+ Recommended – G, Musical, Comedy (103 minutes)
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is an exercise of solid, meta writing and catchy tunes. The movie, with near accuracy, dissects the way in which the film industry worked as the invention of sound rose from being nonexistent, to the latest and greatest addition to motion pictures. Technicolor processed the movie, using a technique called 3-strip Technicolor, which gave the film an extra layer of colorful life.
The opening scene with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor establishes immediately that the audience is watching a musical. In the very beginning of Singin’ in the Rain, there are numerous shots of exterior locations; namely, the theatre in which hundreds of fans are lining up for the premiere of Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont’s (Jean Hagen) new silent movie. Even as the film progresses, the sets call for exterior locations. In one montage, it is to establish Lockwood’s backstory as a stunt man, even if the sets for the movie take place inside the studios.
An emphasis on the beauty of music, sound, and color is placed on the warehouse scene in which Lockwood and Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) show affection for each other in a beautiful musical number. A dark, grimy studio warehouse intensifies in color from being nearly pitch black to a vibrant stage full of pink hues and dark purples to display the immense work of Technicolor, but also the deep, emotional love of the two leads.
The two characters use the studio space, equipped with lights and fog machines at their discretion to create an atmospheric setting, where the two of them can sing directly to each other and no one else; dancing and moving through the different lights and back into the darkness where only their silhouettes are visible. Many of the other musical scenes are very liquid in motion, moving from set-to-set as not to slow down the pacing. Even though Kelly doesn’t particularly like Reynolds in real life, their chemistry on screen doesn’t show any signs of cracks, much like the parallel between Lina Lamont and Don Lockwood in the fictional world of Singin’ in the Rain.
Not only does the film show the changing landscape of motion pictures using sound, notably with a portion of the movie focusing on a critical point where silent film actors are transitioning to voice work, but also how color has changed the landscape. There are numerous transitions between the black and white movies that the characters are acting in, to what the audience is watching during Singin’ in the Rain. Transitions are done thoughtfully, especially when transitioning from set-to-set.
For instance, when Cosmo and Don are traveling together, the camera reveals signs of places, rather than using any sort of title card. This is also evident during the “Broadway Melody” number. At the same time, title cards are used for dialogue in the films that the characters are making, again driving home the meta commentary of the narrative.