One summer afternoon in 1955 I was visiting my grandmother at her house in College Park, Georgia. I was five. My grandmother indulged my every whim. I’d often heard her and my mother singing or humming the tune “Singin’ in the Rain.” I hadn’t seen the film, but I knew the tune. It began to rain, a light drizzle, but rain nonetheless. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but my grandmother and I went out into her side yard and began singing and dancing in the rain, to the tune from the film. Although she lived for another thirty-five years, this is one of my strongest memories of my grandmother, singing and dancing in the rain.
It would be many years more until I saw the film that carried the song’s title. I loved it the first time I saw it, and I’ve loved it every time I’ve seen it since. Singin’ in the Rain (1952; co-dir. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly) and I don’t have much in common. I’m not a singer or a dancer and never had real aspirations to be in “show business.” But watching that film returns me briefly to the momentary joy of that memory I carry of singing and dancing with my grandmother in the rain.
Singin’ in the Rain has three great stars: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds. They’re all dead now, as are virtually all the people who had anything to do with the film. It was made in the early heyday of technicolor. It marked in many ways the height of the Hollywood musical, although later musicals such as Oklahoma and Westside Story would make better films. Singin’ in the Rain isn’t even very coherent: it’s a comedy, a satire of Hollywood and the days of silent film and the coming of sound, a love story. It makes fun of the egotism and ambition of Hollywood stars. We think of it as the film that gave Debbie Reynolds her start. In fact, it was the only significant film, and the only truly good film, she ever made. But that’s no matter. She didn’t need to make another film, although she was in many others. She gives the film purity and energy and youth and exuberance. Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor are wonderful dancers who make the best they can of every minute in which they appear. She keeps up with them, step for step. The highpoint of the film, the Broadway Melody sequence towards the end, has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the film, but that’s no matter either. It’s a great sequence.
My favorite sequences are “Moses Supposes,” “Gotta Dance,” and “Good Morning,” the last of which features Debbie Reynolds in the best performance of her career. It is sad that she died. Everyone must. But few will live on as she will live on in this greatest of Hollywood musicals.