Singin' in the Rain
Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Cyd Charisse
Directors: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Writers: Adolph Green and Betty Comden, Arthur Freed
Theatrical release: 1951; Two-Disc Deluxe Edition DVD release: 2002
The quote from film critic Roger Ebert found in the package for the 50th anniversary DVD release of Singin' in the Rain says it best: "The greatest Hollywood musical ever made!" Now, of course, marketers can be prone to a bit of hyperbole, but for this incredible piece of filmmaking, music, lyrics, and dance, the superlatives fit.
As one of the first movies about making movies, Singin' in the Rain gives us both a story about how a transitional period in our culture (vaudeville-to-film) affects the people caught in the change and a behind-the-scenes look at the then-still-mysterious-and-awesome world of Hollywood studio filmmaking. Movie patrons in the early 1950s who saw this film on the big screen were just getting used to the in-home technology of television, which took great pains at the time to hide all the how-did-we-do-this business. Like the Wizard of Oz, they wanted to keep us baffled by the magic machinery and black boxes.
But those 1950s filmmakers weren't truly interested in sharing their secrets, either. Sets, costumes, dance numbers, everything was stylized just enough to let us think we were peeking behind the curtains. But stylized it was and, in many places, as much like a theatrical play as anything actually meant for the capabilities of film.
Of course, if you want your "reality" straight up, watch a documentary. Musicals, whether on Broadway, at your local community theater, or converted to film, were never intended to present a literal form of reality. They do, however, represent an emotional truth, as does an opera, a singular musical composition, a novel, or a work of choreography. And who's to say which is better or more accurate?
Rather than fight it out, just take a look at the sumptuous, feature-packed DVD of this timeless musical. The contents of the two discs are well worth the time to watch. The feature film includes newly restored elements that have been digitally transferred and a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, with feature-length commentary from the stars and crew.
On the bonus disc, along with more songs, outtakes, and stills, you'll find two new documentaries about the process of making movie musicals at MGM when the unit was the responsibility of ace producer and songwriter Arthur Freed.
And if you can't get enough, check out the PBS website for their Gene Kelly American Masters profile of his amazing body of work, including Singin' in the Rain. Soon, you'll be ready to join in the chorus and shout, "What a glorious feelin'!"