Singin' in the Rain

Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for budget of $2.54 million, released April 10, 1952 by MGM and grossed $3.6 million, Technicolor 35mm negative, 1.37:1 screen aspect ratio, mono sound, 103 mins.; Laserdisc released 1991; restored theatrical print from original 3-strip Technicolor negatives released 1992; DVD released 1997 with remastered Dolby digital sound




Singin' in the Rain was first conceived as a "catalogue" picture by Arthur Freed for MGM in 1949. He had written the song 20 years earlier with the composer Nacio Herb Brown for the Hollywood Music Box Revue in 1927, a stage show of showgirls and songs and spectacular sets of the type made famous by the Ziegfeld Follies. After the sound revolution swept through Hollywood in the wake of the 1927 Jazz Singer, Irving Thalberg hired Freed and Brown to write music for MGM's first revue musical, Broadway Melody, in 1929. Freed had worked as a mood pianist in silent films when he first moved from New York to Hollywood in 1925 (like Cosmo) and helped Thalberg (like R. F.) and the MGM studio (like Monumental Pictures) make the transition to sound. The characters of Lina Lamont (like Judy Holliday), director Roscoe Dexter (like Busby Berkeley), Dora Bailey (like Louella Parsons) were based on real people. The song "Singin' in the Rain" and other Freed-Brown songs would be used in repeatedly in many MGM pictures, starting with Hollywood Revue of 1929. Arthur Freed became a leading producer of musicals at MGM, putting together a talented group known as the Freed Unit after it made The Wizard of Oz in 1938. When MGM purchased the entire backlist or "catalogue" of songs from Freed and Brown in March 1949, the song "Singin' in the Rain" became the property of MGM and Freed proposed featuring his song in a backstage-type musical film remake of the 1928 Excess Baggage that was set in vaudeville era. Freed hired Betty Comden and Adolph Green in May 1950 to write the story for the film. Comden and Green had been the writers for On the Town that starred Gene Kelly in 1943. They decided to set the story in Hollywood precisely during the transition to sound when the Freed-Brown songs were originally written. They watched old movies with Stanley Donen who was hired as the film's director and who had just finished co-directing On the Town with Gene Kelly. The final draft of the script was completed August 10, 1950, with Kelly signed as the star for what was written as primarily a singing film as soon as he finished An American in Paris in January 1951.

The film went into production by March 1951, and photography began June 18, 1951. But Gene Kelly caused significant changes in the script. He envisioned the film as primarily a dance film and wanted the dancer Donald O'Connor as his sidekick Cosmo. Kelly's role expanded to co-director, choreographer, actor, singer, dancer. He had two new songs written: "Make 'em Laugh" to feature O'Connor's solo talents, and a big production song medley that would include modern dance and ballet, similar to what he had done with director Vincente Minnelli in An American in Paris. In that film, the big production number based on George Gershwin's modern song was 17 minutes long and cost more that the all of the rest of the film. The film was a success and became one of MGM's top-grossing musicals ($4.5 million). Kelly was given permission to do the same thing for Singin' in the Rain. Because Debbie Reynolds could not dance, Kelly hired Cyd Charisse for the big number that would cost $600,000 and take two weeks to film, involving airplane engines blowing a 50-foot scarf that coils around Kelly and Chrarisse as they perform an abstract ballet piece as part of the "Broadway Melody" medley.

Kelly changed the film from a traditional catalogue musical to a new type of integrated musical, with songs and story tightly woven together, mixing romance and drama and comedy with modern dance. Kelly and the writiers insisted on historical accuracy for the portrayal of Hollywood's sound revolution, using original equipment if it could be found or exact replicas of the Cooper-Hewitt lights and camera booth. An old glass sound stage was found and put back into use. The furniture from John Gilbert's and Greta Garbo's 1927 Flesh and the Devil was used in Don Lockwood's home set. Kelly was quoted as saying "Almost everything in Singin' in the Rain springs from the truth. It is a conglomeration of bits of movie lore."

The film finished production November 21, 1951, and previewed in December before general release. Kelly would spend the next 18 months in Europe due to the blacklist and the HUAC committee's investigation of Kelly, Comden, Green, the Revuers cabaret group of Greenwich Village founded by Adolph Green and Judy Holliday, who testified before the Senate McCarran Committee on March 26, 1952. Also under investigation were Kelly's wife Betsy Blair who had joined the Committee to Elect Henry Wallace, and Kelly's friends among the "unfriendly 19" who were subpoenaed in 1948 by the California Fact-Finding Committee of Jack Tenney because of their membership in the pro-Wallace Progressive Citizens of America and the Committee for the First Amendment. Kelly was VP of the PCA and the Hollywood Democratic Committee, and had been an officer of the Screen Actors Guild during the strikes of 1946, and was a member of People's Songs with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie who wrote songs for the Wallace campaign. Kelly was on the blacklist following an article in American Legion Magazine by the journalist J. B. "Doc" Matthews that attacked Singin' in the Rain as a pro-communist movie. He was finally cleared to return to work on Brigadoon in Hollywood through the efforts of the right-wing union boss Roy Brewer, leader of the IATSE local of the mafia-dominated AFL in 1951.

Singin' in the Rain was profitable for MGM in 1952, and has been ranked as one of the greatest musical films of all time. It was featured prominantly in MGM's three That's Entertainment films of 1974, 1976, 1994, and was widely shown on television. It was praised by the French New Wave auteur theory critics who included Gene Kelly as one of the great Hollywood musical innovators with the likes of Vincente Minnelli. It became one of the best-known self-reflexive films of the post-modernism, revealing the reality of myth-making behind the false facade of film-making, and would influence similar efforts by Francois Truffaut in his 1973 Day for Night. The musical genre began to decline at the box office in the late 1950s, and Kelly starred in dramatic roles in Marjorie Morningstar and as the cynical reporter E. K. Hornbeck in Stanley Kramer's 1960 Inherit the Wind and directed films such as Hello, Dolly! in 1969. He died in 1996 at the age of 83.


revised 3/12/01 by Schoenherr | Filmnotes