Plot: What’s it about?
“What a Glorious Feeling!”
It’s hard to imagine, but it’s been sixty years since Singin’ in the Rain graced the silver screen for the first time. Granted, “yours truly” was still about twenty years in the future; but watching a movie like this makes me want to capture the feeling of what it must have been like for audiences seeing it for the first time. Most likely kids will be singing the familiar title song long before they actually see the film–I did. And what of that title song? How many of us instantly recognize the image of Gene Kelly hanging off a light post, a closed umbrella in one hand singing the dictates of his heart? It’s just as recognizable as Dorothy and Toto, Scarlett and Rhett and E.T. flying across the moon. The accolades don’t stop there, either. Not only was Singin’ in the Rain recognized commercially and critically at the time of it’s release (though it only garnered two Oscar nominations, more on that later); but its enduring appeal has yet to diminish. Recently the American Film Institute saw fit to rank it the 5th best movie of all time, the 16th funniest and 16th most romantic (and that’s from a pool of some 40,000 movies, folks). The tagline says it all…”What a glorious feeling!”
Part of the enduing appeal of the film is the fact that it works on many different levels. Not only is it considered the best musical of all time, but even without the music it’s still a great watch. It’s hard to imagine without the music, but the comedy is still there as is the romance. Another aspect of the film is the fact that it uses actual events from Hollywood’s past to center the plot around. The film takes place in the late 1920’s and the world of Hollywood is going full swing. Then, a movie called The Jazz Singer opens to commercial acclaim. What’s different about The Jazz Singer is the fact that it combines synchronized sound and music (i.e. it’s the first “talkie”) and the public craves more. The two Hollywood leading stars are Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) who give off the impression that they’re just as hot of an item off the screen as they are on. When it comes to silent films, Don and Lina are on top of the world; but as their latest film “The Dueling Cavalier” receives a less than stellar reaction at a test screening, the studio decides to make it into a talking picture. In a nutshell, that’s the plot; but there’s more of course and that’s where the film excels.
Don Lockwood and his partner, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) have come to Hollywood via the “long way.” From their early days of playing their musical act in bars, they have finally made it into show business as musicians. While all of the other stars shine bright, Don and Cosmo are watching from the sidelines. Then, by chance, Don is given a chance to fill in for a stunt man. Giving it his all, he succeeds and he becomes the star that he always thought he could be. Cosmo lives in his shadow, but Don hasn’t forgotten his friend and the two remain close. This is told in a sugar-coated version by Don at the screening of his new movie and gives us a peek at a dance number with Don and Cosmo (“Fit as a Fiddle”). This is where Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) enters the scene, quite literally. As Don is being mobbed by some adoring fans, he literally makes a break for it and lands in her car. Claiming to be a “serious actress” of the stage, she professes not to know who he is and the two’s initial meeting isn’t a good one. Things don’t change much when she tries to throw a pie at Don at a party and ends up hitting Lina in the face. Kathy is therefore fired from her job and the future between Don and her don’t look too bright.
During all of this, the movie is still being made and despite some obvious setbacks, it’s progressing. Sound adds another angle to the film (within the movie) that no one had taken into consideration. Lina’s voice is equivalent to that of nails on a chalkboard! Dictation coaches are hired for the two stars which gives rise to my personal favorite song in the film, ‘Moses Supposes’. Eventually, a plan is hatched between Don, Cosmo and Kathy (after a long brainstorming session which leads into the ‘Good Morning’ song) in which Kathy will use her voice in place of Lina’s for the film. Sacrificing her own career for the love of Don, the plan works…only too well. Lina wants her to become her permanent voice for all pictures, much to the dismay of Don.
Singin’ in the Rain is one of those movie musicals you just have to see to appreciate. The images stay with you forever and it’s actually one of the movies that get better upon repeat viewings. The story is fresh and fun, and though the only consistent thing that I have heard “wrong” with the film is the overly-lavish last musical number, ‘Broadway Melody’ in which Kelly tries to top his own dance number from the previous year in An American in Paris. However, if this is the only thing people can find “wrong” with the film, then it’s still a winner. The film has held up for six decades and with the new Blu-ray, it’s a sure bet that this movie will be winning over new fans for decades more to come. Truly an example of “they don’t make ’em like they used to.” The film gets better and better with age and viewings and it’s a literal no-brainer that this should be a part of anyone’s collection. Highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
I can remember back in 2002, when I was writing my review for the Special Edition DVD, how good this movie looked. I’d seen the bare bones edition and compared that with the new DVD and marveled at the improvement in picture quality. A decade has passed since then and we’re now treated to a new Blu-ray of this classic title. This is one of the jewels in Warner’s crown, so the “royal treatment” is a given. A new 4K transfer was created for this 60th Anniversary release and it’s immediately evident. The 1.33:1 AVC HD full-frame transfer looks brilliant! Colors pop, detail has been improved over the previous DVD and the entire film seems to have a smoothness to it that I didn’t think possible. Contrast and black levels are rock solid. I really could go on and on, but it won’t matter much. Let me just say that this looks jaw-droppingly amazing and it’s certainly indicative of Warner’s commitment to their classic catalog titles.
Audio: How does it sound?
It always raises my eyebrow when I write the words “DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack” for a film that’s over 30 years old. Still, Warner has given this classic musical a new soundtrack that does sound better than its Dolby Digital 5.1 counterpart. There are plenty of musical numbers to showcase how good this sounds and for a film sixty years old, I’m still amazed. Dialogue sounds rich and full and even Lina Lamont’s character’s shrill voice has that extra little “oomph” that makes it that much more annoying. Surrounds kick in, mainly during the musical numbers, for some added resonance. Truthfully this film could have been presented in mono and no one would have complained, but the fact that this sounds so good lends credence to Warner’s commitment to the title. Simply put, it’s amazing.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Warner has gone to great lengths to produce some pretty impressive box sets for some of their classic films (on Blu-ray). In the past year alone we’ve been treated to Citizen Kane, Ben-Hur and Casablanca just to name a few. There’s no time like the present to add Singin’ in the Rain to the mix and for the film’s 60th Anniversary, they’ve pulled out all of the stops. While there’s only one new feature (the rest of the features are ported over from the 2002 Special Edition DVD), this Ultimate Collector’s Edition gives us a few bonuses like an umbrella (that I’ll never open as it won’t fit back into the box), a 40 page book with production photos, three lobby cards and the Blu-ray of the film.
As mentioned, the only real “new” addition to this film in regard to supplements is the new documentary “Singin’ in the Rain: Raining on a New Generation.” Presented in HD, this features interviews with some of the cast members of Glee, choreographers and directors of films like Moulin Rouge, Nine and Chicago. Clearly these folks were influenced by the movie and they tell us of their experiences seeing it for the first time. Paula Abdul is even interviewed (back in the day she was a choreographer) and tells us of her experience with the film. It’s nice to see a new generation influenced by this wonderful classic, though there’s no telling how much longer Debbie Reynolds will be with us – I’d have liked to see some more content with her. There’s also a musical jukebox of sorts that lets you select your own playlist of songs and then select them and your’e taken to that spot in the film. Think of it as a visual iPod if you will. The remainder of the special features are the same and we do get a DVD of the film as well in this set. With that said, here’s a breakdown of the previously-released special features.
We start out with a commentary track by Debbie Reynolds, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, Stanley Donen (Co-Director, Gene Kelly was the other), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Screenwriters), Rudy Behlmer (Film Historian) and Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge). The tracks are recorded separately and each segment is introduced by a moderator. The actors’ tracks are essentially that of the shoot, how long it took and the dance numbers. Luhrmann’s is the most interesting as he is in awe of such a great movie (he is trying to re-invent the Hollywood musical with Moulin Rouge). All in all, it’s a great track, though there are some spots here and there as they are most likely just watching the magic on the screen. Some other features can be found on the first disc as well. “Reel Sound” highlights the other silent films of the era (1925-28) and aside from a text-based description, you can click on the posters to the right. My personal favorite is the full “Toot, toot, tootsie” song by Al Jolsen from The Jazz Singer. Interesting and a bit of an easter egg as well. A real bonus was the “Singin’ Inspirations” which is essentially the entire movie with a little highlight reel that can be selected with your remote control (or mouse). Clicking on this gives you some additional information about the movie and it returns once the supplement is over. A bit like the Infinifilm that New Line has for a select number of their titles. Lastly (on the first disc), some additional features are a bit hidden, but nevertheless still there. The awards section has a few text-based screens of the various awards that the film has garnered over the years and some very brief cast and crew bios are shown as well. The original theatrical trailer (the only supplement from the original “movie-only” disc) is included as well. This brings us to the second disc…
Next up is the documentary, “Musicals Great Musicals” (note the initials). This is more than what I expected as this isn’t so much to do with the film, but it’s more of a concentration on the great Arthur Freed unit of MGM. Mr. Freed was responsible for some of the greatest musicals ever known including this, An American in Paris, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Wizard of Oz, The Harvey Girls and Annie Get Your Gun (just to name a few). Rare footage and interviews only add to the allure of this great documentary. “What a Glorious Feeling” is a new extended featurette hosted by Kathy Seldon herself (Debbie Reynolds) that concentrates solely on Singin’ in the Rain. From script to screen, almost every base is covered and if you’re like me (and if you’re at this point in the review, you are) you’ll enjoy every minute of it. Amazing to think that Gene Kelly’s title song wasn’t even in the first draft of the script! Something that I was unaware of was that most of the songs from Singin’ in the Rain were taken from old movies (“old” then being the late twenties and thirties) and rehashed into new numbers for the film. All the songs are covered and you can select your favorite song and see the film from which it was originally taken. A clever and very interesting concept for this film. An outtake of a song that was cut from the film was the song “You are my Lucky Star” sung by Debbie Reynolds. You can view this in its entirety here. Not a bad song and I think it would have been just fine if left in the film, but nevertheless it’s nice to have it here. A gallery of about 20 photos is also included, though some are obviously from the set of An American in Paris, is also included. Lastly (yes, we’ve reached the end) the “Scoring Stage Sessions” are included. The songs were recorded in a studio and then dubbed into the movie and here you can select a number of songs (complete with mess ups) to listen to.
Words can’t do this film justice. It’s really that good. If you’re someone who can watch this film and not get any enjoyment out of it, you’re someone I don’t want to know. For true fans, this Ultimate Collector’s Edition is the way to go, but if space is an issue and you don’t want/need the physical extras there’s a stand alone Blu-ray also available. Here’s a look at what’s in the box…