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"Singin' In The Rain"
By Jon Matthew

The essence of all great musicals is the production number. The creators of "Singin in the Rain" knew this when they crafted the production numbers "Make em' Laugh," "You Were Meant for Me," "Singin' In The Rain", and "Broadway Ballet" for this musical masterpiece. Like all production numbers, these numbers include singing, dancing, and choreography thrown together to make them all masterpieces. When you include costumes, lighting, special effects, and a cast of hundreds, you advance the plot to new heights. Unexpected transitions lead to dazzling sets in a continuous flow that heightens suspense. Production numbers are thus; downright essential to the success of a musical and cost can't be a factor when orchestrating them into the film.

"Singin' In The Rain" is the best example of what merriment can ensue when Hollywood satirizes itself. Built around the inspired premise of what occurred when Hollywood made the transition from silent films to talking pictures, the movie focuses on Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) two of the most popular stars of the silent era. The problem is that talkies like The Jazz Singer are becoming the new thing. Monumental Pictures wants to make a Lockwood and Lamont talkie but there is one slight problem. Lina Lamont has a screeching voice and can't pronounce words even after help from a speech coach. She is ruthless up to the point of getting a voice over named Kathy Seldon fired. Even after all of Lina's ruthless ambitions the Lockwood and Lamont talkie The Dancing Cavalier ends up being a success.

Donald O' Conner as Cosmo Brown shows his comedic genius in many different ways in this film. His talent truly comes to light in "Make em' Laugh," a number whose source was Cole Porter's "Be A Clown." Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is Cosmo Brown's buddy. Don is depressed over an argument with Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) about movie stars not really being actors. He is also bothered by the fact that silent films are rapidly falling out of favor with the advent of talkies. This is prompted by Seldon's comment about Lockwood and Lamont films, "If you've seen one, you've seen them all." While in a movie studio full of film sets, Cosmo decides to cheer Don up. Cosmo falls downs, turns somersaults, runs up walls, falls off a couch, and jumps straight through the wall to end an already funny sequence of events that compound on each other. O' Conner had to be at his athletic best to film the real life action sequences in this number without special effects. If I had to label "Make em' Laugh" as a certain style, I would have to say it was like watching the jazz version of break dancing.

Kathy and Don are reunited again after she lands a small dancing roll in a movie for Monumental Pictures. They make peace together and then sing a colossal production number called "You Were Meant For Me." The studio is flooded with moonlight, "500,000 kilowatts of stardust, and a soft summer breeze" to provide the perfect setting for the duet. Don declares his love for Kathy in the duet when she is standing on a ladder. The duet is performed in the Astaire-Rogers rich, traditional style that was characterized by intimate duets.

After taking Kathy home, Don performs the most famous dance number in the history of American film, "Singin' In The Rain." An elated Don rejects a cab after taking Kathy home. He commences in on the film's title song, a sequence which is composed of only ten distinct shots featuring Gene Kelly. He skips down the sidewalk, climbs onto lamppost, swings around it, kicks up water, sloshes, saunters, and stomps around full of delight. Kelly then tap-dances through puddles, clicks his heels, and balances on the street curb like a tight ropewalker. I thought the best moment in the whole ballad was when Kelly sang with his closed umbrella at his side while a drainpipe full of rain came falling down on his face. The song terminates when a policeman confronts him and he simply says, "I'm dancin' and singin' in the rain." The song is performed in the Garlandesque style (named for Judy Garland) that is characterized by a simple, emotionally direct solo.

The final production number in the film "Broadway Melody" is by far the largest. Don describes this number as, "one scene and a number…it's a new one. It's for the modern part of the picture." The modern part of the film is performed in a Busby Berkeley-type extravaganza with a cast of hundreds and a myriad of backdrops. Busby Berkely was a choreographer known for his distinctive style of outrageous sets, use of fluid camera movements, sexually suggestive dances and props, his influence is manifold in "Broadway Melody." Don sings the opening song "Broadway Rhythm" like an oaf arriving with his suitcase searching for a big break.

The next sequence shows him arriving in New York where he auditions the song "Gotta Dance! Gotta Dance!" but he is rejected by two agents. Later, a third agent accepted him. While dancing and singing to "Broadway Rhythm" he encounters the long beautiful leg of a dancer. The camera shot and angle are perfect for this sequence and couldn't have been done any better. The dancer, Cyd Charisse, is featured in this sequence as a nightclub performer and the girlfriend of a gangster. She has on a sexy green dress that accentuates her long, beautiful legs perfectly. Kelly performs a ballet of gangster movie conventions. The gangster's girlfriend then provocatively dances around the young gentleman. The dancer is blown away when she steams up his glasses with her breath and then kicks the glasses away. She begins to kiss him only to be lured away by the gangster who dangles an extravagant bracelet under her nose. The young dancer then is taken to the Columbia Burlesque stage where he becomes a star of Palace Vaudeville. While at the gala he sees the ideal image of the girl whom he had just danced with. They dance in a romantic setting while her twenty-five foot scarf flutters in the background. He eventually returns to reality where he is rejected and abandoned by the dancer. He returns to the huge Broadway set that opened the number. After seeing a hoofer, his spirits are revived and he leads a massive chorus in the closing sequence of "Broadway Melody." Although this production number was too long (fourteen minutes) and strayed too far away from the plot of the rest of the film, it is an excellent example of the Busby Berkely style. What makes this part of the film interesting is the unexpected transitions into new sets. Also, the spectacular use of the color of light and the costumes all thrown together enhances the numbers.

"Make em' Laugh," "You Were Meant For Me," "Singin' In The Rain," and "Broadway Melody" make this an unforgettable film and a must see for any fan of musicals. If there was ever a time when I thought two actors should win an Academy Award for Best Picture for one scene in a movie this was it. "Make em' Laugh" featuring Donald O' Conner as Cosmo Brown is a thrill ride all the way through. I would recommend this film to anyone regardless of what they think of musicals, on the basis of this production number alone. "Singin' In The Rain," sung by Gene Kelly, left me nearly speechless except to say that you don't get the whole picture in a highlight reel. Singin' In The Rain would not be a musical without these two production numbers and the countless others that make it a joy to watch all the way through.