This week saw the release of the festival favorite La La Land, an original musical about two young struggling entertainers who find each other and fall in love surrounded by showbiz and Los Angeles. So it’s only fitting that this week’s Flashback MMM focus on an earlier movie musical that also told a love story against the backdrop of Hollywood.
1952’s big-screen musical Singin’ in the Rain follows Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) at the advent of sound being introduced to motion pictures. Don is a big star alongside his frequent costar Lina Lamont (Jean Hagan), though while the two often woo each other on-screen they barely tolerate each other off camera. Through a series of comedic circumstances he meets Kathy Seldes (Debbie Reynolds), a chorus girl in the theater. Don, Kathy and Don’s friend Cosmo (Donald O’Conner) wind up working out a way to salvage a new movie Don and Lina have shot that’s being changed to a talkie after being initially shot as a silent picture. Lina’s singing voice is unusable in what’s now a large-scale musical and so Kathy winds up dubbing over her singing, but it’s uncredited. After the usual round of hurt feelings and misunderstandings, Don and Kathy profess their love for each other and everyone dances off into the sunset.
The poster shows MGM knew exactly what they were selling, which of course it did at this point in film history. Kelly, O’Conner and Reynolds are all shown walking toward the camera decked out in raincoats and holding umbrellas as the rain pours down over them. “What a glorious feeling” is the copy at the top, a nod to the lyrics of the title song. Below the image of the actors is the real sales pitch, that this is “MGM’s Technicolor Musical Treasure,” copy that sells two of the big points that would have resonated with audiences at the time, the fact that it came from MGM and that it was in Technicolor. Those were both big draws at the time, as well as the mention of it being a musical since this is when that genre was super-popular with filmgoers.
The trailer is really where it’s at though. It starts out like a musical overture, with a full chorus of extras on a soundstage as text tells us about the movie’s lineage. Cut to the top three singing the title song as they walk toward the camera just like what’s seen on the one-sheet. Further text establishes the setting at the dawn of Hollywood’s sound age. We then see that the introduction of sound has upset the production of a period drama and that the innovation has upended the entire apple cart. What follows is a montage of clips from most, if not all, the movie’s songs, including a shot of Kelly singing and dancing his way through the most iconic scene to come out of the picture. We’re introduced to the rest of the case, including a…memorable appearance by Sid Charisse. It finishes out by positioning the movie as a big spectacle that has to be seen to be believed before ending on a shot of Kelly and Reynolds kissing, promising the audience that yes, there’s a love story here too.
It’s obvious just from the trailer why this has become the standard by which many other movie musicals are judged. It’s everything the genre is largely known as and for. Kelly is the biggest draw here but it shouldn’t be forgotten what a star O’Conner was at the time either. Reynolds as an up-and-comer is the biggest new name on display here though she gets significant screen time. The emphasis is on the spectacle, though, selling the audience on a collection of incredible songs and some of, as it says itself, the biggest and most innovative dance sequences to date.