If Santa Claus could magically channel Uncle Sam, St. Valentine and the ghosts of Hollywood past, only his bag could be more impossibly stuffed with goodies than the Technicolor silver screen of Singin’ in the Rain.
Just under its fantastic surface (fantastic musical numbers, fantastic romance) lies a true Hollywood fable. Singin’ in the Rain plays off Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Cosmo Brown’s (Donald O’Connor) humble and often silly beginnings against Lockwood’s tongue-in-cheek voice-over which announces that his glamorous success on the silent screen was due to his dedication to a one-word motto: “Dignity.”
Though this is just one of Singin’ in the Rain’s fabulous tales told in pictures bursting with colorful action (some nested within each other like exquisite Russian dolls), it’s the key to the ironic Tinseltown satire that lies between its perfect frames. Lockwood and his contracted love interest, both on screen and (strictly for publicity purposes) off, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), are just about everything that’s ridiculously wrong with Hollywood: They’re mediocre professional pretenders who believe their glamorous success is due to lofty pretense. At least until an aptly ironic ingenue, Cathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), unwittingly rolls to Don’s rescue.
Cathy proclaims that she wants to be a dignified stage actress, not a performer of “dumb show” like Don, and he begins to question his entire career. Then the first “talkie,” The Jazz Singer (1927), creates a sensational wave in the industry and it’s either sink or swim in the new depths of sound production for Lockwood and Lamont.
All fables have a moral. This one has two: “Love conquers all” and (here in a uniquely American context) “Be who you are.”
Singin’ in the Rain is one of Hollywood’s greatest gifts to cinema and today — 50 years after its original release — it’s still giving.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].