It would be unfair to review Singin’ in the Rain as if it were a normal movie with conventional parts and pieces like a story and character development. The plot of this movie is just a threadbare skeleton on which to hang some of the best musical numbers committed to film and, by itself, would seem thin as the basis of a 22-minute sitcom. You don’t even have to follow the plot in order to enjoy the musical interludes, either, since they have very little to do with each other. Virtually none of the songs were written for the project, but were existing tunes simply incorporated, very loosely, into the narrative.
The story takes place in 1927, the beginning of the end for silent movies. Don Lockwood (Gene Kelley) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are the leading couple in Hollywood. Accord to the gossip columns, they’re also madly in love with each other. In truth, Don “would rather kiss a tarantula” and instead loves Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), a dancer he met after the release of his last picture with Lina, who thinks Don loves her because, well, the gossip columns say so.
As they’re launching their next silent movie, The Jazz Singer opens and makes silent pictures obsolete overnight. Don and Lina have to start making talkies. The problem is simple: Lina has a voice like fingernails on a chalkboard. Her personality? Well, let’s just say that fingernails on a blackboard would be a big improvement in that department.
Don’s friend Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) has an idea. Let Kathy dub the speaking and singing for Lina. Unfortunately for Kathy, the idea is so successful that she finds herself stuck in the role of Lina’s voice, unable to take credit for her own talent.
That’s it in a nutshell, and I didn’t leave a lot out. As I said, the story of Singin’ in the Rain is nothing more than flimsy connecting tissue between truly eye-popping musical numbers that have even less to do with a cohesive narrative than they do with Middle Eastern foreign policy. It’s sort of the same formula as the late-night “Skinemax” movies, only better acted with music and dancing instead of nudity and sex.
The musical numbers themselves, “Make ‘Em Laugh”, “Moses Supposes”, “Good Morning” and, of course, “Singin’ in the Rain” stand by themselves and are a joy to behold. The sheer energy and grace that Kelly, O’Connor and Reynolds display ought to win over anyone, even if you hate musicals with a white-hot passion. Gene Kelley’s leading man looks, deft comic touch and athleticism are put to maximum use. Debbie Reynolds, who didn’t even dance before taking this role, more than holds her own next to the man who was, along with Fred Astaire, the dean of the American Musical.
So, if you need a break from Tarantino excess or Bergman-esque introspection, Singin’ in the Rain is the perfect antidote for the 21th century.