn't come across as mean-spirited.

Much of the reason SITR seems so good comes from the cast. Kelly was never better than as Lockwood; he combines mild celebrity arrogance with his usual "boy next door" charm and creates an endearing yet still believable character. His chemistry with his co-stars is always solid; he and Reynolds hit it off especially well, and the moment in which they finally solidify their relationship is happily touching.

I liked Donald O'Connor as Lockwood's lifelong friend Cosmo, though he chewed a little more scenery than I'd prefer. Best of the supporting batch, however, is clearly Jean Hagen as shrill-voiced actress Lina Lamont. The vast majority of the memorable non-musical moments belong to her as she creates a hilariously over-the-top harpy with a voice that'd irritate Fran Drescher.

So how about those musical numbers, anyway? As I noted, those are the parts of these kinds of movies I dislike the most, but while I can't say really cared for the music in SITR, I do feel that the tunes are much more enjoyable than most. SITR probably features the same percentage of running time devoted to songs as most other musicals, but it sure doesn't feel that way. Most of the numbers are pretty superfluous to the plot - musicals tend to toss out songs just for the heck of it - but they integrated fairly nicely into the story. Best of the bunch remains the stellar title song, with its career-defining solo dance for Kelly, but quite a few other tunes fit in nicely with the plot and don't feel "tacked on", unlike most of this film's brethren.

The one significant deviation from this rule comes from the "Broadway Melody", an exceedingly-long musical number that strives to out-do the famous ending dance from An American In Paris. Not coincidentally, that film - which appeared one year prior to SITR - starred Kelly, who also choreographed both pictures. I couldn't stand the big dance number at the end of AAIP, but it remains famous and beloved by many, apparently, and it clearly made a big splash at the time. Through the "Broadway Melody", Kelly creates a production number highly reminiscent of that from the earlier film.

It's equally as dull and useless, in my opinion. Actually, it may serve even less purpose, since the piece in AAIP at least related to the movie's plot. The "Broadway Melody" seems to exist just to replicate previous glory, and I think it's a complete failure. It grinds the plot to a total stop for more than 13 minutes, but it becomes tedious long before the end of that period.

That's too bad, as the "Broadway Melody" is the only significant flaw in what is otherwise a very funny, fresh and entertaining little movie. Nonetheless, I still really like Singin' In the Rain, as it remains bright and perky after almost 50 years. Even if you detest musicals, this one's worth a look; it won't persuade you to like the genre, but you'll like it anyway.

The DVD:

Singin' In the Rain appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the DVD provided a fairly erratic picture, it usually looked quite good.

Sharpness generally appeared pretty crisp and concise, though a few scenes appeared somewhat soft and hazy. It's usually wider shots that come across as fuzzy, and these examples are fairly infrequent, though they happen often enough to cause some problems. Moiré effects and jagged edges are minor concerns. Print flaws were pretty slight as well, especially considering the age of the material. Some white speckles and black grit could be seen, as well as a few nicks. No more significant defects like tears, hairs or large scratches were noticed, but occasional grain marred the presentation. As with the other concerns, grain wasn't a consistent issue, but it could be moderately heavy at times; check out the "Beautiful Girl" number for an example of this.

For the most part, colors seemed absolutely lovely, with some genuinely eye-popping hues at times; SITR is a bright and colorful movie and the DVD often showed off these hues to great effect. That said, there were also some moments that looked slightly drab or pale, and skin tones often were overly brown and murky. Black levels appeared consistently strong, with deep and rich dark parts. Shadow detail seemed clearly visible, with appropriate opacity but no signs of excessive heaviness.

One segment of SITR best demonstrates all of the movie's strengths and flaws: the "Broadway Ballet". Much of this extended dance number looked absolutely stunning. When Kelly trots in front of the neon and chorus girls, the entire piece seemed clear, crisp, bright and bold, with some stunning colors. However, once we hit chapter 48 and the "ballet" portion of the piece begins, the image goes downhill. The focus seemed excessively soft and blurry, and the colors looked bland and murky. Once Kelly gets back to the neon, all appeared well again, but the scenes in between seemed quite weak. Overall, the image of SITR is a balance of these moments; most of the movie presented a very strong picture, but some parts of it were average at best.

Singin' In the Rain offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that slightly opened up the original monaural mix. The soundstage presented the music with nice stereo separation, and the score also spread modestly to the rear channels. Other than that, however, the track remained entirely monaural as far as I could tell; I heard no instances in which any audio other than music emanated from the side and surround speakers. And you know what? That's fine with me. I like the fact that the track broadened the music but kept the rest of the sound fairly true to the original.

Audio quality appeared fine for the era. Dialogue was a little thin and tinny but seemed clear and intelligible throughout the film; it displayed no signs of edginess or roughness. Effects were clean and acceptably realistic without any distortion. The music appeared a bit too bright and also displayed little dynamic range, but it was largely smooth and listenable. The track showed few signs of any form of background noise. I wasn't terribly impressed with the audio quality of SITR, but it seemed more than acceptable for a nearly 50-year-old film.

Less exciting are the DVD's supplements, which are nearly non-existent. We get the movie's theatrical trailer and that's it. Why do so many classic films have such extras-free releases? It's a shame.

Nonetheless, Singin' In the Rain remains a pretty good DVD just because it's a pretty good movie. It's probably my all-time favorite musical, and while that may sound like faint praise, the fact I've seen SITR at least six or seven times and still like it should mean something. The DVD provides inconsistent but usually very good picture plus fairly nice sound though it includes virtually no supplements. Despite that weakness, SITR is a classic film that would make a nice addition to your library.

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