With the tragic news of Debbie Reynold’s death last week, film fans around the globe have been celebrating her life by looking back at her amazing career. Of all the films Reynolds starred in, perhaps the most beloved is 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain – and with good reason.
A breezy comedy-musical charting the struggles of a 1920s film studio to transition from silent movies to “talkies”, Singin’ in the Rain is one of the most iconic flicks in cinema history. Indeed, it’s arguably the greatest big screen musical ever made – for the five reasons outlined below.
5. Its pitch perfect casting
All truly great films feature a knock-out cast, and Singin’ in the Rain is no exception. At the heart of the movie’s success is the acting triple threat of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and, of course, Debbie Reynolds.
Kelly (who co-directed Singin’ in the Rain with Stanley Donen) is disgustingly charismatic as lead character Don Lockwood. Beyond his legendary dancing and vocal skills, he brings an infectious joy and sly wit to the role, giving us a hero we can really root for.
O’Connor is likewise a perfect fit for supporting player Cosmo Brown, displaying his own impressive ability to cut a rug (he literally runs up a wall at one point!), and a knack for physical comedy. In the wrong hands, a part like Cosmo could come across as obnoxious, but O’Connor’s innate likeability means that this obstacle is easily swerved.
And last, but certainly not least, there’s Reynolds as aspiring actor Kathy Selden. As portrayed by Reynolds, Kathy is assertive, career-oriented, smart, and beautiful, all without sacrificing on warmth or vulnerability. Reynolds learned to dance for the role (from Fred Astaire, no less!), and her singing voice is sublime.
But what really makes these three performances stand out is how well Kelly, O’Connor and Reynolds gel together. Indeed, their shared chemistry is a key part of Singin’ in the Rain‘s lasting appeal.
4. Its lasting influence on the genre
It really is impossible to overstate the legacy of Singin’ in the Rain – its continued influence on musical cinema is still felt even today (current critical darling La La Land is the latest film to crib heavily from its playbook).
A lot of this is down to the pioneering direction of Kelly and Donen, which utilises dynamic camera movement, allowing the audience to follow along with the dancers, as well a variety of camera angles, which heighten the visual appeal of these sequences. Equally important is the screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, which provides the perfect template for how to integrate musical numbers into film’s narrative – or vice versa – to create a satisfying overall story.
However, if there’s one area that Singin’ in the Rain has really left an indelible mark on the genre it’s in the visuals department. Even the most casual of cinephiles will be instantly familiar with the image of Don Lockwood swinging elatedly from a lamppost during a heavy downpour, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this film’s aesthetics.
3. Its ground-breaking cinematography
Before Kelly and Donen, the majority of big screen musicals focused heavily on the performances of the artists involved, with little thought paid to the bold visual options provided by the medium. While this is understandable – after all, the singing and dancing are what the audience turned up for! – Singin’ in the Rain really solidified what a missed opportunity this approach presented.
By keeping the camera moving and zooming in and out, Kelly, Donen, and cinematographer Harold Rosson captured the energy of the cast so well that their way of shooting musicals has since become standard. Coupled with the film’s striking stage design and vivid, colourful costumes, they proved what a positive impact increased visual appeal could have on the genre musicals, crafting a truly timeless film in the process.
2. Its timeless appeal
That’s something that really jumps out at you, re-visiting Singin’ in the Rain 65 years after it was released: it still feels so fresh! Sure, the period setting helps keep the film from seeming dated, but ultimately, what really does it is that the characters are so archetypal they remain relatable even now. All their struggles – Boy wants to date girl! Girl wants to land her dream job! Boy’s career is threatened by advances in technology! Girl gets screwed over by her workplace! – are the same problems we still face today.
It also doesn’t hurt that the film’s sense of humour – often the first thing to fall flat when modern audiences watch a classic movie – is still as razor sharp now as it was way back when. This is due to its reliance more on clever wordplay and dialogue/visual contrasts than on topical references, as well as filmmakers clear desire to sweep audiences off their feet.
1. Its charm
Singin’ in the Rain is the kind of movie that gives you a warm feeling inside for virtually its entire runtime, mostly because of the enthusiasm of everyone involved, as well as the general likeability of the characters. Indeed, even when a musical number starts to drag a little by today’s standard, the sheer charm on display will keep you from reaching for the fast forward button. This, more than anything, is surely a testament to just how entrancing the whole endeavour is.