Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
I recently acquired the "Singin' in the Rain" Classic Collection Box Set, which contains two DVDs and one music CD. I've never seen this joyous classic movie looking and sounding better, the DVDs are loaded with extras, and it's fun to have the separate music CD just for listening.
"Singin' in the Rain" (1952) is one of the best-loved of all films, and it's long been one of my favorites. The movie has received a lot of critical acclaim as well, and I think it's worth noting that the 2002 "Sight and Sound" Critics' Poll ranked it number 10, putting it just after Fellini's "8 1/2" and just ahead of John Ford's "The Searchers" and Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai."
It's often claimed that "Singin' in the Rain" is the greatest screen musical of all-time, and I agree. However, the American Film Institute must have thought otherwise when they compiled their list of 100 greatest movies since "The Wizard of Oz" was number 5 in their ranking, while "Singin' in the Rain" came in at number 10.
"Singin' in the Rain" is a beguiling combination of music, performances, and story, but I've always felt it probably wouldn't have amounted to much without Gene Kelly, who played the romantic lead and co-directed. To me, he gives one of the towering performances in all of cinema. His charm and talent permeate nearly every scene in the movie, and when he captures the giddiness of falling in love by singing and dancing the title number, it's the epitome of movie magic.
But the supporting performances in the film are superb as well. I'll never forget Donald O'Connor's physical comedy musical number "Make 'Em Laugh," and the exuberant singing and dancing of "Good Morning," where Kelly and O'Connor are joined by 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds, are also memorable. The movie also boasts a fine nonmusical performance by Jean Hagen, who portrays an unpleasant actress with an irritating speaking voice.
A lot of critics object to the extravagant 13-minute musical sequence in "Singin' in the Rain" called "Broadway Rhythm Ballet" that showcases Gene Kelly and guest star Cyd Charisse. The main objections are that the sequence bears little relationship to the rest of the film, and as Roger Ebert writes, "it stops the headlong energy dead in its tracks." But I like the sequence, and I don't believe the movie would have somehow been better without it. Story and momentum are important, but as far as I'm concerned, they're not everything.
To me, the plot in "Singin' in the Rain" is pretty wispy, even by musical comedy standards. However, I think this is more than compensated for by the setting, which is Hollywood in 1927-28, when the movie industry was caught up in the transition from silents to talkies. Since "Singin' in the Rain" was shot less than 25 years after the events it depicts, I've always supposed that there must have been plenty of old-timers still around to help get the period feel right. In any case, my hat is off to the husband-wife screenwriting team of Adolph Green and Betty Comden for coming up with a unifying theme for the musical material they were given to work with.
The genesis of "Singin' in the Rain" is unusual and seems to me to be an unlikely beginning for such a great movie. Arthur Freed became a legend by producing a string of MGM musicals, but earlier in his career, he was a lyricist. Around 1950, Freed decided he wanted there to be a film derived from songs for which he'd written the lyrics. Among those songs were "Good Morning," performed by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in "Babes in Arms" (1939); "Would You?," performed by Jeanette MacDonald in "San Francisco" (1936); and "Beautiful Girl," performed by Bing Crosby in "Going Hollywood" (1933). Comden and Green were assigned the task of scripting a movie that would showcase Freed's old songs, and I think they succeeded brilliantly.
The "Singin' in the Rain" Classic Collection Box Set provides a ton of bonus materials. The DVDs contain a feature-length audio commentary with Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, Cyd Charisse, actress Kathleen Freeman, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, co-director Stanley Donen, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, and film historian Rudy Behlmer; a 36-minute making-of documentary titled "What a Glorious Feeling"; an 86-minute documentary titled "Musicals Great Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit at MGM"; 12 excerpts from old movies showing performances of Freed's songs; and the deleted sequence featuring the musical number "You Are My Lucky Star." The tracks on the music CD are "Singin' in the Rain," "Make 'Em Laugh," "Good Morning," and "Broadway Melody Ballet." There are also a few other things included in the box set, and I have listed these below.
Selected Special Features: