Here’s the power of Singin’ in the Rain: I’ve been told of fourth-grade boys, after seeing clips from the film in class, spending their recess trying to replicate some of the dance steps. Any movie that can conquer the sort of male mockery that sets in at that age is wielding a powerful form of magic.
I have to think it’s the sheer exuberance of the picture – and star, choreographer and co-director Gene Kelly in particular – to which they’re responding. The title number, in which Kelly strolls among raindrops, should by all accounts be an exercise in cheery cheese, but darn if it doesn’t make you feel like tossing a spin into your next step. Kelly’s delight – not in his own movements, but in the sheer joy of being able to move – is that contagious.
Set at the dawn of the talkies, Rain charts the bumpy transition of silent costars Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) into the sound era. Don is a vaudeville veteran with smooth steps and a lovely singing voice, so he’ll be fine, but Lina is another matter. Screechy even when she doesn’t open her mouth, she’s so doomed that the studio brings in a chorus girl (Debbie Reynolds) to be her anonymous vocal stand-in.
So much for plot, as Kelly and co-director Stanley Donen routinely cast story aside to indulge in some of the cinema’s most indelible musical numbers: Kelly and Donald O’Connor befuddling a diction coach with their impromptu “Moses Supposes;” Reynolds joining them for the cheery “Good Morning.” Even the bloated climactic number “Broadway Melody” can’t suffocate the picture’s effervescence. There’s something about Singin’ in the Rain that defies boredom, cynicism or the pressure of the latest trend. I think they call that quality timelessness.