When sound stormed cinema, it put many out of work. The leap seems trivial now, but a hundred years ago, it was the impossibly steep mountain so many failed to climb. Singin’ in the Rain looks to capture that strife and struggle, as the age of Technicolor, sound and so much more dawns on three actors adapting to the microphones, vocal choices and image associated with the star of the show. The second of many directing collaborations between Stanley Donen and silver-screen star Gene Kelly, Singin’ in the Rain is their finest hour together, yet still stumbles and falls as the music plays on.
There is no escaping the escapism Singin’ in the Rain brings, but there is much work needed in its story and dialogue. It has aged poorly, and no amount of phenomenal, innovative set design can change such an issue. Kelly, for me, was never the sharpest on-screen star. His athletic ability and a keen eye for choreography are meaningless when they are presented as the red, white and blue soul of America. It feels tacky, no matter how lively and upbeat it may be. These moments are enjoyable but provoke little emotion. There is mastery in the set design and hours of hard work put into these routines, but they do little for the heart and much for the eye. They look exceptional, but there is no desire or real emotion, and much of that comes from Kelly’s blinkered outlook.
Donen was the brains behind this one, as he was with Charade. He has a proven track record, and while his efforts with Kelly here are solid, they do not elicit the charms of his other works. At least Singin’ in the Rain has some charm to it. While it may not be much to invest in, there is still the undeniable precedence it takes over American musicals. It is a far stretch better than the other musicals, both home and abroad, that Kelly would make. Swooping through with masterful control of the camera, there is a depth to the stage and sound design, but not to the characters who are there with the sole purpose of expressing their emotive range. They are simply forgettable characters. Thankfully, there is no real harm in that when Singin’ in the Rain has its sights set on a bigger target.
But for all its faults and jerky reactions, Singin’ in the Rain as a concept and a satire of the handwringing nature of 1920s Hollywood is rather strong. There are monumentally memorable moments within, ones that shaped the course of filmmaking for generations to come. They are wonderful to experience, but a slog to get there, for the story is mired by its dialogue. Perhaps it is a personal problem. Kelly never sparked much for me, and his charisma here is wasted on deaf ears. It will work for those that enjoyed him in An American in Paris, as it is much the same as what he does here. He is laughably optimistic about the bleak future ahead; he splashes and spins his way through the rainy streets. What a glorious feeling that must be. It is a sad shame indeed that I never felt the same.