This will be a short post to remind everyone to add a little joy to their life now and then. Last year on my birthday, I finally committed to a top ten list of my favorite films. Number five on my list is this greatest musical ever made featuring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and the delightfully young Debbie Reynolds. It feels like every five years it’s time to celebrate an anniversary by making sure this gem is on the big screen once again. I know I went ten years ago and had a wonderful time and this film made it onto my blog. Five years ago, just after the passing of Debbie Reynolds, there was also a screening I attended, again another Fathom Event.
There is so much to appreciate about the film that you could spend a couple of thousand words on it before you even get to something new that you wanted to focus on. I’m not going that direction today, I just wanted to take a couple of minutes of your time to focus on one sequence. The “Broadway Rhythm Ballet” section of the film was something I had not seen in my original encounter with the film. Local TV stations in the 60s and 70s would cut a movie to make it fit a weekday afternoon slot, and that sequence was missing the first time I saw “Singin’ in the Rain” on TV. Watching it this last Sunday makes me wonder what kind of monsters they had working for those Stations in those days, who could take out the biggest, brightest and most creative section of the movie, simply to save some time.
In the film, Don Lockwood is describing the scene to studio head R.F. Simpson, so it is a fantasy scene and it was being plugged into the disastrous “The Dancing Cavalier”. So I can see that it was convenient, because it has nothing to do with the plot of the movie, but boy does it look great on the big screen. Lockwood/Kelly showing us as a country rube, trying to make it on Broadway is funny. The montage sequences where each performance gets more elaborate as they go along, even though the song stays the same is pretty satiric without being mean spirited. It is the nightclub sequence with Cyd Charisse that makes the whole thing finally so memorable. Every costume of the flappers and hipsters of the day was outlandishly garish. Charisse in her bob haircut is enigmatic and beautiful. The grace and choreography that Kelly used in the ballet section with the long dress train is astounding. Even today, with all the technical wizardry at your fingertips, you would be hard pressed to find a way to make that work, Kelly, Stanley Donen and the craftsmen at MGM managed to do so 70 years ago.
Two recent and fairly modern references are going to close out this post. Rita Moreno, who is the last surviving cast member of this film, recently was in Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story”, which is the film she won the Academy Award for, This movie was almost a decade earlier, but she had a nice bit part which was a little more substantial than I had remembered. I was paying more attention to Rita in this film than I had in the past because of this recent history. The other thing that comes to my mind was a film I watched the day before at home. Hugo Speer, a prolific British TV actor, played Guy in “The Full Monty” a story about a group of working class men trying to put together a man strip review. In his audition for the troop, he wants to demonstrate his athletic dancing ability. He points to the wall and says. “There’s the wall, and I’m Donald O’Connor.” He then proceeds to prove that Donald O’Connor is a dancing god and the rest of us are mere mortals.
There are so many great numbers in the film, you sometimes forget that the next thing you see will be even better than the last thing you saw.